Sunday, December 03, 2006

A word from the editor: on perspective, the oak and the bamboo.

Perspective is a set of mind based on biological decoding of the environment. An individual interprets what messages his/her senses perceive. The perspective adopted is in harmony with his/her cultural and social background. In the mix, his/her perspective will be subjected to his/her personal morals and ethics.

Here, is not China. Rather, it is the place where I am. Other selves surround me; hundreds of individuals share my space. These people are Chinese, expatriates, mainlanders, locals, migrants in transit, residents. Some of them are part of the generic mass while a few others keep outside of the norm.

Perspective is part of the subjective. Open minded as I try to be, I can't ever quite walk through life without my pillars of truth.

Those pillars I am referring to can be seen as ropes tied up to a high ceiling. Please follow me for a while and let us slide down using those ropes. We climb from the familiar down to the unfamiliar. We reach the end of the rope only to find out the rope is not tied to the ground. The butt-end of the rope sweeps the floor, loose. The rope is a metaphor for a point of view which holds fast at one end yet holds no grounds on the other end. The rope thus, represents a viewpoint that is not reciprocated. My pillars of truth have fallen to their ruin.

Properties have a character of invariance. It is the perception of the external object which changes from one individual to another individual (...)
Marc Jeannerod, Le Cerveau Intime

Obvious though no less troubling. While I let go of my set perception and look at my surroundings with a clear view my experiences, my moralities, the basis for my judgment forever intervene with my objective mind.

"I don't like her. She seems to like nobody"
Why? I ask.
"She doesn't smile at anyone."
She may be shy.

Much later in the year, my new "shy" friend and I debate the smile issue. I confide to her my bitterness at watching people watch me in a no-smile exchange. "We get use to it. I do the same now. I don't smile at people anymore." Ah! Not unfriendly. Not shy. Simply integrated.

Is the smile subject to its culture? Can a culture be wrong?

Right or wrong bares no meaning. I have been living in China for the past six years. Like many other expatriates, my pillars of truth, the reference for my living, have shifted. While my pillars used to be a sequence of cause to effect (Descartes), they now are more fluid, allowing for perceptions to flow in a holistic pattern rather than grip around certainty. What I lost in certainty I have gained in broader general understanding. I think reality through its many angles. Thus, I have taken the habit of entering into a conversation saying, "well, it depends…"

"You have a surprising lack of intuition," someone passing through Beijing said to me over a delicious Brazilian fusion lunch. Insight vs. broad sight. I broke down in tears of frustration at my inability to explain the concept of fluid pillars. My theory of objective mind made so much sense to me. My theory: what are the eyes to see but a reality that is not overt, obvious? We must understand what people keep inside may not transpire the whole reality. Universal body language would imply a world without cultural variations. We know this is not the case. That afternoon, I left my companion to finish alone our pork in mustard sauce. I stormed out in a show of dignity (threw my linen kerchief on the table and walked away head high. Smiling.) When I eventually digested the comment this is what came out:

"What you think is not for me to interpret. That's your job. So speak clearly please."

Clearly. My perspective on China is different than what reality is according to: travel guidebooks, "doing business in China" help books, history bibles, trade commissioners' takes on China, official reports, TV channels, my business students, different from my neighbour's perception, and that of my ayi*.

[09:27am, May 24, Wednesday]
My world, my China, my surroundings. The weather is pleasant, my feet are bare. My old dog sleeps on my lap. I have set myself at my folding table sitting on a comfortable wicker pillow-stool from Ikea. In my backyard garden I hear the birds, observe the stray cats soaking up the sun and an Alpha-cat patrolling his domain. A pirated Barbara sings for me on my fake Sony DVD player. I sip my Yunnan coffee-and-milk (Inner Mongolia famous Meng Niu brand) in a China bowl. My Bodum is full. And the German bakery chocolate glazed donut tastes good, morning bakery good. Here is my little heaven away from the chaos of the city. Here I find peace. Here is Mai Zi Dianr beach. Here is my neighbour who strolls in her pyjama. Here is a stinky public outdoor bathroom. Here is the social gathering place of retirees looking for a fresh gossip; here is where dogs crossbreed. Here is where the ayi*s send children to spend their excess energy, releasing them from excessive homework. Here is a junkyard. Here grow bushes of wild roses and prized cactus. "Well, what makes it any different there then anywhere else?" Well, it depends, I say. Here is not China. Here is my China.

Allow me to speak clearly. It does not matter what it is. The only certainty is that it exists. The reality of it is a perspective of infinite truths.

There is the oak. And there is the bamboo.

ayi* a maid a baby sitter a cleaning lady