Axioms can help a lot to simplify daily decisions and make life easier. Coming to China has put me in a new position where I had to reevaluate all the axioms I thought to be self-evident. Nevertheless, after a year, I’ve found that these few things can be generally accepted as true… at least in China.
1. If it’s a simple problem, then I’ll make it my problem.
BUT if it’s a difficult problem, then it’s your problem.
Frustrating regardless of the problem you have, the axiom is probably the most common. If I have a simple question about something as basic as what day is spring festival, everybody will answer me at the same time, ironically complicating this simple answer. If somebody is sick, everybody and their mother and their mother’s mother will flock to give the most mind-dullingly obvious advice such as, “you should rest,” “wear more clothes,” or simply, “maybe you should see the doctor.” So when you feel very much in control of the situation, you are battered with help until you have a new problem that you can’t fix.
Nevertheless, when you have a problem like, the very NON-hypothetical, leaking apartment above you, there is nobody to give you any help. The upstairs neighbor isn’t at home, their next-door neighbor closes the door without even responding when you ask for the missing culprit’s phone number, and your building manager says that the problem is between you and the neighbor. It seems that the fear of failure and nebulous sense of responsibility create the perfect storm for people to just pass the buck on big problems and play superhero in the face of a simple problem.
2. The most obvious solution is taken before the best solution
Often, the only difference between the first solution and the best solution is a matter of 5 minutes of reflection before acting. Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my axe.” In China, the attitude is more like, “If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, then… whack!, whack!, whack!, whack!, whack!…” Last year, my friend’s bathroom light burned out. As further proof of axiom number one, her school got involved with the banal task of replacing a light bulb. The electrician came, but he didn’t have the proper light bulb for the replacement. No worries however, because he had another bulb with a new socket to match. He then proceeded to rip the previous socket out of the ceiling, wire in the new socket, and replace the bulb. Unfortunately, this socket used a different current than the previous socket, and her light bulbs were now burning out every 3-4 days. When she called back to report this new, bigger problem, the response was… “then replace the bulbs every 3-4 days. Then there is no problem.”
3. Chinese women are pretty pathetic
This axiom is of course more of a generalization, but it is nevertheless a widely true one. Coming from a society which promotes strong, independent women, AND a subculture where the women will often outperform the men, it is very shocking how horribly pathetic the “women” are here. I’m amazed when girls here shy away from stopping a slowly rolling basketball, miss class for stomachaches, and live with their coddling parents until the day they become dependent on their new husband. Not only will girls sport crutches when they have a scraped knee, but they will whine about it as well. For some reason, the word for “pathetic” doesn’t translate well into Chinese… nevertheless, there is a word in Chinese for “faking being pathetic” which doesn't translate well into English. Fake pathetic-ness is unfortunately seen as cute and attractive by a lot of girls and some boys, who prefer to fulfill the complimentary chauvinist role in the relationship with their whiney, dependant, and clingy girlfriends.
I’m regularly asked, “Do you want to marry a Chinese girl?” To be honest, I would happily marry a girl of Chinese ethnicity, but as far as the typical woman with a Chinese view of ‘femininity’ goes, I find Chinese women pretty pathetic. There is a strong case to be made however for the toughness of country women here. It seems that (at least in Guizhou province) a Chinese woman will either have a sense of self-reliance or a formal education... there's not much overlap to the Venn diagram.
4. Leopard print is never ever fashionable.
This isn’t just a Chinese axiom, but I’m more and more reminded of it when I go out daily and see somebody who thinks that “matching” implies a 100% fabric and pattern overlap. Not only is this person confusing equivalence and matching, but they have also chosen to wrap themselves in a low-quality imitation of an animal who has itself adapted so that others wouldn’t notice the pattern it was wearing. The camouflage of a leopard should not be the bold statement of a human… unless that statement is, “I am pretending to be a large feline predator hiding in the jungle!”