China / My China Story

Observations from China

By Steve Contes ( Updated: 2013-01-25 11:03

Observations from China
Steve Contes(R) with his Tai Chi teacher [Photo provided to]

I had the opportunity to live in East China's Shandong province for the past three years and had been making regular trips to China since 2002. My original intention regarding my long stay was for Taiji study. The experience and education I gained went far beyond martial arts, but did exemplify Taiji principles on a most practical level (everyday living and survival). I will share with you some observations regarding people living and working old-school style. Many of our modern conveniences are absent, yet they seem happier. I also understand that this type of lifestyle is not exclusive only to those in China. It just happens to be the environment I was exposed to along with both a blend of Chinese philosophy and tradition and how it is ultimately adaptable to any type of surroundings or way of life. Same as Taiji (born of Chinese philosophy and tradition), which also proves to be adaptable when and wherever needed.

Chinese philosopher Meng Zi (372-289 BC):

"When Heaven is about to place a great burden on a man,it always tests his resolution first, exhausts his body, makes him suffer great hardships and frustrates his efforts to recover from mental lassitude.Then Heaven toughens his nature and makes good his deficiencies." - Meng Zi

I believe life's lessons present themselves (in the forms of challenges and difficulties) as needed, and it is up to the individual whether he accepts what is being offered or chooses to ignore it. The more important the lesson, the greater the challenge will be. This theory explains why so many seemingly ordinary people do extraordinary things. We are all constantly facing challenges on different levels. When it comes to everyday living, most of us here in America have been exposed to a fairly modern lifestyle, where many things are often taken for granted. China is also enjoying rapid progress in becoming a modern country. It still has a long way to go before the majority of its people catch up to what most of us here consider a basic standard of living. Unfortunately, often when something is gained another is lost. I have already personally observed this phenomenon here in China over the past 10 years. From my perspective some of the trade-offs possess more of a negative than positive effect on China's future.

Bedtime on a cold winter's night

Observations from China

Hot water, heat, warm beds to sleep in, mattresses to sleep on, air-conditioning, bathrooms, bathtubs, showers, toilets and well-equipped kitchens, washing machines, dryers, etc… are not the norm in many areas. I lived in a six-story building for teachers at a public high school. (I was the only foreigner there) Most of the apartments had no bathing facilities, nor did they have a kitchen. Heat and AC was also not available on the first five floors.

Most of us here in the States depend on motor vehicles instead of bicycles or walking. Not so in China. Time and time again in the US, I have witnessed drivers attempting to park in a busy mall or shopping center, circle the lot five or six times. All just to get a spot closer in order to avoid the slightest amount of what they believe to be unnecessary walking. That mentality wouldn't fly in China. For those of you that do not fit into the above category of typical American living, you can easily relate to the large number of people in China I am referring to. For the rest of you, try to use your imagination.

Hot or cold, rain or snow, the bicycle is an indispensable tool used 365 days a year. From students traveling to school or women in dresses and men in suits on their way to the office, biking is the acceptable method of travel. Construction workers hauling materials or people making deliveries, even small restaurant kitchens that set up on the road-side all working off bikes or trikes.

Food Vendors

Observations from China
Observations from China 

I have had the opportunity to watch many people in different places performing a large variety of tasks. From street vendors outside in sub-zero temperatures to men doing the work of machines or climbing mountain paths carrying pails of water to pulling unthinkable loads on bicycles etc...

Bikes doing the work of trucks, people doing the jobs of engines.

Observations from China
Observations from China

Observations from China

One thing holds true with their methods. What at first glance seems to be a slow and inefficient performance of one’s responsibilities, slowly and methodically transforms itself into both a practical and successful way of completing a job more than well done. Nothing deters them from their objective, which does not even appear to be finishing as much as just doing, which somehow naturally manifests the end and needed results. Speed here is not even a consideration and appears to have no value and perhaps more likely to be considered a disadvantage, because it can't compete with the slower, fluid and steady process. Their persistence and skill operate like a happy marriage from start to finish, no matter what the challenging task may be.

No movement needs to be done twice. No use of any modern tools or devices. Mostly some homemade concoction using a combination of other items that may have outlived their original purpose only to be reincarnated and modified to live another productive life. The other ingredient embedded in each task is the element of enjoyment, which is hard to comprehend due to the nature of the job itself and the often harsh environment in which it takes place. (Extreme weather both summer heat and frozen winters) My 5:00am morning bike ride to the park (for Taiji practice) was always filled with the sounds of early street cleaners and vendors laughing, singing and joking. It became an inspirational part of my day that I grew to look forward to. I guess the magic lies in the simplicity of it all, not the motivation to finish one thing so you can start another, and the fundamental principle of appreciating life. There is no feeling sorry for yourself here, no matter what the situation. It is also the same enjoyable discipline possessed by my fellow Taiji practitioners in the park. Come rain or shine (or blizzard), the many dedicated, and most of them elderly, rarely miss a morning workout. But in the end, objectives are met and all goes well. This is also how they approach other aspects of their lives as well.

As hard as they work, they balance it out with ample time socializing and enjoying family and friends.

I was fortunate to make some very good friends there and was invited into their homes for food, (some of the best I ever ate although sometimes strange at first glance like many new encounters I met up with) drink and the many family-oriented gatherings they enjoy.

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