New vs. Old and confusion

So I went to the China pavilion for the 2010 Expo in Shanghai and it was…underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it was very cool, but I found the showcase of Chinese culture to be a bit much (which made it underwhelming for me, don’t ask how). They made everything seem all happy and that nothing was wrong. Granted, no one would show a miserable country. I just didn’t enjoy how everything was displayed. There’s also a lot of show about the past. Anything regarding the past makes me skeptical. Honestly, I generally don’t like things that have to do with the past. There’s something about it that hinders progress (in my mind).

I’m not saying one should totally forget about the past. There are lessons to be learned from the past, but it’s when a person (or group of people) holds onto old habits and ideals is where I have a problem with it. I tend to wonder if it is possible to help every single person when a country or area moves forward. Sometimes yes, but I have a tendency to lean towards “no”. Some people will refuse to be helped and the concept of “help” is often so subjective. How do you help people who have an infinite culmination of experiences?

I do not believe in “one size fits all” solutions. If the aim is to help everyone in need, then you’re looking at lots of time and money being spent. In a perfect world, it would be do-able. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Do I think we should strive to help everyone? Yes. Is it do-able? Not really. I come about all this because the progress China has made in the past decade. It’s really quite amazing what the country has become. Sure, its human rights record isn’t amazing (understatement), but overall, a lot more people have been helped (arguable, but from a living standards perspective, things are better).

I’m beginning to wonder how coherent my posts have become lately. Being here in Shanghai has left me kind of brain dead. I’m not entirely sure of what I am doing or what I expect myself to be doing and I don’t feel all that great right now either. When I think of something fun/interesting to blog about I’m usually about to fall asleep. Bugger. Speaking of the past thought, here are some shots of a performance showcasing the past.

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6 thoughts on “New vs. Old and confusion”

  1. “Anything regarding the past makes me skeptical. Honestly, I generally don’t like things that have to do with the past. There’s something about it that hinders progress (in my mind).”

    This troubles me a little bit, in part because I am increasingly concerned about how ‘progress’ is often used in opposition to the past, as though it’s either/or. The word ‘progress’ has also been used more often than not to push for one group or another’s particular idea of advancement, without really asking whose idea it is, and why. Who do we ignore when we take up one idea of ‘forward’ and not another?

    Although it sounds to me like you are more against a stubborn clinging on to the past and a refusal to change, I wouldn’t say that a healthy respect for the past automatically means an inability to change. While for some people, forgetting the past is all they want to do, for others it is equally important to establish a sense of how they came to be where they are now before they can work out a new way of being. There is usually a strong reason why people need to remember certain things; an emotion that runs deep. Just quote WWII, for example.

    1. Good point. I didn’t make it clear, my main point is that the idea of “progress” is so subjective. You’re right in saying that I’m more against a stubborn clinging to the past. It’s important to understand how one comes to be who they are, but when there is too much emphasis on that past (i.e. placement of blame or a feeling of superiority) is where a problem comes into play.

      I’m just not a fan of overly emotional things, which is a reason why I tend to avoid sporting events or large group events of any sort. It’s too easy to get caught up in events. I’m also skeptical of whether or not everyone can be “helped”. Bear in mind I use that rather loosely. The only example I can think of would be my grandparents. I would love it if they could learn how to use a cellphone or a computer decently. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that my grandparents are unable to learn how to use them or if they just feel like they can’t and choose not to.

      Honestly though, I jump back and forth between various standpoints. Right now, I’m rather for the removal of various dialects in China. It makes things much more efficient in terms of the travel and the spread of information. At the same time however, I would like local dialects (such as Shanghainese) to remain. It gives places a certain unique feel. As a person who’s parents are Shanghai natives and as a speaker of Shanghainese there is a certain draw I feel towards the city. The odd part is, at the same time I would like it for things to be a bit more standardized as trying to figure out who to speak Shanghainese to and who to speak Mandarin to is a bit tiresome.

      I apologize if what I have said so far makes no sense. If anything, I am probably just torn between my own past and present as well as what I would like to be. It has always been seen as “past vs. progress” I think. Some people can see a middle ground, but I think for the most part, the majority cannot.

      Historically, China clung to its past during colonialism; that, in my opinion, was its downfall (among many other factors). While there were many immoral choices made by Europeans, deep down I can say that I’m quite glad Europeans came when they did and gave China a nice whooping. Perhaps it’s clinging to past beliefs and trying to make everything remain the same that hinders “progress” (if there is any difference in that statement).

      1. Interesting how we’ve both been thinking about language/dialect. Must the being in China factor. Although I’ve been told a good rule of thumb is speak Mandarin to everyone except old folks, or if bargaining with middle-aged and above vendors.

        Haha, I think we shall have to agree to disagree on that last point. Whatever China’s flaws — and plenty of people argued the same as you at the time — that’s not a good enough reason for anyone to go in and take advantage of someone else. That’s just my thought.

        I think we both advocate for change except we have different ideas of how to go about it. I most definitely stand on the side of taking responsibility for the past and acknowledging where we still go wrong, because to sweep everything under a rug and say we’ll just start from here without addressing the past — that, to me, is how we don’t change. Sometimes blame is justified — I just don’t want to stop there.

  2. Although in the case of the Expo, I really am curious — did anyone show anything negative about their country? Given that it was a ‘cultural’ showcase and all, I would generally expect it to be a touristy kind of promotional opportunity for everyone involved. I’ll be impressed if there was anything on the negative side — I didn’t go, so let me know!

    1. I never went myself, but I highly doubt any country did. It makes no sense for one country to show something negative about itself =P

  3. To quote Atul Gawande, even a “rant forces the writer to achieve a degree of thoughtfulness.” Keep up the self-reflection, Rabi. It’s been a pleasure reading about your experiences in China.

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