I have lived in China, on and off, for the last few months. I actually compare the city that I have spent the most time in, Changchun – the city of Eternal Spring, to Philadelphia. This is because you have everything and everyone living together from; automotive factories, great universities, financial institutions and a mixing of the educated and blue collar liberally. Changchun’s meaning makes me think of Yu Hua’s book, “China in Ten Words”. One of the words that he claims describes China is “Bamboozle”. In his book he told a story of how his father convinced his mother to come to his home city and leave her own. This was during a period when a person would have to give up citizenship of one city to move to another. The Author’s mother’s city was much better so there was some pride on the part of his father in his ability to bamboozle his mother. I think of this book and the word “Bamboozle” every time I see the name Changchun. My adopted home city reminds me of my home, Concord NH USA, as related to climate. In Concord we have three seasons, winter, summer and mud. Occasionally, on some off years, we get a long fall – but spring? Not so much unless snow covered flowers is spring to you.
Most days I start my morning with a cup of Puer tea and then I head for a run. I go to the Jilin University track for my run. To get to the track I leave my Apartment and head out, running, down a small street around 4am usually. During the beginning of my run I was introduced to the first horn of China. I was running along at a nine minute per mile pace when I heard a cars horn beeping rapidly. I of course reacted immediately and noticed a taxi racing down this small back street at around 50 miles per hour. He was using his horn over and over. I was shocked, there was nothing in front or behind him, he was the only car on the road, but he was beeping away, maybe to announce he was speeding? So I call the first horn of China the “I am here” horn. Not long after this cab drivers horn I was introduced to the second horn of China. This was at the end of the small street leading to the university. At the end, the small street, combined with a larger road where there was both merging and two way traffic, shops, bus station and the main entrance of the university. I had to run and cross the road by a bus station so as cars or trucks turned left or right by the university gate I would hear them beep at each other and me occasionally. This, the second horn of China, I termed the “We are here” horn. Crossing into the University at around 4:07am I was done with horns for the moment. I would not exit the university until around 6am. At his time I would walk back to my Apartment.
The walk back was during much busier traffic and this is where I was introduced to the third and very common horn of China, the “I am faster than you” horn, this horn is generally coupled with flashing headlights. It happens when you go to cross the street and a car can see you from the distance and the race begins. The car will speed up and start pounding on its horn in rapid succession as a warning. This is OK when it is a car or a cab but when it is a huge truck or bus it is important to get out of the way. I encountered the fourth horn the first time when I was turning the corner while walking by a garbage station right before getting to my apartment building. It was a blind turn where I could not see around the building and a driver could not see in my direction as well. As cars approached this they would sound the horn in quick bursts. This is the “I can’t see you” horn.
The fifth and final horn of China is the most aggressive and perhaps violent horn at first glance. I spotted it the first time when heading to cross a 6-8 lane highway to get to work. I walked to work as did many others and there would be maybe 20-40 of us in the morning heading down a small road to the highway to cross. Cars headed to the highway would come up behind us and release the “get out of the way” horn. As always I would react. Instead of just jumping I might let out a “Come On” or a “Are you kidding me?” This continued until I had an epiphany, like in the Hollywood movie, “The Matrix”. the protagonist, Neo, goes to see the Oracle and is in a waiting room with some gifted children. He sits and talks to one child who is bending a spoon with their mind. Neo takes up a spoon and attempts the trick but fails and the child says;
“Do not try to bend the spoon — that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth: there is no spoon.”
I had a choice, one that I noticed everyone around me already made and seemed to hold like some deep secret. My choices were clear; I could try find reason in the horns – which seemed to be a impossible task and one that I feared could lead to insanity, or instead I could could continue with the culture clash that was driving me crazy. With this in mind for the rest of the day I observed all of the five horns over and over and what I came to notice is that there were no horns or better put the horns were ubiquitous and had absolutely no meaning to anyone but me. The horns had meaning to me because the reality and culture I was used to had not yet accepted or transitioned to the new reality of living in Changchun China.
The lesson of the five horns of China is simple;
- A Person needs to recognize what is important in the culture or space that they are living and/or working in and react to that but at the same time ignore all of the distractions that do not add but take away from life and/or work
- If a person can accomplish this they can assimilate to their current culture
- If a person cannot accomplish this they should leave before becoming too unhappy
For my part it is easier to ignore the five horns, as taken in context they have no meaning, and enjoy the China that I love.
The Matrix: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_matrix
China in Ten Words: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yu_Hua_(author)