Dominic hails from Bright, IN (a suburb of Cincinnati, OH). He is a Senior Public Communications major and a Theatre minor at Ball State. He serves as the Intercultural Communications Researcher and is responsible for providing the group with knowledge about Chinese values, culture, and human communication patterns. His new favorite food is Dim Sum dumplings (YUM!)
Posts by Dominic Schiferl
During the six weeks we were in China (and the year leading up to it) there was a resource I used in order to learn quick little basic pieces of information about any culture I wanted. The website is called Kwintessential, and if we didn’t have it, we may or may not have committed social suicide.
One instance where it was pretty important to know some inside information was when all of us in the group went over to Thomas Yau’s home for dinner. We had never been to a Chinese home for dinner, so we weren’t sure what were the dos and don’ts (if any). After using my beloved resource, we learned there were specific suggestions to follow when going to someone’s home in Hong Kong, and not just China. Advice such as “do not give red or white flowers,” “Elaborate gift wrapping is important,” and “do not give clocks, as they are associated with death” were up and down the entire page. We took the advice and did a few of the dos on the list such as giving “imported spirits,” in our case a Californian wine. We also gave a bouquet of flowers with appropriate colors (purple and yellow) and appropriate quantities (8, a lucky number). I think we did a good job picking out the right stuff, but we will probably never know whether what we gave was “excellent” or “ehh.” When we gave the gifts to Mrs. Yau, she thanked us and then went to the back of her flat to put the gifts away, she never opened them. This is common in Asia because the gift giving is very important, but not the focus of the get together. Asian cultures like to receive gifts and then immediately put them away so they can focus on what’s important, their guests. Also, in case they do not like the gifts they where given, they do not want to have to try and fake as if they really like the gift (Socks?! Oh, you shouldn’t have. Really you shouldn’t have.).
As our trip was coming to an end, I no longer needed to find out the rules and etiquette of the culture we just spent six weeks in, we were about to enter another culture… our own. American culture doesn’t really seem like a culture to me, it just seems like reality. I’ve been living in its borders for 22 years, so I’m simply used to everything going on. Now that I have been away for awhile, I wondered what America will be like? Different? Same? I once again decided to use my trusty resource Kwintessential to find out the answer to a question I thought I would never ask; what are Americans like?
Everything I read seemed familiar, but in a weird way. Every piece of information such as “Americans are direct. They value logic and linear thinking” to “Handshakes are firm, brief, and confident” all made sense. While I was reading I kept saying to myself “yeah, I guess people do do that here.” It was like an out-of- body experience to take all the things I do and observe them as if it is something I am trying to learn. What’s even weirder is seeing it for the second-first-time.
Once we arrived in Detroit it seemed like the noisiest airport I had ever been to. Everybody is talking on their phones and running around in a frenzy. We saw lots of frenzies in China, but they were much quieter. A big reason for the noise is that Americans do not like silence. We typically like something interesting to do at all times. When it comes to social interaction, we are very friendly and informal. I saw this all the time. At one point, Suzy and I were talking to a couple on the way back from Portland about anything and everything. We had never met these people before and we probably won’t ever see them again, but we all felt like killing time with a little conversation. Even on the plane (after waiting for 20 years), everyone is talking to anyone sitting within speaking distance of them about how long we waited, why we waited, and what they could do to make sure we ever have to wait again. We didn’t solve any problems on that flight and we never got any answers, but the satisfaction of speaking to others about it was enough to relieve the stress.
Going away to a foreign country is an amazing experience and it teaches you a lot about how other people approach life. Using my resources and hands-on time with the people of China has opened a lot of new ideas to me. At the same time, going away from home has made me see home in a very different way. I no longer see people starting a random conversation as “space-invaders,” I see them as people wanting to kill some time and maybe create a little connection with a fellow human being. It has been quite a ride, and fortunately, it’s still going.
China is the oldest civilization known to man. Roughly 5,000 years old, the up-and-coming world power has everything that is new and everything that is ancient. Seeing the sites in China earlier this summer was easily one of the great privileges I have ever had. From the Great Wall to the World Expo, China has a lifetime of travel within its borders. But I have to say one of the greatest parts of traveling abroad is not what you learn about other countries, it is what you learn about your own. Being in China for six weeks gave me the opportunity to look into my own culture, from the outside, and discover some new perspectives.
There is a stereotype in the U.S. about Asians and there intellect. Apparently, they are all great at math and they are all prodigies at a musical instrument. There is also a belief in the U.S. about our educational system and how it is going down the tubes. There may be some truths to these, Asian societies highly value schooling and the U.S. could do a little more to strengthen schooling, nationwide. At the same time, I believe we have two different approaches to education. Asian societies seem to be more book smart; they study very hard and spend many hours making sure they get good grades. In the U.S., we seem to be leaning towards getting street smart. Have you ever noticed those “Immersion Projects” being promoted so much around campus? These put students in an environment where they get hands-on experience and create, instead of reading a book and taking a test. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do that than take a test. Besides, some of the greatest minds of all time didn’t finish college (Johann Sebastian Bach, Bill Gates, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin). I’m not saying you should you drop out of school; just don’t freak out so much when you get a B+ on an English exam.
Speaking of English, we are pretty lucky when it comes to language in this country. For the most part, everyone speaks English. Yes, there is the occasional hotline call where we have to decide #1 for English or #2 for Spanish (it’s so hard isn’t it?), but other than that we have it pretty good. In Asia, there are large amounts of the English language in so many places. From train stops to grocery stores, being an English speaker in Asia is a lot easier than you would think. Asian school systems start teaching English in kindergarten (unlike the U.S. where we have a few mandatory semesters of foreign language), and while it is true that the English-speaking world is the most economically prosperous, that may change in the near future (so don’t get too comfortable). Get out there and learn a little bit about some other languages; it’ll let you into the other parts of the world that the English language can’t (which is a lot).
When I first arrived in China I couldn’t believe how much American food was here (and when I say food I don’t mean real food, I mean fast food). From McDonald’s to Burger King to KFC (which is the most popular of all), if you only eat American fast food, you would not starve in China. What’s extremely interesting is what possibilities might occur in the future as a result of the fast food boom in China. Asians, in general, are known for being at a good, healthy body weight (unlike the U.S. where there is the occasional Jaba the Hut strolling down a Wal-Mart aisle in a motorized cart). Unfortunately, Sumo Wrestlers might not just be athletes, but also office workers. Let’s hope they won’t ever have to deal with that problem (and we can get rid of ours).
I’ve seen a lot of differences during my time in China and it has helped me see the U.S. in a new way. There was so much to see and even after I saw it I couldn’t believe it existed. At the same time, the most important lesson I learned while overseas was this: all humans are exactly the same, but in a different way. At our core, we generally all want the same things: food, water, shelter, and companionship. What makes us different is how we fulfill these wants: rice versus bread, bottled water versus fresh water, small apartment in the city versus big house in the country. Before learning about other cultures and the way they operate, it all seemed so… well… foreign. But after seeing and learning what it is about, it makes perfect sense.
Exploring the planet is one of life’s great joys. The opportunity to see new ways of living has made me a fortunate person. It is funny how a foreign country can feel like an alien planet, but after awhile, it starts to feel like home.
China is seen by the modern industries of the world as the land of opportunity. They see it as a place where they can take their industry and carve a niche for them to contribute and grow. These industries not only see China in this way, they are helping China make it that way.
Food is one of those industries and food franchises from the United States have one of the largest presences of anyone. Whether it’s been Shanghai, Beijing, or Hong Kong, all of us on the Ball State team have been just a quick stroll down the street from something that is very familiar. But sometimes what seems familiar on the outside, is really different on the inside.
It’s our first night in Hong Kong. All of us walk down the dense streets of a city that has a Times Square on every corner. It seems impossible for any one neon billboard to stand out among the Festival of Lights that is Hong Kong, but one actually did… Pizza Hut.
We haven’t had pizza for the longest time, so we jumped at the opportunity. When we arrive at the front door we only see a podium and a host. We then walk up several flights of stairs to arrive at what seems to be a mistake. Looking around the restaurant we feel as if we took the wrong set of stairs, or maybe this is the restaurant people go through to get to Pizza Hut. Nope. The host sits us at our table and we are still in this seemingly Bizarro Pizza Hut. Mirrors cover the walls and are engraved with beautiful cursive words that say “Delightful,” “Togetherness,” and “Delicious.” The carpet on the floor has a design that gives the impression of walking on rocks. The lights give orange glows from both lamps and beams on the wall. Sitting in this seemingly chic Tuscan villa, I’m thinking to myself “When did Armani and Pizza Hut get together and make a restaurant?”
The design isn’t all that is new. Pizza feels like an afterthought in the back of the menu at this place. I didn’t even make it to the pizza section until someone put another menu in my face. Spaghetti, salad, and lasagna seem to go on forever on these menus, and everything seems so (to quote the mirror) “delicious.” Dishes such as the Seafood Spaghetti in Sicilian Soup look absolutely amazing, especially after you read that it is “an alluring combination of seafood and Sicilian soup together with Al Dente spaghetti, a perfect match to bring out the freshness.” Dishes in America such as the “Cheese Lover’s Pizza” just don’t have the same ring. I’m not saying it’s not delicious, because everyone on this trip can testify that I will eat just about anything on a plate; I’m simply stating that Pizza Hut has really raised the bar when it comes to making Italian food.
With that said, I suggest we all burn down the Pizza Huts in Muncie so we can get one of these chic ones. You don’t want to do that? It’s against the law? Ok fine. I guess we’ll have to just wait until they rot and fall over (it should only take about 50 years). I’m willing to wait.
In the meantime, check out what these Pizza Huts look like at pizzahut.com.hk. You’ll feel like your reserving a suite at the Bellagio Casino Resort.
Since we’ve all been here for about a week and a half, we’ve obviously been learning a lot about Chinese culture and broadened our horizons because of it. But something occurred over the past couple of days: we got a big craving for the good ‘ol USA.
It’s been happening on and off since the weekend, but I think the group collectively decided we needed to experience American life when we all went to Burger King a few days ago while at the Expo. We all went and got our burgers, sat down on some benches, and practically swallowed our meals. It was delicious. The taste of processed “flame-broiled” meat and sodium-loaded french fries gave me one of the more satisfying belches I’ve had in a long time.
Eating fast food isn’t the only way to deal with homesickness. One major difference between Eastern and Western culture is that Asians tend to value being a part of a group and a collective. Americans typically tend to value the individual more. I have definitely been working up an appetite for some alone time since we got here. But it had only hit me in the past few days, of course. I decided to give myself the space I needed and listened to my Ipod in my room last night… alone! It seems to be just what I needed.
I’m sure moments such as these will be happening again, and that’s ok, because it’s important to give yourself a little taste of home. Besides, blue is a color of bad luck over here.
After an entire day at the Expo, a few others from the team and I are standing on the Shanghai MTR awaiting our stop. I decided to join the locals in a session of the post-workday zone-out. Standing quietly in the middle of the train, looking at all the different people, I noticed a t-shirt that reminded me of something from home: “Don’t Worri. Just Smile.” Even though it’s not an exact quote from the famous Bobby McFerrin song (nor is it spelled correctly), it still reminded me of a saying and a song from back home… and I’ve learned that over here it has a whole new meaning.
I’m standing around at the Expo in the Africa Pavilion, looking at all the magnificent displays Africa has to offer. I make my way over to the exit area of the pavilion where there is this huge display that can only be described as the Mt. Rushmore of Africa. Giant faces of African tribesmen make movements thanks to the help of projectors painting the images onto the enormous canvas. Amongst the spectacle, tourists are gathered around to capture a moment with the towering structures. It seems to be like every photo taking opportunity I’ve seen since we’ve been here at the Expo, but one particular moment really caught my attention and stood out even more than the 7-story high faces.
A young couple was standing in front of the displays getting a photo taken. Both of them were smiling for the camera as their photo was about to be taken. The young man held his arm around his companion while she took her left hand and held up the peace sign. As soon as that hand went up, her companion pushed it down to her side in order to prevent it from being seen in the photo. This was no gentle and smooth transition from hand-up to hand-down either, this was a resisted connection that had as much tension as Chinese and Japanese relations (as I have learned is not very good). I saw these two hands fighting back and forth and thought to myself “Oh no, we are going to have a couples fight right here, right now,” but to my surprise nothing of the sort occurred. Once her hand went down, the picture was taken with great big smiles and they both rushed to the camera with delight, eager to see the joyous moment that had just taken place.
Say what you will about whether or not the peace sign should be in a photo or not, or what this moment might have to say about male-female relations, cause those issues might very well deserve their own articles. The core lesson here is about how people in China act in a public space. One of the core values in China, and Eastern culture, is the concept of “saving face.” This belief asserts that each person possesses a “face” (maybe similar to what we refer to as a “soul”) and it is wrong to bring negative feelings and painful intentions to that person, especially out in public. It is not to say that the Chinese do not express disagreement, they just do them in more subtle ways in order to prevent feelings from being destroyed. Despite the obvious disagreement between the couple, they both moved on and enjoyed their picture taking moment with smiles and laughter, instead of spending time arguing over whether the sign should be up or not.
It’s very possible they addressed the issue later that day in a private setting, or they solved the issue through ways that weren’t seen by my western eyes. Either way, it seems to be that, in China, one must always notice and give attention to faces, whether they are 7-stories high or not.
After about 28 hours of traveling and one of the most beautiful rides I have ever taken on a highway, we have finally made it to the Far East in the city of Shanghai.
It seems like the moment we entered our hotel rooms we passed out from exhaustion. Amazingly, we all woke up bright and early in the morning to sit down for our first Chinese breakfast, and it was just what we needed. There were no forks, no knives, and no coffee. We had a lovely Dim Sum breakfast, which included my new favorite food item; the Dim Sum dumpling (with a sausage like meat). The meal gave me a great amount of confidence in the group because we had no problem making and eating our meal. I think we did a good job fitting in with our fellow Chinese guests.
We have taken a walk around some nearby neighborhoods and have already interacted with some of the local people.
As I am writing this I am sitting in a canteen enjoying a cappuccino smoothie from HollySong (which is delicious and costs less than an American dollar). I have to admit; I do not feel as if I am in a whole different part of the world. So much is different here and yet so much is very similar (American celebrities are all over the billboards). On an internal level, I’m curious to see how much we are going to change as people the more we interact with others with vastly different values than us.