As Terry told you in an earlier post, Sarah Brannan and Jack Meyer interviewed Jose Villarreal, the US Commissioner General of the US Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Jack has already supplied a copy of his story for you to read, a story that was picked up by theindychannel.com. Attached you will find a copy of Sarah’s story that was picked up and aired on Indiana Public Radio in East Central Indiana. It was also made available to for all National Public Radio stations in Indiana to be used in their newscasts. Enjoy!
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.