“China is the next superpower? Wake me when urban tap water is drinkable”

As a side benefit of the Mike Daisey/Apple/FoxConn fiasco, the wonderful radio program This American Life appears to have become aware of all us crazy expats who live or have lived in Mainland China: Episode 467 Americans in China.

It’s worth a listen (and can be downloaded as a free podcast at their website). The Prologue, about Americans appearing on Chinese TV felt a little stale to me, but the two main acts were both extremely interesting and focused on the lives of long-term China expats, ones that are deep into the grit of the place.

The last segment (Act Two) contains quite a humorous comparison of the questions that writer Michael Meyer gets from Chinese about himself as an American vs. the questions Americans ask him about China.

Here is what he says about questions from the Chinese:

“I’ve often thought of making a … card to present with a silent smile, answering the usual six questions asked of me in this order.

“One, I’m an American. Two, I’ve been in China a long time. Three, I was born in the Year of the Rat. I’m 1.86 meters tall. Four, I do not have a salary. I’m a writer. Five, Chinese is not hard. It is easier to learn than English. Six, yes, I can use chopsticks. We eat Chinese food in America too, but often it’s expensive and orange.”

Here is what he says about questions from Americans:

“[C]ompared to what Americans ask me when I say I live in China, it sometimes makes me wonder which is the developing country. But China is far, Americans often say. How can you live so far away? The Chinese are different than us, Americans often assert. But they want to be like us, right? They are the next superpower. And most passionately, they ask what about the toilets?

“Stop, I reply. China is not far. Nowhere is far with Skype and nonstop flights. Chinese are just as self-effacing as Americans and have a similar sense of humor.

“China is the next superpower? Wake me when urban tap water is drinkable, when an ambulance will come when called and can make it through traffic, and when there’s transparency in government, law, and the finance sector, to say nothing of a civil society, environmental protections, freedom of speech, and– but usually by now, the questioner’s eyes have glazed over. And I miss being asked simple questions, such as whether I can use chopsticks.”

There are many more interesting bits. Give it a listen. I haven’t given much away.

5 responses to ““China is the next superpower? Wake me when urban tap water is drinkable”

  1. I’ll definitely try for a download – we’ll see how the great firewall likes it. Last year Marketplace (another public radio show) did a series on China and the financial implications in the last five years. This sounds like a different take.
    And I completely agree with his comments about the drinking water and the ambulances – I think I would have a few more of my own to add.

    • If you mange to download this one, get the Mike Daisey retraction show as well. Also a good listen. I’ll have to look up that Marketplace series. Seems like I might have heard bits and pieces of it, but it would be nice to properly listen (when I’m not chasing my littlest one around).

  2. The last paragraph is too true! I think a lot of Chinese people think that when they overtake the US as the top economy, all the other benefits that developed nations enjoy will just come naturally!

  3. Pingback: A lack of manners « 中国 Jumble·

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