The irony of fate

Ok. I have to admit I am quite emotional these days, and it is when I am emotional or stressed that I have lots of inspirations for writing. As the old Chinese saying goes, “The misfortune of a nation is the fortune of poets”, i.e., the wars, the change of dynasties and other disasters give poets a lot of experiences and therefore inspirations. Same for individuals, most of the greatest writers in China’s history experienced dramatic changes in their personal life and those experiences gave birth to their great works. I have to say my life is Oslo, at the moment, is not good. As a consequence, I might blog more often than usual.:D

Last night, I went to a motivation presentation and felt in sleep there while the whole auditorium was full and everybody except me was so excited by the speaker’s sentimental speech on how to become successful by just being positive. I fled and went back home where I read a book from Adeline Yen Mah about her personal story from an unwanted and abused girl in a rich family from China to be a physician in the USA. The book actually brought me to tears and some self-reflection.

I hate those who call China a country without democracy when they do not know anything about this country. I tell you it is up to what is defined as democracy, or election. China had a big election, a three-year civil war between 1945-1949. It was a war between Mao’s Communist party and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist party, or, in other wars, between the left and the right, or, the red and the blue, or, the liberal and the conservative, or whatever. The election turn-out rate was extremely high. Everybody voted, with their life, property, fame and the fortune or misfortune of their descendants. And people were free to choose. You could see well-educated ladies from wealthy families in big cities giving up all the luxury and comfort in life to move to Yan’an, the then capital of Mao’s army, to join the revolution. You could also see poor guys from countryside studied, fought and made his way up in Chiang’s Kuomintang party. Brothers met each other on battle fields; families spilt. It was a brutal time and millions died. By 1949, things became clear and the winner of the election was Mao’s red army. Same as in today’s election in the West, once the result is announced, individuals should not argue more and only decide for themselves, to stay or to leave.

Both my grandfathers at that time were in Shanghai, and had the chance to leave but chose to stay. My maternal grandpa was a well-established businessman. What worth mentioning is not his achievement in business, but his personality. He was a rock. At that time in Shanghai, businessmen of his club were all indulged in one or more of the things we call “five poisonous activities”: banqueting (excess eating and drinking), smoking (drugs), gambling and women (mistresses and prostitutes). Even my grandpa’s elder brother was once of them. That is why the family passed the business to him. He worked hard and lived a highly self-disciplined life. He was disheartened by the lifestyle of his peers, the huge inequality in Shanghai and the corruption of the Kuomintang government officials. So when the Communist party came to Shanghai with the promise to build a new China, he bought their words. He wanted to build a new country with them, a country where people are all equal and everybody has a good life, a country where there is no gambling or prostitutes, a country that will be developed to win the respect of the world. So he stayed in Shanghai, even though he could easily move abroad. Lots of those businessmen who were involved in “five poisonous activities” and lots of his employees fled to HK and prospered there. He was the first in his trade to support and cooperate with the Communist party and was only to have all his property confiscated during the later years of political “movement”. What was lost was not only his wealth, but also his life and his eldest son’s life and the possibility to live a normal life of his other children.

My grandpa has 5 children. The three eldest managed to get a good education before the “movement” closed all schools and tortured the teachers, but ironically, these three had a more miserable life than the two youngest whose education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution. The eldest son, with a good command of Chinese classic literature, studied physics and was tortured to death during the Cultural Revolution, thousands of miles away from Shanghai. My family does not like talking about him. Once I heard he was involved in the development of nuclear bombs and was exposed to radiation. The second son was admitted into the best program of physics in China’s best university. This was the hardest program to get into. Education resources in China is always scarce and in those years, you not only had to be academically excellent but also come from a “red” family background to get into university. Someone in my families, who obviously come from a capitalist background, had to do exceptionally well to get an education. But in the year he was graduating from his study, the Cultural Revolution started, and he was sent to the poorest province to work on a farm, like a slave. He survived that and once the 10-year disastrous Cultural Revolution ended and schools re-opened, he immediately took the entrance exam and got into a master program in physics with a top university in Shanghai, in the hope to be able to return to home. However, he never managed to work in Shanghai for a single day during his whole professional life. After the master degree study, he was sent back to countryside again and never had a job that matched his qualification or intelligence. Living in the poorest province in China obviously passed the misfortune to his child, who suffered some injury when nobody took care of her when she was little and the medical facilities there were of poor condition. The third child of my grandpa’s, a girl, my aunt, studied medicine in Shanghai and was picked to work in Beijing. At that time, though Shanghai had a better living condition than Beijing, to be able to work in “the great capital” was a big honour, especially for children from “bad” family background. However, soon came the fear of a war with the Soviet Union and the central government decided to move a big portion of educational, research and medical institutes from Beijing to somewhere in the middle of China where the living condition was pretty bad. My aunt spent many years there, married and had children there. Her husband does not come from a family that valued education, so her two children never get a university education. My aunt really resents that. She felt it is a shame that while at her time, it was so difficult to get an education for her, but she managed; her children, when they approached university age, admission to university was no longer based on family background and her children never made it. She lived the rest of her life unhappy with that and with a heavy smoker husband. She died early with cancer. The two youngest children never had a higher education, but a much better life. My mother, who never had any ambition in career or education and just wanted a quiet life, was not so disappointed when the Cultural Revolution closed all the schools. Though she had a very hard time when the family’s fortune were confiscated, family members prosecuted and she, as much beloved youngest daughter in a capitalist family who has never done a day of hard work, had to take heavy manual work in a factory, she was never physically tortured. Same with her younger brother.

One more level of irony. During the dark years, when all my grandpa’s wealth was confiscated and the family was kicked out from a big house in a prime location with modern toilet to three shabby rooms in a poor area which they previously would not even visit, the family hold together and supported each other. After the Cultural Revolution, China and Shanghai experience 30 years unprecedented economic growth. In recent years, the real estate market was booming and housing price skyrocketed. Those three rooms, which has been used as storage place for a while after my grandma’s death, was suddenly wanted by the government because of its now prime location. This time, they did not confiscate, but offer a price to buy from us. I have to say the price the government offered was really high, at least to me. However, my mother’s younger brother took 90% of the money and cut his ties with the other two surviving siblings, my mother who got nothing and her elder brother, who got 10%. My mother was heartbroken because she felt her family was torn apart again and she lost a sibling again and this was her nightmare again. I told her to think as if the government did not even give them a cent…

When my grandpa was wealthy and well-established in the old Shanghai (before 1949), he helped a lot of people. One of them was his younger brother, whom he helped to study the US. He later became a scholar-turned-businessman who also experienced dramatic changes in life. He is over 90 but still surviving. One day recently, I unexpectedly saw his picture in Chinese media because his daughter’s father-in-law got an important job. The news tried to dig out where his girl and her father came from. All they found was “a capitalist family from XX”. I had a smile on my face. They don’t know all the drama, the struggle and the unpredictable course of life.

After all, I have never seen my maternal grandpa. He died before I was born. I lived my first 7 years of life with my paternal grandpa and I always think he is the only man in this world who loves me unconditionally.

He and my grandma were both medical doctors. He had a good education, was multi-lingual and ran his private practice in the very center of Shanghai. When they got married, they lived in the same building as one of China’s most famous female writer was living in (Eileen Chang, the building actually was the witness of the relationship between her and her controversial husband). My grandpa’s family came from Guangdong province, actually the same county as dr. Sun Yat-sen was from. (That is the place in China most open to the foreign cultures.) So my grandpa spoke Cantonese. When the result of the civil war was clear in 1949, my grandpa’s friends gave him ticket to Hong Kong, Cantonese-speaking then British colony. My grandpa laughed and declined. He thought every regime would need doctors and as a doctor, he did not have to bother with politics. He also bought the words of the Communist party: to build a new China, a proud and strong country where everybody could have equal rights and a good life.

He was also wrong. Doctors are a-political but that does not mean they can defend themselves in front of the political prosecution. Soon into the years of national exercise of finding out “rightist”, my grandpa was reported by someone to the authorities as having been involved in the rightist activities in primary school. Like all parties in Norway, or else where, parties have their children organisation, like AUF (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking) in primary schools. But what did you know in primary school? It might be just the same as picking the red team or the blue team in a football match. So he was sentenced to prison as political prisoner while a middle-aged man for his behaviour in primary school! Then my grandma had to bring up the four small children alone as the wife a political prisoner. She was very good at maths as a child and a good medical doctor, but those years of hard life obviously changed her. She was very bad tempered. Right after the Cultural Revolution and my grandpa was released from prison (not cleaned of his name yet), she moved to Macau with her youngest son. She did not speak Cantonese (Macau is also a Cantonese speaking city, then Portuguese colony), and was over 50 by then. But I guess she was desperate to leave mainland China after all the miseries. As the children of political prisoners, my father and his siblings were denied any opportunities of education. Her youngest son was the best student in the district, but no school would allow him in. Her flee to Macau was partly to give her youngest son a chance, but he was too old when he arrived there and with the problem of language, he never managed to break through. I think he would be better off if he had come back to Shanghai when Chinese economy took off. My father was the second youngest son, with an elder son sent away from Shanghai to be “re-educated by peasants in countryside”, he was allowed to stay in Shanghai during the horrible years, but had to take heavy manual work in the port. When the Cultural Revolution finally ended, he grabbed the first and only chance to study in university, but in a field he did not like, engineering. Yeas later, when opportunity to get degree through self-study appeared in China, my father took it and studied law and eventually became a judge in a special field. He is proud of his struggle from being the son of a political prisoner to a judge, an expert in his field.

My grandpa’s name was not cleaned until very late. All the years I lived with him and he took care of me, he was a political prisoner. We lived in small shabby rooms. Then my father’s employer allocated a big bright apartment to him in the then suburb of Shanghai. My grandpa was used to life in the city center and refused to move. That separated us. With both my parents working, I was the lonely child who nobody comes to pick up after school and had to go home myself. And we lived in a high-rise not very common at that time, which meant little contact with neighbours. That made me very independent and acquainted me with a lonely life away from other people. When we first moved there, my grandpa would take bus for several hours to come to see me on Saturday. I would wait for him. But gradually, he came less and less and then he remarried and died. I still remember waiting for him in the rain after school and the candies he brought me. After he divorced and remarried at the age of nearly 80, I was not so happy with his new wife. I remember the last sentence he said to me was, “now you can go back to your mother”. I never had a chance to thank him for his love. I was the first girl born to the family for many years and his favourite grandchild. When he was a young and new father, he told his children that he would send them all to Germany to study for up to doctorate degree. At that time, Germany represented the scientific excellence and was considered most expensive country to study in. But when his children were at the age for university education, they were denied any chance of education. My grandpa truly loved me and he never pushed me to learn anything. He just wanted me to be healthy. He would never imagine that I would be the first and only one in the family to get a doctorate degree even though I was already in the best secondary school in China by the time he died.

But I am not proud of my doctorate degree at all. Today the world again changed and people value money. Some of my cousins earn much more than I do with only a bachelor degree and I am always the laughing stocks of them. The meaning of studying abroad for Chinese students also changed dramatically. The students who took a fortune to study abroad before 1949, maybe not all but lots of them, had goals or faith beyond personal wealth. It was a time when China was torn apart by foreign forces. China has always been the most powerful country in the world until the late Qing dynasty. Then the Europeans who had gone through the Industrial Revolution invaded China with the weapons we had never seen before. The Qing government lost again and again, first to European invaders and then to the Japanese. It started to think about learning from the Europeans and beat them with their technology and therefore started to send students abroad. By the first part of the 20’s century, it was already possible for private families to send their children to study abroad. Lots of those students, who left the China in the flames of war, had a mission in their heart. When they are abroad, they might change their subject of study again and again, when they heard what is most needed in China. Our generation of Chinese students abroad, also change our subject of study again and again, when we heard some subject is easier to find a job locally. And ironically the pivot of the world is also changing. Nowadays, study programs abroad are not necessarily of higher quality than those in China. I have seen science students surprised by the poor laboratory equipments in Norway and had to do experiments back in China. In the subject I took, one of the teacher was a student of a Nobel prize winner, but his teaching was just reading out the slides which never changed over the years in a never-changing tone. Students fall in sleep in class or left. With the emergency of online study programs, it really does not matter where you study.

Another reason why I am not proud of my degree was that I decided to do a  PhD to a large degree because I was lazy and did not want to go into the job market. My family pushed me to do a higher education and I did. If you ask my heart, I would rather be an athlete, but how can I with my height?! Or a housewife, but my family would feel a huge shame if I do that. Now I do not know what I am doing here and what I can do elsewhere. I feel I am just wasting my time here. I am afraid of the strong competition in China and am using Norway as a shelter. The feeling of having a mission or having a pursuit beyond personal comfort does not exist among my generation of overseas students. We do not have a crying motherland in war flames to save or a poor home country to serve for. Ironically, my home town is so rich that I can not even afford to buy an apartment there. I feel so empty. During the Cultural Revolution, countless intellectuals took their own life because they were so inhumanely prosecuted. Nowadays, lots of up or middle class people in China took their own life because they are depressed; they have everything but they could not see the meaning of life. And depression is even a bigger problem for foreigners in Norway where the sunlight is scarce. People tell me I should be grateful for what I have, and enjoy it, but I would cry and tell them they are just happy with material things in life because they do not have higher pursuit. But I do not know what higher pursuit I have. I feel so lost, the overwhelmingly empty you would not understand if you do not the ironic stories in my family. As the old saying goes, those who understand me ask me what I am pondering over; those who do not understand me ask me what I am asking for.

Home, no way to home

# Updated. I wrote the things below during the Chinese New Year week, but I could not finish at that time. I felt something was missing. I did not know what that is. Yesterday I watched a TV program called “China poetry and lyrics competition”. I suddenly realised what that is. I do not miss Chinese food; I do not miss the convenience of life in Shanghai; I do not feel loved or love some members in my extended family (as a consequence I do not enjoy CNY family gathering); but I deeply love Chinese classic poetry, essays, novels and other traditional literature. That is something soft and dear, deep in my heart. However, even if I live in Shanghai today, nobody would talk about them. People are so occupied with making a living in front of computers in the skyscrapers. Nobody can make a living with poems and lyrics (well, a few, very few). My family taught me traditional Chinese calligraphy since I was 3. I did not like calligraphy itself, but it opened the door to the vast treasury of traditional Chinese literature and that is my love of life. While in school, other kids consider it a hard task to understand and memorise ancient poems and essays, I enjoy them so much that I would memorise more than required. I think my early education from my family prepared me to be a traditional scholar, but modern society never has such a job, especially since the wide use of personal computers, even the need for pure calligrapher disappeared. I learnt maths, and I learnt programming. These might land me some jobs, but I know in any case, they will not be the love of my life. Same as people, you can never go back to a time in the past to be with someone at that time. In this sense, I do not have a home to go back to.#

This week is Chinese New Year. People always ask me if I am homesick sometimes, especially at times like Chinese New Year. I said no, especially at times like Chinese New Year. If I am, I will move back immediately.

I have a lot to complain about Norway, but I feel happiest to be in Norway during CNY. If I were in Shanghai, as a 34 year-old single female with a PhD, I will be bombed by questions, from extended families, of why I am having such a low income compared to my high education and when eventually I can get married. I seldom feel love from my extended family members. Only a few of them truly love me, unconditionally, but they all have passed away long ago. The rest are people, for many years even when I was in Shanghai, who I only say happy new year to once a year. During the time spent with them, I feel constantly being compared to the cousins in terms of job, income, spouse (if exists) and such things that are commonly used to rate you in China.

And the excessive drinking and eating is… scary… People keep offering you food and alcohol. I am strictly non-alcohol (my body just does not tolerate it), but still have to eat a lot when dining with families… Every CNY, you hear news that people die of over-driking. I never like the drinking culture, anywhere.

So it was my choice not to be in Shanghai during CNY in the past decade. I actually enjoy it. But I do have a strong feeling towards Shanghai, especially I am searching for the meaning of life.

Enough about CNY.

My emotion towards Shanghai is torn into two parts. On the one side, it is the only place in the world I could call home. Even if I have lived in Oslo for 10+ years and changed my passport, I am not and will never be a Norwegian. Shanghai is the place that defined me and my values. I met the people most important to my life up til now in Shanghai. And if some psychological theory works, everything we do today has a root in our childhood and my childhood is in Shanghai, actually the center of Shanghai. However, on the other side, I never really like some of the culture of Shanghai, the calculating, pragmatic and selfish way of thinking. I am a day-dreamer. I am native and have unrealistic beliefs. And even if we talk about the realistic things, Shanghai also no longer feel so much home to me thanks to the exorbitant housing price and really high prices in almost everything except low quality things. The price of the area I was born in is higher than that of Frogner. Many many fancy shopping malls have been built and you can buy everything from around the world. But if you step on their shining marble floors with dirty jogging shoes, no sales girl will give you a smile…

I once found out that while I claim to like travelling in Europe, all I look for is a feeling of home. It sometimes come from food. Like I always wanted to go to Portugal, for the sake of pastel de nata, a dessert I can associate with sweet memories. But when I was there, I found the pastel de nata there does not taste as good as those in Shanghai (besides, my wallet was stolen in Lisboa while I have travelled alone many times and this never happened to me even in Spain or Italy).

Some of the best memory of Shanghai was about the local football club, around 1993 to 1997, they inspired the city and its people and was the topic at each maths class of ours (interesting, isn’t it?). Recently, some of the key players in that team were found match-fixing and sent to jail. The amount they were found to have received was so small and laughable that makes me believe they are just scapegoats. In the first year when China introduced its professional league, the club could only afford three foreigner players, all from Russia, not big names, and we liked them and I still remember their names. Today the club could afford some of the world top and most expensive players, but few people still care.

Home is not the same. Maybe I should just settle down where I can find peace for the moment.

I like the lyrics of this song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW1Qnd4OYJk).

It says, “Life is not just about the trivial things at present and right in front of you, it is also about poems and the world afar”. However, even if I have travelled to the end of the world, I still struggle with the trivial things and home became sweet memory. Maybe it is always relative. All good things in our minds are afar or intangible, place or people. And if we do get it, it became trivial…

Racism, sexism, the positivity mafia and my thoughts at the New Year

Today is the first day of the year. I feel the urge to write something. Not new year resolution. I read, heard and experienced lots of things recently. These are small things that left a mark on me.

I read this article when Antirasisstisk Senter shared it on Facebook (http://www.vg.no/nyheter/innenriks/rasisme/naar-er-vi-norske-nok/a/23894811/). I was very irritated by it. The title is “When are we Norwegian enough”. It is about second generation immigrants feel they are Norwegian while part of society does not think so. The article tried to argue that they are Norwegian and should be treated as well as other Norwegian. I think the logic is totally and horribly wrong. I do not want to argue they are Norwegian (enough) or not. If ones parents are both, say Chinese or Somalian, it is nothing wrong to call the child Chinese or Somalian by ethnicity and Norwegian by nationality, if they acquired a Norwegian passport. This is not racism. The key point is not to argue that they are 100% Norwegian, but that they should be treated the same as ethnic Norwegians in everything as their legal status entitles them. To argue that they are 100% Norwegian and should be treated the same as Norwegians has a hidden assumption that to be a Chinese or Somalian is not as good as being a Norwegian and only when you are Norwegian enough, can you be treated equally as others. And this is exactly the core of racism!

I also read too many articles about the US election. It is so stupid that non-US citizens are swearing fiercely against each other for this election, making friends into enemies. Small country mentality I would call it. I remember one teacher told us in school when I was a child, “Any US president will work for the interest of the US. If you make China a big and strong country, you do not have to care about who he/she is and what his/her policies are”. I keep that in mind. Being politically blind, I was only disgusted by the woman card played by that woman. To vote for a woman just because she is a woman is the biggest and clearest gender inequality and a shame for any woman in this world. Not to mention that woman was the one whose behaviours resemble Chinese women in feudalism time: as long as her husband is powerful and privileged, she could tolerate adultery or anything, and help him to cover up and keep the good image from outside. Many years of feminism efforts were thrown into toilet by this “role model”. Today in China, it is so often to see men having mistress or extramarital affairs, once they can afford that, and wives are told to tolerate that and keep the family together as far as they can. This is not so common in the 90s. Can we blame Mrs C for that? We learned English by reading the news about her husband’s affairs and her defence.

I really love this article, negative thinking is positive (http://www.dn.no/magasinet/2017/01/13/1512/Arbeidsliv/det-er-lov-a-vaere-sur). It echoes my last post and really help me to feel relieved. For so long, I have been told as long as I am positive, the positive results will come and if they don’t, that means I have not been positive enough or made enough efforts. So I should just work harder and harder. As long as you believe it, you can make it. You can not imagine how much pressure this put into people, including me. Whenever I go to see psychologists or career coaches, they just say two things: follow your heart/dream and be positive, and charge you on average 1000 kr per hour for this. The bloody truth is that lots of people do not have a dream and if they do have, it is not a realistic dream. In any country, is it only one person who wants to be the king/queen/president/PM? No, millions or thousands, for big or small countries. How many of them can make it? My dream is to be a volleyball player for our national team, or the first choice goal keeper for the national football team. Given my height, not even the local disabled team would want me. So my dream is crushed, and what can I do next? Is my life meaningless? To tell a person without a dream to follow his/her dream, and to tell a person who has no chance in succeeding tot be positive is as brutal as to tell poor people who can not afford rice to eat meat and to tell sick people be healthy. They can not. You (the positive mafia) are just killing them. On the other side, those whose voices concerns, disagreements or plan Bs are called being negative. I experienced that several times in work place and now I would simply call this mobbing. Because they try to use this hammer of “being negative” to knock you down, to slap your face and to keep you quiet. However, to be negative, sometimes, is to be realistic, to be honest and to set plans to change things and this is the starting point of solving the questions raised above. Sigh, as far as I see in Norway, so many people are faking positiveness. They are particularly furious when foreigners points out problems of this country. It is ironic that people think there is no freedom of speech in China while what I experienced is strong encouragement to talk differently (because there are so many people there and if you talk the same stuff as others, nobody wants to listen again and you will not stand out), that to criticise is a symbol of intelligence (because stupid people are the yes-man.) and that to talk about problems instead of achievements is a symbol of being humble and modest.

Looking back into my years in Norway, on the good side, I am becoming very or too independent. My parents said I would not survive without them, but I managed to do that for 11 years in a country we had not heard much of. On the other side, I lost a lot of sharpness. I have been pressed so hard to learn Norwegian, skiing, and pretending everything is “hyggelig” when it is a lie. I was the top 10 mental in class in high school, and now I am trying to be this white collar office lady in finance. This might well happened in Shanghai if I stayed there and moved from student life to working life. So I do not blame Norway for this, but this is not what I come to Norway for. I left Shanghai for the very reason that I could foresee my life for many years and life there is too boring and. Before I came to Norway, all I knew about Norwegians were the sagas of vikings. It is not good reputation, but it is some spirit of adventure/risk-taking, exploration the unknown territory and experiencing foreign cultures. However, I do not see much Viking spirit in Norway today. People want permanent job, which I could not understand. What is permanent in this world? People do not want to take jobs abroad because then they lose the security and are paid less. Over time, I started to adopt such thinking, but since I am still not Norwegian enough, not even as much as the second generation immigrants mentioned above, I feel I still need to make myself more stable in Norway. But, on the days when energy (chi) is moving smoothly in my body, I know I am from Shanghai, the paradise of adventurers in the early 1900s.

It is human to be negative

Winter and shit happened her and there. I feel depressed. So I walked into a book shop to get some self-help psychological books before I get my turn in the six-month queue for a psychologist. Surprisingly, (or un-surprisingly), there are so many books on so-called positive psychology. They simply echo the advices I got from Norwegians. Be positive! Look at the bright side of life! At least, you have shelter and food. Think about those people in Syria who have neither peace or food, be grateful of what you have! At least you have a job to go to, think of those who lost their jobs in the oil sector. At least, you have health. Think about those who are sick with cancer and still fighting, do you still think you have something to complain? Why are you such a whiner? Why do you complain when you live in the richest country in the world? When you see a steak being overcooked on one side, you should focus on the other side… …

Previously when I was told so, I fell into deep reflection and started to doubt, if not to be ashamed, of myself. Yes, in this country, all you hear on the street, or any public places, is “Det var så hyggelig! (It was so nice!)” or “Kjempeflott (Very good)”, or such things. But excuse me, just a second. If everything is so perfect in this country, what is to account for the high depression and suicide rates? Those rates of Norway are even higher than lots of countries Norwegians regards as poor country or country without democracy.

In some countries, people criticise (complain) a lot, like in France, Italy, or some parts of China. Actually I heard in France, to be able to criticise is an indicator of being intelligent. In China, a country Norwegians forever label as a country with dictatorship and no human rights, I was taught to be different, to challenge the authority and to make changes from the first day in school. They told me, there is actually a very pragmatic reason to do that: because there are so many people in China, if you always do the same, say the same things, nobody will notice you and you will not stand out in the crowd. To say “everything good” in work place will surely incurred unamused eyes from colleagues as that is a clear signal that you just want to kiss the ass of the boss and keep your job. Even if one has absolutely no complaints, he would say something like, “though we are doing ok now, we can not be too complacent and have to keep our ears up since our competitors are looking at us like hungry wolves. If we relax for a second, they will swallow us. Therefore, I suggest the following improvement / changes… “.

Is Norway such a perfect country that there is absolutely nothing negative could be found? Well, the girls have the perfect make-up; you seldom see a fat or round person on the street and if you do, there is very likely a foreigner; their apartments are shining like Ikea´s show rooms; they have the shortest working hours in the world. I probably have mentioned how the girls quickly put on make-up in the change room right after training. (I always think this is a sign for gender inequality.) Some people argued with me that Norwegian girls do not put on make-up for guys, and instead they do it for themselves. But we don’t see our own make-up. So it must be for someone else. If it is not for the guys, then it is for the other girls, which I would call peer pressure. I heard of puberty age girls in Oslo, smart, beautiful and coming from good family, got depressed because she is not THAT skinny, just a tiny bit round… Work place drama is a whole new world to me in Norway. While in China, I always worried I would have to work for long hours once I started working. (This is probably well-known. However, what is less well-know is that Chinese have a much longer lunch and dinner, and that they might sleep, not even nap at the desk, but sleep in a bed, after lunch.) But among friends of my generation, office drama is not that often in the private sector because we live in an unprecedented economic boom and people are aware if they can make more money from outside, there is no point to spend time playing office politics with a colleague. While in Norway, I have heard so many cases of office conflicts that lead to depression, burnout and labor unions. This is not even most scary. What is truly most scary is that even all these are happening, people still put on a smile and tell you everything with this company is great! I have seen with my own eyes how a manager pressed down a very reasonable complaint of his employee, blaming the employee for not being grateful for the company while the manager himself was closing the negotiation to move to a new job. The pressure to be “hyggelig (nice)” and not to speak out any negativity is so overwhelming in Norway that you only hear about good things. (How could this be possible? If this perfectly peaceful picture of Norwegian place is true, the whole world will move to Norway.) It was so strong that made me feel hard to breathe and it was after a long struggle that I came to realise that to be negative is just to be human (we are the offsprings of people who focused on the sharp teeth and nails of tigers rather than their beautiful furs and reacted by running).

An argument against talking about negative things is that it doesn’t help. It does not make a difference, so stop complaining. However, I would argue it does make a difference. The way it does is through admitting the problem, which is the first and inevitable step to solve the problem! Only when one admits the existence of a problem, will he or she start to work on it and eventually solve it. Turning blind eyes to the dark side of life does not help.

Some attribute the pressure to be positive, or at least not to be verbally negative, to the famous Janteloven (the century-old nordic rule that one should not be different from others in the community). But Janteloven can also lead to everybody complaining. So this would still boil down to the very inner insecurity of the people. The more insecure people feel about themselves, the more necessary for them to put on a fasade to look great. This explained the silence at a personal level.

 

I think this trend of “positive psychology” is made use of by the  managements in companies and politicians that manage the country. Because they are “in power”, they do not want any voice to challenge the status quo, which they enjoy. So labelling anyone who spoke out dissatisfaction as being negative would help them hold their position. Image if the Chinese communist party start to use this very western positive psychology to teach its citizens stop complaining and be grate for the party, how would the western media write about it?

While Norwegians are always perfect and have nothing to complain about, all coverage about China in Norwegian media is negative. You never hear a single piece of positive news about China from Norwegian newspapers or TV. When I asked my Norwegian acquaintances, they told me this is just the selling tricks of the newspapers. People want to read bad things in a remote country and this is how the newspapers are sold. Then can I write negative things about Norway to increase my readership of this blog, which is very small now? 😀

To be or not to be

Please don’t read this if you are Norwegian. Please!

I haven’t been writing for a long while. I was working really hard trying to find an answer to the question: to stay here in Oslo/Norway or to move out. I know I am the only one that can answer this question. I know deep in my heart, I do not even have the courage to move to a new country and to start everything from beginning. But…

Last year, almost all my friends (not too many, anyway) moved out of the country. No, they were not fired from the oil industry, though the diving oil price did hit lots of industries indirectly. The structural changes of Chinese manufacturing industries made people working in outsourcing less interesting. The weak Norwegian kroner made Norwegian salary not very attractive for those who spend a lot abroad (NOK lost half of its value against RMB from its peak time). The hot start-up scene in China and many favourable policies from the governments to encourage overseas Chinese to move back did manage to convince younger people to quit jobs from highly-respected companies in Europe to move back to highly polluted Beijing. Some just move out for some sunshine.

For me, the most depressing thing is not the long dark night, but now narrow some minds can be. Since the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, there is no a single positive article on China in Norwegian media. Consequently, people look at me with lot of sympathy in their eyes:

-Oh, you blog? You must be happy that your blogs are not censored in Norway. (WTF, do you think China has so much resource to read every article online?)

-Oh, your friends are visiting Norway? Then they must be from the elite class in China to afford such trips. (WTF, with the weak Norwegian kroner and efficient travel agencies, holidays to Norway is affordable to most middle class or below.)

-Oh, what? Your friend’s company is listed on NASDAQ today? Then he will probably be better paid than you. (WTF, most of my friends in Shanghai are better paid than me by doing reasonably good job for reasonably good companies. They are not outliers. The price in Shanghai is not lower than that in Oslo.)

-Oh, you said gender equality in Shanghai is not what we in the West thought, but then do you have female presidents in China? (Well, we don’t, but we had empress thousands of years ago. And China today is the only Eastern Asian country which have very successful female business leaders who made their way from factory floor to the top by harding work rather than inheriting.)

I don’t know who will believe these when you don’t see a single article positive on China in media. People might ask how much I got paid by the Chinese governments for writing this. 50 cents? I wish I could. It is like the Chinese restaurants in Norway. They all serve the same trash food. When locals have never tasted the really good Chinese food, you will be considered a bad cook if you serve anything different.

I felt really sad when I came back to Norway by the end of last year after a month in China. I was almost depressed in January. The contrast was just too sharp to tolerate. In China, everybody is talking about making changes, being the next big thing, and living a life to its full potential. While back in wintertime Oslo, quiet. There are many start-ups in Oslo, but most of their ideas have already been developed in China, such as online shopping, food delivery, mobile payment… These are already traditional business in China. And given the small population in Norway, it is hard to say whether they will be successful here.

Having said all these, I have to admit I don’t have the courage to move back to China or to another country. I am way behind my friends in Shanghai in terms of career development and having been spoiled by a very relaxing Norwegian working life, I am not sure I can get used to the pace in Shanghai easily. And since I had not bought an apartment in Shanghai before the price took off, I am not able to afford the smallest apartment in the area I was born in. What is more important, I am a loner that does not fit into Chinese social scene well. I never enjoyed Karaoke. Drinking is no no to me. Lengthy dinner with stupid flattery also makes me bored and very impatient. And I will never be the sweet daughter-in-law to serve my in-law parents (if I ever have some) as the traditional values expect good girls to be. Ha-ha-ha-ha, destiny sent me to Norway for a good reason.

Any other countries? Once you are in Norway, it is hard to move out. Just think, anywhere else, I will have to work longer hours and have fewer holidays. And living in bigger cities means more time spent on commuting and more stress. I hesitate. Not to mention if I want to move to countries like Japan or Austria (which sounds nice to me now), I will have to learn yet another difficult language at an even older age!

I don’t know when I can make a decision. People say follow your heart, but my heart changes all the time. So this entry is just a pile of complaints from me. Please ignore it.

Free education, costly option: why I don’t think education should be free

I see the discussion of tuition fee in the air again and having just had a chat with a Norwegian friend who was enrolled in the same study program at the same time as I was in Oslo but opted to study in the US, I suddenly found something to reflect on and something to discuss.

As I said in an earlier post, the reason I came to study in Norway is that anywhere else TOFEL and GRE scores are required to apply for graduate school and I did not want to spend two years preparing for these exams. I am grateful for the Norwegians for providing a free education to me, but thinking from the perspective of Norwegians, I think that was a stupid idea.

The current practice in Norway is that education is free, for both Norwegians and international students. The admission is easy for Norwegians unless they want to get into one of the very few highly competitive study programs such as medicine at UiO. Other than these very few programs, a Norwegian student never worry about his application get rejected. Money matters only if he wants to study in the private universities such as BI or abroad.  For international students, it is slightly more difficult, in the sense that you have to prove you have enough money to survive, which sounds reasonable. However, just to get admitted into a study program is much easier in Norway than in many other countries because Norwegians have the philosophy that education should be available to everyone, not be a privilege to limited few.

The consequence is … For most Norwegian students, because the education is “free”, they don’t have to think too much before they decide what to study. When they study, they don’t talk much about what to do after school. That sounds too materialistic, isn’t it? They come to party and the generous student benefit, the government sponsored student loans and the abundant (well-paid) parttime job opportunities keep them on campus for years. On the other side, in countries where education is expensive, for example, America, students may have their whole career planned before they start their undergraduate study since they have to make the pay-back plan for their student loan. There are, of course, Norwegian students who are highly motivated and know what they want to achieve after study. But for this group of people, do you think some reasonable tuition fee will change their mind? Obviously not. Today the private universities are quite popular, aren’t they?

For international students, except those who study subjects for which some Norwegian institute is truly a world leader, most of the students come without much ambition in acquiring the knowledge itself. Some, like me, come when they can’t get a place anywhere else. Some come to experience a different climate and nature (partly true for me, too). Among the Chinese students in Oslo, some go shopping of luxury handbags once every month in Paris. Their choice of Norway is at least partly based on the Schengen agreement and partly on the easy admission and zero rejection rate of visa application. Some come to deliver newspapers… In a word, I rarely meet people who are motivated by the study per se.

Since both Norwegian students and international students are not highly motivated, the classrooms can sometimes be very quiet. In the economics classes I went to, lecturers see no point of encouraging discussion and debate, not to mention competition. This might offer the freedom to the students who know what they want, but to the majority of students who need a kick in the ass, the wake-up call never comes and they graduate to be the kind of people that can work in a same position for 20 years.

For the country to be competitiveness in the long term without the unpredictable winning of oil lottery, it needs competitive work force which comes from world-class education. That is why I believe the education should not be free, the admission should be much more strict, and the quality of education should be constantly examined and improved. What if smart but poor (especially non-Norwegian) kids can’t afford it? Simple. Giving them a scholarship rather than waiving the tuition for everybody. And … the awarding of scholarship should be performance-based rather than politically correct.