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|At different times, China and US both buoyant and refined|
|作者：中国日报… 文章来源：中国日报-英语点津 点击数：2206 更新时间：2009/11/18|
The longer I lived in America, the more I felt its similarities to China.
Constant comparison is a regular activity for new expatriates. One is awed by the other country's comparative advantages, and one has acute awareness of where his own country lags behind - not exactly ashamed of it but more eager for progress.
Gradually, the curiosity factor evaporated and the truth loomed as more multifaceted and complex. I started seeing parallels. A colleague of mine who recently visited San Francisco and was struck by its beauty asked me: "Why did you leave?" I blurted out: "Because it's the American equivalent of Sichuan."
Not the earthquake. An old Chinese saying says a youngster should not go live in Sichuan. The rationale goes, the place is so comfortable one is often sapped of energy to work and create. Of course it's a stereotype and does not apply to everyone. But the Bay Area offers such an ideal mixture of everything I need - the Chinese diaspora, the high-tech environment, the artistic atmosphere and the weather - I felt I was living my youth as if it were retirement. But every time I come back, my love for it is reawakened. In terms of length of stay and in my heart, the City by the Bay will always be my second hometown.
In the mid-'90s I lived in New York for two years. I had a very clear purpose - to immerse myself in its arts and culture. I love the performing arts and there's no better place to experience it. Arts aside, New York, to me, is what China's future looks like, at least urban China. This mega-city teems with "Chinese characteristics" - its unceasing crowd, its sprouting edifices, its invading army of entrepreneurs, its chaotic vigor. I spent an afternoon observing pedestrians in Times Square. I found tourists from China - or at least Asia - exuded more confidence crossing streets than those from America's Midwest. The kind of civility the latter were brought up with had no use in this island of hectic competition. Crazy Stone and Crazy Racer, two hits on the Chinese screen, can pretty much describe the metropolis' buildings and traffic.
I settled down in Houston before embarking on the return journey to China. Houston does not look like any Chinese city. It is so sparsely populated, by Chinese standards, that I felt I was trekking through a national park, especially when my flight arrived at night. The South is often the target of ridicule in the American press, but I found a lot of charm in both its landscape and its people. The southern twang reminds me of China's northern dialects.
The most striking common trait is in the rural population. They may not know as much about China as those along the coasts, but they show a friendliness that sophisticated urban dwellers are simply incapable of - a combination of curiosity and acceptance. This is exactly the feeling I get whenever I tour China's rural areas and hinterlands.
There are differences under the surface. I found bureaucratic procrastination in both countries, but with disparate manifestations. In China you tend to find official staff unwilling to help, but in the US they tend to lack the ability. The old lady behind the desk is extremely nice and does everything to help you, but you end up in bigger trouble. The same thing happens in business as well. I've made a dozen trips to my bank to merge two accounts, each time taking several hours, but it remains unresolved. The inefficiency is startling.
Sometimes I get a sense that China is moving towards America and America is moving in the direction of China and I happen to be in the middle. I used to see the two as two stages of life in the same person. Now it's more like two moods of the same person - one buoyant and one refined, only you don't know which country has which mood.
For many years I shuttled between the two countries. Occasionally I get the eerie feeling that I have forgotten where I am. Is this airport in China or in the States? In the 1980s I could have guessed it even blindfolded, but now the surest sign comes from the bad English. People ask me about culture shock when I first went to the US and later when I came back, I'd say, What shock? I've found both places equally at home.
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