Chinese Stories in English
Things I Didn't Expect in America
by Zhang Fengbao
Before I left China, I already had strong impressions of America because of what I'd learned by osmosis from years of the Chinese media. Expressions like old school, corrupt capitalist society on the decline, hegemonistic, people struggling with each other for personal benefit, black slaves, gunfights, the subprime mortgage crisis, sexual liberation, two-thirds of the people suffering, etc., had already taken root deeply in my mind. But these firmly embedded impressions were smashed to smithereens after I got to America. I started feeling a bit like I'd been taken, so I want to say some true things, some human things.
What follows are some things I didn't expect before I got to America. I didn't expect:
That the average person in America can mess around with women, but it's an absolute no-no for a politician or official to do so, for fear of one day being caught and exposed by one's adversaries and forced to get out of Dodge;
That American political parties raise their own financing, and are absolutely forbidden to spend one American penny of taxpayer money;
That American governors and mayors are not controlled by the President, but heed the people, that is, the voters, of their own state or city;
That the President isn't the supreme official, being so scrutinized by the Congress, the administration's independent inspectors and the press that he couldn't take a bribe if he wanted to;
That the American media is privately owned, and in America state media isn't allowed to mislead people by flattering the government (there is a Voice of America but it broadcasts externally);
That every family in America has guns, and the number of guns is said to exceed the number in the military;
That Americans love to stick their noses into other people's business to the extent of calling the police about somebody beating their wife or kids, even if they have nothing to do to them;
That all Americans love to help other people be happy, and if you ask for directions they'll give you a ride without asking for even half an American cent in return;
That if Americans see an oldster fall on the street they will never crowd around to watch, but will help the oldster get up without worrying about being extorted as though they were unbelievably stupid;
That with the American economy in a slump and the media in certain countries claiming it's inflationary, the cost of living for ordinary people is surprisingly close to not having gone up in ten years? [sic];
That in America they build libraries on prime downtown locations;
That the best buildings everywhere you look in America are churches;
That the most incomparably solid vehicles in America are not Hummers or government officials' cars, but the yellow busses that take kids back and forth to school;
That Americans are so stupid that they don't value money as highly as they do justice, righteousness, freedom and democracy;
That poor people in America all live in single family houses like only our rich people can afford to live in;
That in America everything isn't motivated by some kind of self-interest, the way its portrayed in the propaganda of certain countries, but by justice, fairness and morality;
That hospitals in America only require patients to sign their names to see a doctor, and send a bill in the mail to your home only after you've been seen and left the hospital;
That there are still so many free public universities in America that are open to impoverished families;
That so many of the highways in America don't charge tolls;
That the source of Americans' kind-heartedness is that most of them believe in Christianity or other religions;
That if Americans beat their wives and kids, the neighbors will call the cops and they'll be arrested, and the national government will raise the children without letting the parents see them;
That in public areas Americans are not allowed to say things like how black black people are, or they'll be sued for racial discrimination and be imprisoned or fined;
That there's never a policeman standing guard at the main entrance to city government buildings in America, showing that Americans don't have the saying about complaining to the government [will just lead to trouble], let alone time-wasters like filing complaint letters;
That when the biggest stars in America break the law, they get taken to court like anyone else (Kobe, for example);
That when former president Bush was in office, his daughter was arrested by the police for under-age drinking in a bar and taken to court like an ordinary citizen, and paid a fine;
That during the American sub-prime lending crisis, the people continued as before to live lives of ease and comfort, without seeing any extreme inflation in the price of material goods;
That officials in America are reverent and respectful when they encounter taxpayers, as polite as if they were meeting their fathers;
That mayors in America drive their own private cars to work (and the mayor of New York crowds onto the subway like any city resident to go to the office, and city residents don't give him their seats when they see him);
That the police in America only clear traffic lanes for dead people;
That Americans go travelling when they have money, taking trips all around the world;
That American restaurants don't have special luxury rooms, because the owners are scared shitless that they might be seen as and fined for being discriminatory;
That Americans parade themselves around town wearing underpants made from the national flag and nobody accuses them of being unpatriotic;
That a 70-year-old Chinese woman who came to America to see her children needed $80,000 for an operation, and the hospital performed the operation even though she had no money or medical insurance.
October 12, 2011, 10:49 p.m., while meditating and fasting
My old friend was deeply inspired upon returning from a trip to America to visit relatives, and didn't mind taking the trouble to tell me all about that most evil of capitalist countries.
My impression was that American society was chaotic, with a high cost of living and excessive prices for material goods. I thought there was a high jobless rate among the people who lived miserable lives there in painful circumstances, and that America was very far behind our great, correct, glorious socialist country. His account turned my views completely upside-down!
It cost my friend's relatives US$400,000 (converted from more than RMB¥2,000,000) to buy a 600-square-meter home [6,450 square feet] with an expansive lawn in New York.
[Photo of a large suburban home]
My friend bought a pigeon coop of a place in Shanghai and spent almost RMB¥2,000,000 for it. American houses really are "dear"!
My friend's relatives put a vegetable garden in the lawn. They can grow veggies themselves in their spare time. They are the masters of their own land. How pleasant!
[Photo of a typical U.S. subdivision]
American housing. No wonder so many people want to settle there.
[Photo of a table at an American farmer's market]
Look at these vegetables that people have grown and are selling themselves, one U.S. dollar a basket.
Greens in Zhengzhou all cost four or five [Chinese] bucks a jin [≈1.1 pounds]. You can see that it's a poor area, but the cost of living still isn't as high as in China. When our city administrators see someone growing vegetables, it's like they're seeing an enemy who's raking on top of their ancestor's grave. They'll chase them down and beat them, and get rid of every last one.
How can America allow people to grow and sell vegetables for themselves. Evil capitalism!
[Another photo of a table at an American farmer's market]
Capitalist apples, US$4.00 for a big basket. Notice that it's a basket, not a pound.
In China, could you buy such a big basket of similar quality apples for 20 [Chinese] bucks [≈$3.23]?
It's better to buy by the basket. You should know that the average American's monthly income is over US$3,000.
[Another American farmer's market photo]
Blackberries for US$2.00 a basket. It's really wicked to sell them so cheap!
Take a look at these people's lives. They don't even have good steamed bread. A real tragedy!
[Photo of a poster depicting various countries' currencies]
An advertisement from the New York subway.
Some people lament: From the first set to the fifth set, there are fewer and fewer [pictures of] ordinary people on the people's currency [i.e., China's RMB].
My friend drove on the highways in four [U.S.] states and didn't see one toll booth.
Apparently a complete set of capitalist facilities is truly lacking there!
The Chinese text was published together with the "Backward America" blog post translated here.
The two Chinese texts are available here. "Backward America is first, followed by "Unexpected America".
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