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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Poems in toilet

ECGMA says: Poems In Motion?!?! Thanks to Annie T for sharing this.

Excellent poems by not so famous poets... found on toilet doors and walls..........

A budding poet trying his best...

Here I lie in stinky vapor,
Because some bastard stole the toilet paper,
Shall I lie, or shall I linger,
Or shall I be forced to use my finger.

Before he graduated to be a poet, he wrote this...

Here I sit
Broken hearted
Tried to shit
But only farted

Someone who had a different experience wrote,

You're lucky
You had your chance
I tried to fart,
And shit my pants!

Perhaps it's true that people find inspiration in toilets.

I came here
To shit and stink,
But all I do
Is sit and think.

There are also people who come in for a different purpose..
Some come here to sit and think,
Some come here to shit and stink,
But I come
here to scratch my balls
And read the bullshit on the walls...

Toilets walls also double as job advertisement
(written high upon the wall)
If you can piss above this line, the Singapore Fire
Department wants you.

Ministry of Environment advertisement.

We aim to please!
You aim too! Please

On the inside of a toilet door:

Patrons are requested to remain seated throughout the entire performance.

And finally, this should teach some a lesson...Sign seen at a restaurant:

The hands that clean these toilets also make your food...please aim properly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Greatest Love Of All (Welcome Home Heroes)

Whitney Houston performs her hit song "Greatest Love Of All" for the troops at her 1991 Welcome Home Heroes concert. A cute moment occurs when a cute little kid joins Whitney on stage.

Ghost soldiers captured on cam?

ECGMA says: Darn!!! This scared the shits out of me the first time I viewed it!! My heart is still beating at a rate of....what rate? It stopped for 5 seconds, man!
Warning: if you have a weak heart, don't view! So view at you own risk as I did.

Work Break to Annihilate Stress

ECGMA says: Dedicated to all stressed individuals

Annihilate stress each morning with this 3 minute video before work. This is for Sales and Health Care Professional and Business Executives, By Wayne F. Perkins Stress Expert and Stress Annihilator.

Friday, October 26, 2007

English Bobby no more, it's English Dicky

Thought it would be a good idea to advertise on the rear of a bus. Their planning did not take into account the position of the exhaust pipe.
(Click on image to enlarge)

20 Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity

1. At Lunch Time, Sit In Your Parked Car With Sunglasses on and point a Hair Dryer At Passing Cars. See If They Slow Down.

2. Page Yourself Over The Intercom. Don't Disguise Your Voice.

3. Every Time Someone Asks You To Do Something, ask If They Want Fries with that.

4. Put Your Garbage Can On Your Desk And Label it 'In'.

5. Put Decaf In The Coffee Maker For 3 Weeks . Once Everyone has gotten over their caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.

6. In The Memo Field Of All Your Cheques, Write ' For Smuggling Diamonds'.

7. Finish All Your sentences with 'In Accordance With The Prophecy'.

8. Don't use any punctuation.

9. As Often As Possible, Skip Rather Than Walk.

10. Order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat, with a serious face.

11. Specify That Your Drive-through Order Is 'To Go'.

12. Sing Along At The Opera.

13. Go To A Poetry Recital. And Ask Why The Poems Don't Rhyme?

14. Put Mosquito Netting Around Your Work Area and Play tropical Sounds All Day.

15. Five Days In Advance, Tell Your Friends You Can't Attend Their Party Because You're Not In the Mood.

16. Have Your Co-workers Address You By Your Wrestling Name, Rock Bottom.

17. When The Money Comes Out The ATM, Scream 'I Won! I Won!'

18. When Leaving The Zoo, Start Running Towards The Parking lot, Yelling 'Run For Your Lives! They're Loose!'

19. Tell Your Children Over Dinner, 'Due To The Economy, We Are Going To Have To Let One Of You Go.'

20. And The Final Way To Keep A Healthy Level Of Insanity - Send This E-mail To Someone To Make Them Smile. It's Called Therapy

Act with decorum - Winning Ways (Ugly Malaysian)

ECGMA says:
I like to add that it's not only with budget flights, even with non-budget flights, Malaysians or Asians, in general, from my own personal experiences when boarding a flight to and from KL. Let me share with you the 'culture shock' I experienced when I came 'home' to KL from my 6 years of living and studying in the UK. Now, in western countries like in the UK and Australia, the courtesy of queuing (or giving way in traffic) is a norm. Prior to my 'coming home', I don't recall queue barriers in UK banks. When I was back home in the early 80's, I stepped foot into a major Msian bank, Maybank and queued in the line as directed by the queue barriers. While waiting in line for however long (how I forgot about the pathetic 'slowness' of service, very govt-like), all of a sudden, a chinaman barged through the doors, took off his motorbike helmet and cut queue! Let your own imagination run wild about how I felt! Not a single shitless 'soul' objected but me, the stupid one, according the locals in line, who gave me their look of 'next time, mind your own business-lah'. I gave them my "tew-lay" (F-you) look and winked at the old lady in front of me. She rolled her little beady eyes. Back to motorbikie chinaman who then gave me the "ngo wooi taar say nay" (I will kill you) look. I made a kissing gesture at him which really infuriated him but he refrained from 'attacking' me coz of the security guard with a shotgun was nearby. Chinaman bikie gave me the final "I have the last laugh" smirk coz the bloody bank teller serviced him, why, your guess is as good as mine?!?! Chinky bikie then walked passed me and abruptly brushed against my shoulders, intentionally, of course. I returned him an 'orgasmic' reaction....with the oooohs and aaaahs and shook orgasmically. Nearly wet my own pants then. That further infuriated him and he went to his Honda Cup (the 70cc moped-ish bike) and waited for me, in the hot humid Msian sun. Silly bugger. This was one time I appreciated the 'slowness' of the bank service, for after waiting for me for 15 minutes, he couldn't wait any longer, gestured me the single middle finger international sign language and I waved back with 2 of mine. It's courtesy, mind you. Then another time, I was waiting for a 'bas mini wilayah' or popularly known as BMW, a local mini bus public transport. As usual, no sense of queuing whatsoever. Amongst the many sweaty uncouthed beings (me being one of them too), there stood next to me a petite, fair, sweet-looking chick, appropriately dressed in an office attire, with a little too much make-up and over-the-top ghost-like white powder, though. If it rained, you will see darkish 'tears' running down her cheeks, all from her thick mascara. I was miserable and suffering from the hot humid weather condition, wiping non-stop with 'baby' wet-wipes meant for babies' bums. Heck, my cheeks are smooth as a baby's buttocks anyway, so if it's good for babes' bums, it will do fine for my face! Finally, the BMW came, standing room only and I started to step forward towards the entrance of the mini bus. Lo and behold, I felt an arm swinging passed me from my right and swiped me aside to the left and was pushed back....darn, it was that petite white ghost-like 'chai-knee' girl! I thought to myself, "Crikey! Her internal power was impressive!, I want to learn her kung fu, man!". "Is her name Wing Chun?", I wondered. I fought my way back to the entrance of the bus only to be stopped by the bus conductor indicating the bus was full!!!! The bus zoomed off with the 'chai-knee' girl giving me a cold ghostly look. Freaking 'ell! Come to think of it, Msians seem to be obsessed with 'looks', don't they? I have many yarns to share about 'malaysian life' that will fill a book but I will share one more before I close off. If you ever have a msian help you navigate or offer you directions while you are driving in the confusing Msian roads and highways, take heed of my experience I had on several occasions. I was driving my in-laws' people-mover 7-seater vehicle. The kids, fart-in-law and missus at the back passenger seats with my ma-in-law (M-I-L) as my navigator. Now picture this, both feet on the dashboard and near to the car air-conditioning (to cool her feet), crackling away between her teeth dried melon seeds aka 'kwa-chee', with F-I-L snoring away mouth wide opened acting like a well accumulating a pool of saliva (the heat and humidity sometimes can make one sleepy). Instructed the boys not to tilt grandpa's head else water (saliva) fall! I forgot the #1 rule with kids, never, never tell kids NOT to do anything, the more NOTs you order them not to, they will DO. Don't have to tell you what happened next. Msian road signs are not meaningful and helpful. Also indicator signs on the roads like directional arrows painted on the roads are very misleading too...well not to the 'locals' but to a 'foreigner' like me! On this particular section of the highway, I was on the left-most side of a 4 laned-highway and there in front of me I see a white arrow pointing (a right-curved arrow) to the right. My understanding was to merge right, right?!?! 'el no! My cooled-feet-on-dashboard-kwa-chee-crackling M-I-L sat up and interrogated me what I was doing? I said I am merging right as per the arrow sign. She said "no, no, no-lah! Aiya! Keep left, keep left, as we will be turning left-lah soon!". I said "what? Arrow says to go to the right?". "Aiya, where you come from, aah? keep left, keep left!", she fired back. I remembered the lesson learned from past experiences, never argue with your M-I-L. Guess what, 50 metres after the right-curved arrow, I see a left-curved arrow, in between, we were in limbo, so to speak! Continuing our journey, I asked for further directions (big hindsight) and M-I-L instructed that I should (I was still on the left-most lane of the 4 laned-highway) merge to the right but keep to the middle. I went "huh?!?!". "Do I move into lanes 2, 3 or 4?!?!", I asked. "Aiya, you O-Chau people stupid or what? Don't understand simple English aaaah? I said go right and keep in the middle-lah!".O-Chau is cantonese for Australia. I thought to myself not wanting to impress her further my 'stupidity' to my M-I-L, "ok, go right and keep in the middle...hmmm". So, I merge all the way to the far right (lane 4)....and as we say in manglish (msian-english), "I kena scolding" ie. translated literally "I got scolded". She scolded "aiya! I didn't say go far right! I said go right-lah and STAY IN THE MIDDLE!! Aiyoh!". I was glad the car's air-cond was on high (full-blast, that is) or I would have lost my cool! Cut long story short, she meant go to lane 3. I retorted "Apa-da, say lane 3-lah!" Apa-da is equivalent to what-da....she gave me the killer-look and fumed, "That was what I said!!! Go right and keep in the middle lane!!!!". I gave up, took a deep breath and let out the biggest sigh ever! Why do you think I migrated to Australia!
Ps. Clarification....the stuff I said about my inlaws were said in jest. They know me well and should be used to my jesting. Not many can say what I am about to say, my inlaws are the loveliest people around and my 2 boys love them very much. They are doting grandparents to my 2 boys.

Friday March 30, 2007

Act with decorum


Does being a customer give one the right to behave the way he likes?

WE are constantly reminded of our “customer rights” and how we must guard against unscrupulous shopkeepers. Of course, no one wants to be cheated when we spend our hard-earned money. But have we, for a moment, considered the other side of the equation whereby, as a customer, we also know our social and moral obligations? Does being a customer give us the right to behave any way we like?

If you want to see the “ugly Malaysian”, you should make a trip to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s Terminal 2, where everyone and anyone can fly. My first visit to that terminal was to help a visitor to Malaysia check in and I was embarrassed by the total lack of good manners exhibited by our “always so courteous” Malaysians.

What is it that brings out the worst in us when we hear that something is free or cheap? Who is to be blamed for this behaviour – the people who provide the free/cheap goods and services or those who will benefit from it? If we believe that people who benefit from it will lose their sense of balance and behaviour, then shouldn’t the product/service provider encourage and educate them to behave with decorum? I believe that businesses must have some social responsibility and learn to educate the public or, in this case, their customers.

People tend to do whatever they want when they are in public places. They pick flowers at the botanical gardens because the flowers are so beautiful. They are tempted to take the plush towels from hotels and the small jam jars that are given on a flight. They queue up for hours and rush into the shops when there is a sale. And God forbid that you should jump the queue. They push and shove if they find an item that they want, even if you had touched it first. But the worst behaviour is displayed when something is given free, particularly food. I leave this to your imagination.

“The customer is always right” rule does hold true when you are in business and selling something. But you can educate customers to be courteous and polite when asking for something, and encourage them to exercise emotional intelligence when they are angry or frustrated about a product or service.

Everyone is aware of what is called “first come, first served”. People should be encouraged to learn to queue. If someone dares to abuse this, politely tell the person, “Excuse me, sir/madam, there is a queue here. Could you please join the queue?”

If you are flying, you will know that the airline tells you – and expects you – to allow mothers with children to board first, then those who sit at the back of the plane, followed by the rest of the passengers. There is some order and no one gets stressed travelling.

How is it that this does not happen on budget airlines? People push, shove and hit you with their heavy luggage when scrambling into the plane to get the best seats.

That is what happens when people are not given seat numbers and when the airline personnel, however courteous they may be, do nothing to ease the chaos. If common sense and courtesy were non-existent, then the public must be forced to behave – there should be ropes and barricades indicating that people should queue so that no one gets trampled on.

Put up large sign boards telling people not to pick flowers in public places and in the Botanical Gardens; not to touch artefacts in museums; not to feed the animals in the zoo unless permitted; not to spit in public places; not to pee in public swimming pools or along the highways. Put up large signs in public toilets reminding people to keep them clean and dry. People should be taught not to squat in a sitting toilet and to flush after using it.

Be socially-conscious. Be responsible and accountable. If someone throws rubbish on the street, there is nothing to stop you from picking it up and throwing into a bin and, at the same time, telling the person that you do not appreciate him/her polluting the country.

In restaurants, it is high time we educate our customers that they should not take more than what they can eat. Make them pay for what they do not eat.

Apartment-living is trendy these days. The service centre and the residents’ committee should constantly remind residents that safety and cleanliness are paramount and those who abuse their privilege of living in the apartments will be fined. Often it is the “stick” that works. People have to hurt a little to shape up.

What about those who are employed and work with others? Look around and see how important a code of work culture is in the office. People are expected to be punctual for work. You are trained to be courteous to your customers. All are governed by a code of conduct; anyone who abuses the system is ostracised.

All it takes is for people to take pride in living within a society and act responsibly to ensure that their behaviour is not an annoyance to someone else. Of course, you have rights and privileges, but your rights stop where the other man’s nose begins. If we all believe that there is dignity in the way we behave and show respect and courtesy to others who also live in our society, then we are making the right moves in becoming a nation where people understand that real education is not confined to schools but is also the responsibility of every family, business and Malaysian who makes this their home.

Lose the Ugly Singaporean, it's excess baggage

ECGMA says: Old news but still worthy read to see that our 'siblings' down south of the border of the bottom end of West Malaysia are 'ugly' too like their northern bigger and uglier brothers and sisters. Don't worry, 'Singos', I will post a similar 'Ugly Malaysian' to satisfy your kiasu-ness.

The Straits Times
July 31, 2005

By Catherine Lim Suat Hong

THERE is growing anecdotal evidence that Singaporeans travelling in the region are gaining a reputation for arrogance and rudeness in the host countries.

In the two weeks since I've been back from Chiang Mai, Thailand, this topic has cropped up in conversations with my friends and an editor of this paper.

The reputation seems to be a by-product of budget travel, where $10 flights are just too attractive to pass up, and making quick trips, to Bangkok in particular, seems cheaper than taking a taxi to Johor. The strength of the Singapore dollar adds to the attraction.

I maintain that I spend less in my trips abroad in the region than at home, as long as it's over a two-week period with air ticket and board factored in. And my lifestyle here is comfortable, though by no means extravagant.

My friends and I have observed a side of Singaporeans which, to put it bluntly, is ugly.

One friend waiting in a taxi queue at a well-known hotel in Bangkok remembered seeing a Singaporean woman alight from a taxi, vocal and vociferous over an extra charge of 30 baht. She claimed she had not been told of the charge when she got into the cab.

She complained to the hotel doorman, threatened the taxi driver and unfortunately, revealed in the process she was a Singaporean who would not be hookwinked.

Now 30 baht is just over one Singapore dollar. Singaporeans can pay up to $5 in extra charges for peak hour travel from Changi Airport.

It may be that she was adhering to a principle of paying only what has been agreed. But as a guest in another country, I would make allowances for language.

While in Chiang Mai, I read a letter from a Singaporean in what is the Bangkok Post's equivalent of the Forum page.

It was by a mother who had flown to Bangkok to bail her daughter out of police custody. The 19-year-old was picked up by the police for underage drinking. The legal age for drinking in Thailand is 21.

First, the mother railed against the authorities for not making allowances for her daughter's ignorance, then she proceeded to tell them justice would have been better served if the police had expended their energies taking the owners of the drinking establishments to task for not checking her daughter's age before allowing her to drink on their premises.

She claimed she was made to sign statements in Thai without the benefit of translation before she was allowed to bail her daughter out of police custody.

The woman concluded that the whole experience would harm Thailand's push to draw tourism into the country.

But consider if the situation had been reversed: the writer, whether knowingly or inadvertently, broke one of our laws. How would you react to the tone and manner of the letter?

Ignorance is no excuse. If you choose to visit a foreign country, you should jolly well be familiar with its laws and its customs. Instead of taking matters into her own hands, the woman could have contacted the Singapore Embassy for help or tried to get access to an English-speaking Thai lawyer.

As it is, the only allowance I can make for her is that she was reacting like an anxious mother, who received a call from a scared and crying daughter in danger of being incarcerated in a foreign country. But she penned the letter after the experience, when cooler heads should have prevailed.

Sometimes, Singaporeans abroad seem insensitive to the feelings of the people whose country they visit.

I walked into a shop in Ubud, Bali, about two months back, and with almost unerring instinct, knew that the person bargaining at the counter over her final purchases was a Singaporean.

It was not the bargaining. This is customary in the region - a way of engaging the local people. It was the way she was bargaining. Her strategy was to call the salesman a liar who quoted a different price when it was time to negotiate her purchases. It is not good form nor is it good manners to bargain this way when you are trying to exact a discount.

She then asked whether she could find the cheapest spices at the market round the corner.

The reply was somewhat cautionary - that one gets what one pays for, and it might be prudent to buy from shops where the produce is well packaged and prices fixed.

When she left, I had a chat with the salesman and found out he was the owner. He had happened to drop by the shop that morning, it was one of three he owned around Bali.

He was good-natured. We chatted. He told me how a policeman that same morning had tried to get him to give him a bribe. He expressed admiration for Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

But I fear even MM Lee's reputation and the respect ordinary Asean citizens hold for him and Singapore's reputation for good governance may be overshadowed, if Singaporeans continue to act with arrogance, pride and a singular lack of charm.

I remember an interview with Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong when he was prime minister, on what vexes him most about Singaporeans. He said without missing a beat it was our ungraciousness.

I have always found the Balinese, and especially the Thais, to be gracious. More often than not, they wear a ready, genuine smile. I found myself smiling, I estimated, twice as much in Chiang Mai as in Singapore.

I formed a relationship with the Thai woman who cooked my breakfast noodles every morning. By day three of my visit, she already knew what I liked to eat and drink. She noticed the day my travelling companion left for home and chatted with me as I was alone.

In contrast, it took me, I reckon, six months to reach that comfort level with the mee pok man at my hawker centre, who is still sometimes given to a certain gruffness when I request extra vinegar and more chilli.

It is too easy to fall into the trap of making sweeping statements and stereotyping people's behaviour.

Still, there is a growing perception that the Thais in Bangkok have a poor impression of Singaporeans and are not as friendly to us. Some of my friends have decided that when next in Bangkok, they will be Malaysians, Taiwanese or any other nationality they can pass themselves off as, rather than be regarded as ugly Singaporeans.

I don't know if this was said in jest. But I think those with more than a modicum of good sense and good manners should quickly acknowledge they are Singaporeans, lest our reputation gets tarnished even further.

And if you recognise something of yourself in this column, consider this a gentle reminder that while we are lauded for our honesty, efficiency and diligence, we can still learn from our neighbours, even if it's just to smile more often.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

If Adam and Eve were Muslims

Click on image to enlarge

The Ugly Chinaman

ECGMA says: Read his book of the same title. Excellent reading!

Bo Yang

"The Ugly Chinaman"

Speech given at Iowa University, 24 September 1984

For many years I've contemplated writing a book called The Ugly Chinaman. When the novel The Ugly American was published in the United States, the US State Department chose it as a guide to policy making. But when the Japanese ambassador to Argentina published a book called The Ugly Japanese, he was immediately recalled from his post. This is a good example of the gap that separates the East and the West. In China, for sure, things would be much worse. If I wrote a book called The Ugly Chinaman, you would soon be delivering me my meals in jail. In Taiwan, prisoners pay for their own food, which is the main reason why I haven't written such a book yet. For many years, however, I have been looking for an opportunity to speak about this subject in public, and to provide Chinese people in all walks of life with some food for thought--if not condemnation. Talking about this subject in public is no easy matter either. A group of people in Taipei once invited me to speak on this subject but when they heard the title of my speech, the invitation was swiftly withdrawn. Thus I am proud to say that this is the very first time I have lectured in public on the subject of 'The Ugly Chinaman'. I would like to thank all of you present for giving me this precious opportunity.

Once I was invited by Tunghai University (in Taichung, Taiwan) to give a lecture. I told the chairman of the Student Association there that the topic would be 'The Ugly Chinaman' and asked him if he foresaw any problems. Though he assured me there would be none, I insisted: 'You'd better ask the Dean's Office. I myself am already something of a problem, and if I start talking about a touchy subject, that makes two counts against me.'

After consulting with the Dean's Office he telephoned me. 'Nothing serious, though they wondered if you wouldn't mind changing the title of your speech. The Dean's Office thinks it's a bit too direct.' He then gave me a long and very high-sounding title and asked me what I thought of it.

'I don't like it one bit, but if you have to change it, go ahead and do it.' That was the first time I had spoken in public about 'The Ugly Chinaman'. When I asked the chairman of the Student Association to record the lecture so I could transcribe it later and turn it into an article, he readily agreed. But when I received the tape, I discovered that the entire tape was blank except for the first few sentences.

I am 65 years old now. Some friends of mine in Taipei held a birthday party for me on 7 March. I told them, 'I've been around for 65 years now, and every one of those years has been an ordeal for me'. This ordeal was not my own personal trials and tribulations, but rather those of Chinese everywhere. Most of you young people here, especially those of you from Taiwan, have grown up in a relatively prosperous society. The concept of 'ordeal' may grate on your ears, or be difficult for you to believe, and perhaps even more difficult for you to understand. The ordeals I refer to are not personal hardships or political crises, but rather problems that transcend the sphere of the individual and the realm of politics. They are issues that involve all the Chinese people. I'm not talking about a particular individual's suffering, or even about the anguish of my own generation. The point I want to make is: if we don't come to grips with this suffering and all the destructive elements in Chinese culture, they will continue to wreak havoc upon us and our descendants forever.

How shameful it is to be Chinese

Ninety per cent of the refugees in the Khao-i-dang Refugee Camp in Thailand are Chinese (by blood or cultural background, not nationality) who have been expelled from Vietnam, Kampuchea or Laos. A few years ago, a female student from the Overseas Chinese Institute of the College of Chinese Culture in Taiwan joined an aid team which went to Thailand to work with the refugees there. But she became so upset there that she returned home after a few days. When I spoke to her about her experiences, she was in tears: 'It was so miserable there. I couldn't stand it any longer.'

The situation of the Chinese refugees in Thailand is indeed pathetic. For example, Chinese people in the camp are not permitted to own any property or enter into any form of business. If, for instance, your shirt has a hole in it, and you 'pay' the old lady next door half a bowl of rice to sew it for you, this is considered 'business'. And if the authorities find out about it, they will possibly force the old lady to remove all of her clothing in front of them, and then take her to the local magistrate's office, where they will ply her with questions like, 'Why did you break the law?' Under these circumstances, she can be considered fortunate. While making me angry and upset, the thought of such insulting behaviour also makes me wonder: what evil acts have Chinese committed that they should end up being punished in this way?

Two years ago, my wife and I were in Paris. Coming out of a Metro station, I noticed a middle-aged Asian woman selling jewellery from a little stand in the street. My wife and I were chatting in Chinese as we looked over her wares, and when she joined the conversation, it made us feel right at home. I asked her how she was able to speak Chinese. She turned out to be a Chinese who had escaped from Vietnam and had lived for a while in the Khao-i-dang camp. She began sobbing, and I tried to comfort her: 'Things are better for you now. At least you're not starving.' As we turned to leave, she sighed, 'How shameful it is to be Chinese!' That's one sigh I will never forget for the rest of my life.

In the nineteenth century, many parts of the East Indies, which we now call Southeast Asia, were either Dutch or British coloniefi. A British commissioner who lived in Malaysia at that time wrote the following: 'The lives of the Chinese in the nineteenth century were filled with calamity and disaster'. He had seen the Chinese in the East Indies living like pigs. They were uneducated and illiterate, cut off from the rest of society, and constantly in danger of being slaughtered.

Actually, the Chinese in China are worse off today than they were in the nineteenth century. The most depressing thing is how, over the past hundred years, almost every hope that the Chinese people have embraced has gone up in smoke. And whenever a fresh hope appears on the horizon, promising some improvement in people's lives, it invariably ends up causing them great disappointment and making the situation worse. And when another hope appears, promising similar progress, it too ends up bringing in its wake only further disillusion- ment, greater disappointment and more horrendous disasters.

A country is a relatively permanent institution, while an individual's life is limited. How much hope can an individual have in his lifetime? How many dreams can be shattered in a lifetime? Does the future hold promise? Or will it bring disappointment? There can be no conclusive answers to these questions. Once when I was lecturing in New York and relating a particularly painful incident, someone in the audience said, 'You come from Taiwan. You ought to be inspiring us, giving us hope, and fostering our patriotism. I never imagined you would end up making us feel depressed and discouraged.'

I don't deny that people need constant encouragement and inspiration. The problem is, once you inspire Chinese people, where do they go from there? I've been given all sorts of encouragement and inspiration ever since I was a child. When I was five or six years old, grown ups would tell me, 'The future of China is in your generation's hands'. At the time, that seemed like a very heavy burden to bear all by myself. But only a few years later, I was telling my son, 'The future of China is in your generation's hands'. Now my son is telling his son, 'The future of China . . .' How many more generations will this go on for?

On the Chinese mainland, the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1958 was followed by the decade of the Cultural Revolution, a disaster unprecedented in the history of human civilisation. The Cultural Revolution not only left millions dead, it also crushed humanitarian values and defiled the sanctity of the human spirit, without which there remains very little to separate men and beasts. During China's 'ten-year holocaust' people behaved like animals. Can an entire nation of moral degenerates be saved?

Over 30 per cent of the population of Malaysia is Chinese. But in a museum I visited when I was there, the labels describing the exhibits were in Malay and English only. I'm not suggesting that they must have Chinese labels, or that it's a bad thing that they don't. I mention this merely to point out the narrow-mindedness of the Malaysians, and to show how the Chinese in Malaysia have very little influence or prestige, and are not respected by the majority. A Thai Chinese I know claimed that the Chinese control the vital rice market in Thailand. This is mere self-deception. (The Thai Chinese are active in the rice business, but can they claim to 'control' that vital market?) I advised him to stop flattering himself in this regard. One command from the top and everything they have could be taken away from them.

Everyone is talking about the Hong Kong question these days. It's a shameful thing for one country to snatch away another country's territory. And when that territory is returned to its rightful owner-like a child returning to its mother's embrace-it should be a cause for celebration on both sides. Do you recall France's ceding of Alsace Lorraine to Germany? Losing these two states came as a terrible blow to France, but the eventual reunification was a cause for great rejoicing. In the case of Hong Kong, however, no sooner was the news announced that the British were going to return the territory to the Chinese Motherland than people panicked en masse. Why?

In Taiwan, a number of young people--both native Taiwanese and mainlanders--support the idea of an independent Taiwan. I remember how happy everyone was when Japan handed Taiwan back to China in 1945; indeed we felt like lost children finding our way back to our mother's warm embrace. What has happened over the past five decades to make this child want to leave home again, and try to make it on its own?

Take Cyprus, for example, which is split up between the Turks and the Greeks, who differ in terms of language, ethnicity and religion. If the Turks can get along with 'aliens' on that island, why can't we Chinese get along with our own kind? Chinese people share the same blood, similar looks, identical ancestry and culture, the same language; the major differences are merely geographical.

The circumstances described above not only make it extremely difficult to be Chinese, but also cause us untold shame and injury. Even the Chinese community in the United States is plagued by the absurd situation in which leftists, rightists, moderates, independents, left-leaning moderates, moderate-leaning leftists, right-leaning moderates, and moderate-leaning rightists all seem to lack a common language for discourse, and are constantly lurching at each other's throats with the passion of a vendetta.

What does this say about the Chinese people? And what does this imply about China? No other civilisation on earth has such a long history or well-preserved cultural tradition, a tradition that at certain times has given rise to the most advanced civilisation in the world. Neither the Greeks nor the Egyptians of today bear any relationship to their ancient forebears, while Chinese today are the direct descendants of the ancient Chinese. How have such a great people and nation degenerated into such ugliness? Not only have foreigners bullied us; what is worse, for centuries we've been tormented by our own kind--from tyrannical emperors to despotic officials and ruthless mobs.

On my visits to the United States and Europe, I've especially enjoyed watching children playing in the parks. They seem so happy, uninhibited and well adjusted that it makes me jealous. In Taiwan, on the other hand, every child who goes to school has to wear glasses to correct their myopia, and in order to cope with the pressure of schoolwork, many children grow aloof and arrogant. A woman faints and collapses at home, but when her son tries to help her, she shouts at him, 'Let me die! Don't bother with me! Do your homework! Do your home- work!'

When my wife was teaching in Taiwan, whenever she started lecturing to her students about morality or personal values, they would immediately raise a protest: 'We don't want to learn about how to live, we want to learn how to get high marks on our examinations.' But this is nothing compared with children on the Chinese mainland, who grow up learning how to fight with each other, subject each other to psychological torture in 'struggle' sessions, cheat and swindle, and betray their parents and friends. Is this the purpose of an education? I tremble to think what will happen when this generation grows up.

Chinese people are the same everywhere

I have lived in Taiwan for the past three decades. I spent the first decade writing fiction, the second writing essays and the last in jail--quite a nice balance. I no longer write fiction because fiction only deals indirectly with real problems through the medium of form and characters, while essays are daggers that can pierce the hearts of scoundrels and villains.

Writing essays is like sitting in a car next to the driver, telling him when he makes a wrong turn, warning him to stay in the slow lane and not pass, to watch out for the bridge ahead, to reduce speed, to beware the approaching intersection, and to heed red lights. After exhorting and teaching drivers for many years, someone must have decided that I had taught enough, because I ended up in jail. People in power think that as long as no one is around to point out their errors, then they can't possibly do anything wrong.

During my incarceration I spent many long hours contemplating my fate. What crimes had I committed? What laws had I broken? I continued to ponder these questions after my release from prison and began to wonder whether I was a special case. On this trip to Iowa, when I have had the great fortune to meet writers from mainland China, I discovered that God has predestined people like myself to end up in jail, whether the jail be in Taiwan or in mainland China. One of these mainland writers told me, 'Someone like you would never have survived the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution. In fact, they would have snuffed you out during the Anti-Rightist Movement.'

Why must Chinese people who have the guts to speak the truth suffer so terribly? I have asked a number of people from the mainland why they ended up in prison. Their answer was, 'Because I said a few things that happened to be true'. And that's the way it is. But why does telling the truth land one in such unfortunate circumstances? The way I see it, this is not a personal problem, but a fundamental flaw in Chinese culture.

A few days ago I had a discussion with the party secretary of the 'All-China Writers Association'. He made me so angry that I literally was unable to speak. I used to think I could hold my own in an argument; but this guy knocked the breath out of me before I knew what had hit me. I can't blame him for this, though, the same way I don't blame the cops who handled my case in Taipei. If you lived in their world and were conversant with their ways, you would probably act just like they do, and believe that what you were doing was right. I would do the same thing, though I would probably be even more obnoxious than that party secretary. People often say, 'Your future is in your own hands'. Approaching the end of my life, I don't believe that any more. Only about half of your life is in your own hands. Other people control the rest.

Life is a little bit like a stone in a cement mixer; when it gets tossed around with the other ingredients, it loses control of its own existence. I could cite similar analogies ad infinitum, but the conclusion I always come to is that the problems of the Chinese people are not individual but rather social and cultural problems. Before he died, Jesus said, 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do'. When I first heard that statement as a child, I thought it rather bland and frivolous, and as I grew older I continued to feel that it lacked substance. Only now do I appreciate its profundity and bitter irony. Jesus' words taught me that the Chinese people's ugliness grows out of our own ignorance of the fact that we are ugly.

Because Taiwan and the United States have broken off diplomatic relations, the expenses for our trip to the United States were borne by Iowa University and Pei Zhuzhang, the owner of the Yenching Restaurant in Iowa City. Pei is a Chinese-American who had never set foot in China, nor met me before. His generosity moved me deeply. He said, 'Before reading your books, I felt that the Chinese people were a great people. After reading them my thinking changed entirely. Your books inspired me and made me want to hear you speak in person.'

When Mr Pei started thinking about Chinese culture and its problems, he wondered if there were some basic defects in the moral fibre of the Chinese people. Before I travelled abroad for the first time, Professor Sun Kuan-han said to me, 'When you come back to Taiwan, there is one thing I absolutely forbid you to say to me, and that is: "Chinese people are the same everywhere" ', so I promised him that I would not say it. But when I got back to Taiwan and he asked me about my trip, the first thing I said was, 'You warned me not to say it, but: Chinese people are the same everywhere!'

Sun hoped that with time the Chinese people would change and mature, and he found it hard to imagine that this would never happen. Are there innate flaws in the Chinese people? When God created the Chinese, did he make us so ugly on purpose?

I believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with the Chinese national character. I am not saying this out of self-pity. Nor are Chinese people lacking in intelligence. Every university in the United States has Chinese students at the top of their class, and we have produced numerous noted scientists: Sun Kuan-han, the father of Chinese nuclear physics, and Nobel Prize winners C. N. Yang and C. T. Lee. The Chinese character is not fundamentally flawed, and I am sure that we have the ability to make China a healthy and happy place to live. I also believe that China will some day become a great nation. But we must not spend all of our time and energy trying to make China a major military power. It is infinitely more important to bring some happiness into people's lives. Once we achieve this, we can concern ourselves with power and greatness. We must also ask why, over the last century, have we so often failed to free ourselves from suffering?

The virus of traditional Chinese culture

I am going to risk proposing a comprehensive diagnosis for the problems mentioned above: Chinese culture is infected with a virus which has been transmitted from generation to generation and which today still resists cure. People say that if you are a failure, you can blame your ancestors, but there is a significant flaw in this argument. In Ibsen's play Ghosts, a syphilitic couple give birth to a syphilitic son, who has to take medicine every time his illness flares up. At one point in the drama, the son exclaims, 'I never asked you for life. And what sort of a life have you given me?"

Can we blame the son, and not blame his parents? We Chinese should neither blame our parents nor our ancestors, but rather the culture that our ancestors have bequeathed us. This huge country, with one quarter of the world's population, is a pit of quicksand filled with poverty, ignorance, strife and bloodshed, a pit from which it cannot extricate itself. When I observe the way people in other countries carry on interpersonal relations, I envy them. The traditional culture of China has conferred upon the Chinese a wide range of unseemly characteristics.

Three of the most notorious characteristics are filth, sloppiness and noisiness. In Taipei they once tried to mount a campaign against filth and disorder, but it only lasted a few days. Our kitchens and our homes are always in a mess. In many residential areas, as soon as the Chinese move in, everyone else moves out. A young woman I know, a college graduate, married a Frenchman and moved to Paris. Soon their home became a regular stopping-off place for her friends who were travelling in Europe. She told me that as more and more Asians (not all of them Chinese) started to move into the building, the French started to move out. This is a terribly disturbing thought. But when I went to Paris and saw the place for myself, there were ice-cream wrappers and saqals strewn about everywhere, children running and yelling in the halls, and graffiti covering the walls. The whole place smelled like a mouldy cellar as well. I asked her, 'Can't you organise all the residents and clean the place upT She replied, 'It's impossible. The French are not the only people who think we are filthy slobs; after living here like this, we feel the same way.'

Turning to the subject of noise, Chinese people's voices must be the loudest on earth, with the Cantonese taking the gold medal. I heard a joke about this: Two Cantonese men in the United States are having a conversation in the street. An American walks by and thinks they are having a fight, so he calls the police. When the police arrive and ask them what they are fighting about, they say, 'We're just whispering'.

Why do Chinese people shout when they talk? Because we are insecure by nature. The louder we shout, the more right we are. If we shout at the top of our lungs, we must be right, otherwise why expend so much energy? The above-mentioned behaviour patterns are damaging to both our self-image and our mental equilibrium. Filth, sloppiness and noisiness can also damage our nerves. If Chinese lived in a clean, orderly environment, they might behave entirely differently.

The scourge of infighting

Chinese people are notorious for quarrelling and squabbling among themselves. A Japanese person all by himself is no better than a pig, but three Japanese together are as awesome as a dragon. The Japanese people's ability to co-operate makes them nearly invincible, and in neither commerce nor war can the Chinese ever dream of competing with them. If three Japanese people in the same business are in Taipei together, they will take turns making sales. Chinese businessmen in the same situation would act like perfect Ugly Chinamen. If Li is selling something for $50, Ma will offer it for $40; if Li lowers the price to $30, Ma will cut it to $20. Every Chinaman is a dragon in his own right.

Chinese people can be extremely convincing when they talk, thanks to their remarkably nimble tongues. If you believe what they say, there is nothing they cannot do, including extinguishing the sun with a single breath of air, and ruling the world with a single flick of the hand. In the laboratory or examination hall, where no personal relationships are involved, Chinese can produce impressive results. But when three fiery Chinese dragons get together, they can only produce about as much as a single pig, or a single insect, if that much. This is because of their addiction to infighting.

Chinese people squabble among themselves in every situation, since their bodies lack those cells that enable most human beings to get along with each other. When non-Chinese people criticise the Chinese for this weakness, I like to warn them, 'Chinese people are like this because God knows that with more than one billion of them, if they ever got their act together, the rest of the world wouldn't be able to handle them. God has been good to you foreigners by making it impossible for the Chinese to cooperate among themselves.' But it is very painful for me to say this.

Chinese people can easily come up with enough reasons for why they don't cooperate with each other to fill a book. The best example of this uncohesiveness can be found right here in the United States, where every Chinese community is divided up into as many factions as there are days in the year, each determined to choke the fife out of the rest. There's an old Chinese saying: one monk drinks from the water bucket on his back; two monks drink from the water bucket they carry on a pole; three monks have no water to drink. Why do we need so many people to accomplish something so simple?

Chinese people simply don't understand the importance of coopera- tion. But if you tell a Chinaman he doesn't understand, he will sit down and write a book just for you entitled The Importance of Co-operation.

On my last visit to the United States, I stayed with a friend who teaches at an American university. He was a very reasonable and intelligent person, and we held discussions on many subjects, including how to save China. The following day I told this-man that I wanted to visit a Mr G., a mutual acquaintance of ours. At the mere mention of Mr G.'s name, my friend's eyes lit up in anger. And when I asked him to drive me to Mr G.'s house, he said, 'Sorry, Bo Yang, you'll have to get there on your own'. Both Mr G. and my host are university professors and grew up in the same place in China, but they cannot tolerate each other. Are they rational human beings? I'll say it again: infighting is a serious problem among the Chinese.

Those of you who live in the United States know that the people who harass Chinese people the most are other Chinese, not Yankees. It takes a Chinaman to betray a Chinaman; only a Chinaman would have a good reason to frame or slander another Chinaman.

Here is one example: Shortly after he developed a coal mine in Malaysia, a man I know was accused of several serious crimes. The plaintiff, it turned out, was an old friend of his. Both of them had left China at the same time and had started out in Malaysia with nothing in their pockets. When my friend asked his old acquaintance why he had done such a cruel thing, he said, 'We both started out together with nothing, but now you're a millionaire and I'm hardly getting by. If I don't sue you, who else can I sue?' This is one isolated incident, but it shows how Chinese people can be their own worst enemies.

To cite another example, in a country as big as the United States, where no individual amounts to much more than a drop in the ocean, how would anyone find out if you were an illegal immigrant? Only if someone went out of his way to turn you in to the immigration authorities. And who would do such a nasty thing for no good reason? Only one of your best friends, an Ugly Chinaman.

Many Chinese people in the United States have told me that if their boss is Chinese, they constantly have to be on their toes. Chinese bosses never promote their Chinese employees, and when people are being laid off, they are always the first to go. Such occasions give Chinese bosses golden opportunities to demonstrate their impartiality and sense of fairness.

Why do people constantly compare the Chinese with the Jews? Many say that the Chinese and the Jews are particularly industrious. We can approach this question from two angles. First, the industriousness which was once the great pride of the Chinese people was destroyed during the reign of the Gang of Four in the Cultural Revolution, as a result of which Chinese people no longer possess a virtue that sustained them for thousands of years.

How else can we compare ourselves with the Jews? Chinese newspapers often carry headlines describing how fierce arguments often break out in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, with, for example, three leading politicians holding three entirely contrary views. But the same newspapers never mention that once a consensus is reached, the three of them will take the same course of action. And while that battle of words was taking place inside the Knesset, a real war was being fought outside, with the enemy surrounding the country on all sides-and yet the Israelis still held their elections. Everyone knows that in order to hold an election, you need an opposition party, otherwise an election is no better than a second-rate soap opera.

If three Chinese people with three different opinions reach a consensus, the three of them will still act according to their own will. For instance, Wang proposes going to New York and Chang wants to go to San Francisco. There is a vote and New York is chosen as the common destination. In Israel, everyone would go to New York. But in China, Chang would say, 'You can go to New York. I'm going to San Francisco'.

In a British film there was a scene in which several children were having an argument about whether to climb a tree or go swimming. After quarrelling for a while, they decided to vote. The majority chose to climb a tree, so they all climbed a tree. Simple though it seems, this left a deep impression on me. Democracy in the West is more than mere form; it is a regular part of daily life, while in China democracy is there purely for show. During elections, high officials in China insist on being photographed holding a ballot in their hands to show the world that they deign to take part in the democratic process. Democracy is not an intrinsic part of those officials' lives; it is all show.

A reluctance to admit error

Chinese people's inability to co-operate, and their predilection for bickering among themselves, are deep-rooted, harmful traits. These behaviour patterns cannot be traced to any inherent flaws in the Chinese national character, but rather are symptoms of an infection spread by the virus of traditional Chinese culture, that causes us to act in ways we can neither conceal nor control. We know that we fight among ourselves, yet it is beyond our control to stop it. 'If the pot breaks, nobody will have anything to eat; but if the sky falls, someone taller than me will be there to stop it from falling on my head. I don't have to lift a finger.'

The tendency towards internecine struggle has spawned another insidious phenomenon: an utter reluctance to admit mistakes. How many of you have ever heard a Chinese admit that he or she has made an effor? If you have, then break out the Maotai: it is time to start celebrating the renaissance of China!

Once, many years ago, I spanked my daughter for something she had done wrong, but soon realised that I had made a mistake. Her crying made me feel terrible inside. She was a young and helpless thing, so my sudden turning against her must have given her a terrible shock. I picked her up and said, 'I'm sorry. Daddy made a big mistake. I promise you I'll never do it again. Be a good girl and accept Daddy's apology.' But she went on crying for a long time. Though this upset me greatly, I was also proud of the fact that I had admitted my error.

Chinese people are highly reluctant to admit their errors, and can produce a myriad of reasons to cover their mistakes. There's an old adage: 'Contemplate your faults behind closed doors'. Whose faults? The guy's next door, of course! When I was teaching school, I told my students to keep a diary and record their weekly activities. The entries read like this: 'Today Ming cheated me. I've always been good to him. It must be because I'm too kind to him and too honest.' But when I read Ming's diary, I saw that Ming thought that he was too kind and too honest as well. If everyone in the world is so kind and honest, can there be any dishonest people left?

Chinese people don't admit their mistakes because somewhere during their long evolution they lost the knack of it. Of course we can disavow our mistakes, but that won't make them disappear. To cover their mistakes, Chinese people go well out of their way and even commit additional mistakes, merely to cover their initial blunders. Thus it is often said that Chinese are addicted to bragging, boasting, lying, equivocating and, worst of all, slandering others. For years Chinese have been going on about the supreme greatness of China, and making extravagant claims about how Chinese culture can make the world a better place to live in. But because these daydreams never come true, all of this is pure rubbish.

I don't have to cite examples of boasting and lying, but Chinese verbal brutality deserves special mention. Even in the confines of the bedroom, where Western couples habitually address each other as 'honey' and 'darling', Chinese people prefer such endearments as 'You deserve death by a thousand cuts!' And in matters of politics or money, and in power struggles of any kind, Chinese people's spite knows no bounds. What makes Chinese people so mean and petty?

Stuck in the mud of bragging and boasting

A friend who used to write traditional adventure stories started a business. When I asked him whether he had made a lot of money, he told me, 'Are you kidding? I'm about ready to hang myself!' I asked him how he lost so much money. 'You can't imagine. It's a total waste of time talking with Chinese businessmen, you never know what they're really thinking.' Europeans and Americans have said to me, 'It's hard getting to know Chinese people. You never know what's on their minds.' I replied, 'You think you're the only one with that problem? When Chinese talk to each other, they have the same problem.'

One way of figuring out what is going on in a Chinese person's mind is to observe his or her body language and facial expression, and to cultivate the habit of beating around the bush yourself. You ask someone, 'Have you eaten dinnerT and the answer is 'Yes', but he is actually so hungry you can hear his stomach rumbling. In an election, a Western politician will say, 'I sincerely believe I am qualified for the post. Please vote for me.' But Chinese people prefer to take after Zhuge Liang: if offered a post, a modest Ugly Chinaman will decline the honour at least three times. 'Who, me? I'm hardly qualified for the post.' But if you take him literally and vote for someone else, he will never speak to you again.

To give another example, you invite me to give a lecture, and I say, 'Who, me? I'm a terrible public speaker.' But if you don't insistflyt I give that lecture, and we meet in the street in Taipei some day, I'll be sure to aim a brick at your head. If everyone acts in this manner, we will never mend our ways. The way things are now, it takes ten mistakes to cover up one mistake, and one hundred mistakes to cover up ten.

I was once visiting a British professor in Taichung, when a Chinese friend of mine teaching in the same university came in and invited me to dinner in his home that evening. I said, 'I'm sorry, I've already got an appointment for tonight.' He replied, 'That's all right, come anyway. I'll see you later.' Chinese speak to each other in this fashion all the time, but a Western person overhearing such an exchange will find it hard to know what is actually going on. When the British professor and I had finished our work, I said to him, 'I'm heading home.' He asked me, 'I thought you were going to your friend's home for dinner.' I said, 'Where did you get that idea?' 'But he's making dinner espe- cially for you!' This is just one example of how difficult it is for Western people to understand the noncommittal etiquette practised by most Chinese.

The behaviour patterns described above give Chinese people a heavy cross to bear from birth. Rarely does a day go by when it isn't necessary to decipher what's going on in someone's mind. With friends, the problems are minimal. But when dealing with government officials or rich and powerful people you constantly have to read minds. What a waste of energy! Consider the popular Chinese saying: 'Getting things done is easy; dealing with people is hard'. Dealing with people brings us into the sphere of 'cultural software'. All of you who have lived abroad will be able to appreciate this. When you go back to China and want to get something done, two plus two equals four. But when you have to deal with other people, two plus two may equal five, or one or 853. If you tell the truth about something, others may accuse you of attacking or attempting to overthrow the government. This is a serious problem, and one which keeps the Chinese stuck in the muck of bragging, lying, boasting and slander.

I like to boast that I can sleep through any meeting or conference. This is only possible because no one who attends conferences says what they really believe. This habit of 'slinging the bull' is even more prevalent on the mainland than in Taiwan. One of the participants in this year's International Writers' Program at the University of Iowa was the mainland woman writer Shen Rong. The title of one of her books, which I highly recommend, is Truth or Lies.

The Chinese mentality makes us tell lies and act dishonestly. We should at least be able to recognise a bad thing when we see it. But when we glorify bad things or ignore them, it is a sign that our 'cultural software' has been invaded by a virus. Take theft, for example. No one can say that robbery is an ennobling act, but when people ignore it and cease to think of it as a dishonest act, we have reached a crisis. This is the crisis Chinese people are faced with today.

Modem Chinese have become increasingly narrowminded and closed off from the rest of the world because of their inability to admit their mistakes and their predilection for bragging, lying and slander.

What state of mind or philosophical outlook properly reflects China's vast territory and strikingly rich cultural heritage? Magnanimity, broad- mindedness and worldliness come to mind. But where do you meet people with such qualities except in books or on TV? Have you ever met a Chinese who is truly magnanimous and openminded? In many situations, a single hostile glance will spur a Chinese gentleman to whip out his sword and flash it in your face. Then watch when it turns out you have divergent points of view. Westerners can shake hands after a fight, but Chinese become enemies for life, and will even perpetuate a vendetta for three generations. Why do Chinese lack tolerance for others?

Narrow-mindedness and intolerance result in an unbalanced person- ality constantly wavering between two extremes: chronic inferiority on the one hand, and overbearing arrogance on the other. A Chinese with an inferiority complex is a slave; a Chinese with a superiority complex is a tyrant. As individuals, Chinese lack self-respect. In the inferiority mode, they feel like a heap of dog shit, so the closer they get to influential people, the wider their smiles. In the arrogant mode, everyone else is a heap of dog shit. These radical swings in self-esteem make Chinese people imbalanced creatures with psychotic tendencies.

A nation of inflation

In Chinese society it is easy to astound people by performing miracles, but impossible to sustain such activity for an extended period. As soon as someone can claim some trivial achievement, he will suddenly lose his hearing or eyesight, or have difficulty walking. Anyone who publishes two articles is an 'author'. Anyone who acts in two films is a 'star'. Anyone who is a petty bureaucrat for two years is 'the people's saviour'. A student who spends two years in a university in the United States is a 'returned overseas scholar'. Such titles are all auto-inflationary.

Several years ago a terrible traffic accident took place in Taiwan. A bus carrying a group of fourth-year students from Taiwan Normal

University was passing through the most dangerous section of the Cross-Island Highway, when the conductress announced: 'Our driver today is one of the best in Taiwan. Look how young, strong and handsome he is!' To prove this, he took his hands off the steering wheel and responded to the students' applause with the traditional clasped-hands salute. I don't have to tell you what happened next. This is boasting at its worst: he was such an accomplished driver that he didn't even have to steer.

I once saw a film which told the story of a man who had invented a pair of 'flying wings' and was ordered by the emperor to give a flying demonstration. The man showed his wings to the crowd, and was about to climb up the tower from which he was to take off, when the crowd's thunderous applause fired his self-confidence to the point where he threw down his wings and declared he would fly without them. At this point, his wife stepped in and tried to deter him from going ahead with his preposterous scheme: 'What do you think you're doing? You can't fly without your wings!' He turned to her angrily and said, 'What do you know?' When she began to climb up the tower to stop him, he stepped on her fingers. Reaching the top of the tower, he closed the hatch and took off. Seconds later there was a loud thud, and then silence. The crowd suddenly exploded in anger. 'We paid good money to see him fly, not to watch him plunge to his death!' and demanded that the dead man's wife fly for them. She had no choice but to comply. In her grief, before jumping, the woman addressed her husband's departed soul: 'You and your big ideas, you've killed yourself and your wife as well'.

What makes the Chinese people prone to self-inflation? Consider the saying, 'A small vessel is easily filled'. Due to inveterate narrow-mindedness and arrogance, even the slightest success makes an Ugly Chinaman feel that the world is too small to contain him. It is tolerable if a few people behave in this manner, but if the entire population, or a majority behave this way, and they all happen to be Chinese, it spells disaster for China. Because Chinese have never had much self-respect, it is immensely difficult for them to treat others as equals. There are two alternatives: either you are my master, or my slave. This makes people narrow-minded, and reluctant to admit mistakes. Being wrong all the time has made the Chinese paranoid.

Here is one example. A man I knew in Taipei became critically ill and was admitted to the prestigious Central Clinic, where a doctor saved his life only after sticking innumerable tubes into him. Two or three days later, the members of his family moved him to Veterans Hospital, mainly because the fees at the Central Clinic were so high. When the doctor in charge of the case learned about this, he exploded: 'I went to great lengths to save your life, and now you want to go to another hospital'. He then started to disconnect the life-supporting tubes from the patient, who nearly died as a result.

My friend told me this story with a mixture of sadness and anger. I told him, 'Give me that doctor's name, and I'll write an article about the terrible way he treated you'. But he nearly panicked and upbraided me: 'You've got ants in your pants, Bo Yang. If I had known you were such a busy-body, I wouldn't have told you the story in the first place.' I nearly blew up at this point. 'He's only a doctor, what are you afraid of? If you get sick again and don't go to him, do you think he's going to go to your house and treat you, just to get his revenge? If he really wants his revenge, he'll go after me, not you, since I'm the one who's going to blacken his name in print.' His response was, 'You must be desperate'. One would have thought he would have praised me for my courage, but he only called me names.

Again, this is not my friend's individual problem. I still consider him a good friend of mine and a moral, upright person. He was only trying to prevent me from getting into serious trouble. This is a perfect example of Chinese paranoia, a fear of trivial things.

Breeding ground for the slave mentality

On my first visit to the United States, I heard about a Chinese in New York who had been mugged and robbed, but refused to identify the culprit after the police caught him. Chinese are paranoid to the point where they don't even know what their legal rights are, or how to assert them. If anything happens to them, the knee-jerk response is 'Forget it'. This 'forgetting it' has caused the death of countless Chinese, and has turned us into a nation of spineless cowards. If I were a foreigner, or better yet a fascist dictator, and didn't make it my business to persecute and exploit the Chinese, I would certainly be doing them a great injustice. The psychological environment of neurosis and paranoia I spoke of above is a fertile breeding ground for despots and corrupt bureaucrats, and there is little hope that the particular species of human being that flourishes in this climate will soon die out in China. In traditional Chinese culture, 'acting wisely by playing it safe' is praised time and again, particularly in the great Song dynasty treatise, A Comprehensive Mirror of Government. Generations of dic- tators have rubbed their hands in glee at the thought of the Chinese masses acting wisely by playing it safe, since it makes life very easy for them. This is one reason why the Chinese people continue degenerate and atrophy.

Chinese civilisation attained the zenith of its glory during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 BC), after which it began its decline under the influence of Confucian philosophy. By the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD), a law had come into effect stipulating that no educated person could talk about, debate or write anything that trespassed the limits set by his teacher. No one was allowed to challenge what was known as 'the legacy of the master'. Any thought or concept that strayed beyond the confines of this 'legacy' was considered heretical and against the law. As a result, Chinese intellectuals' imaginations were strangled and their ability to reason stunted; it was like sealing up their brains in plastic bags, preventing them from absorbing anything new.

What do I mean when I say that intellectuals lost the ability to reason? Just take a look at all the Chinese newspapers filled with articles by belly-aching columnists. Reasoning is a complex process that operates on several levels at the same time. Sun Kuan-han likes to cite the example of a sphere which is half white and half black. Those who can only see the white side think the entire sphere is white; those who see only the black side think the entire sphere is black. Neither conclusion can be said to be wrong. But looking at both sides of the ball requires imagination and cognitive ability.

An American joke illustrates this point well. A teacher gave his students a barometer and told them 'to use the barometer to measure the height of a building'. Of course the teacher expected the students to do this by calculating the difference between the barometric pressure at the lowest and highest points of the building. But one student came up with a few solutions that had nothing to do with barometric pressure. When he was failed for his work, he complained to the school's administrative committee, 'The teacher asked me to measure the building's height with a barometer, but he didn't specify that I had to do it by measuring barometric pressure. So naturally I used the simplest methods at my disposal. First, I attached the barometer to a string and let it hang down from the roof of the building. Then I measured the length of the string. Secondly, I gave the barometer to the building superintendent in exchange for telling me the height of the building.'

There is nothing devious about either of these methods, unorthodox though they may be. But they reflect the sort of imaginative thinking that drives people with pigeon-hole brains insane.

Here's another tale, called 'The Art of Buying Watermelons'. A shop owner' said to one of his clerks, 'Go out, turn west, and when you come to the first bridge, you will see someone selling watermelons. Buy me a four-pound melon.' The clerk went out and headed west, but he couldn't find the bridge or the person selling melons, and retume& to the shop empty-handed. The owner swore at him and told him he was a fool. The clerk replied, 'I noticed that they are selling melons in the east'. 'Why didn't you go there and buy them?' 'You didn't tell me to.' Though the owner of the store swore at him for being a fool, he actually regarded the clerk as an ideal employee because of his naivety, obedience and lack of imagination. But had the clerk, noticing that no melons were available in the west, headed east and discovered a heap of sweet melons for sale there, the owner probably would have praised him: 'You're brilliant! You displayed excellent judgement. If only everyone who works here were as smart as you. You're indispensable.' But in fact he would never trust a clerk with such wild imagination. Slaves who think for themselves are dangerous to have around, and should consider themselves lucky if they can stay alive.

Can people raised in a culture that promotes such values think independently? Because Chinese people are incapable of independent thought, they have developed bad taste and poor judgement: they muddle the distinctions between right and wrong; and they have no permanent standards of behaviour. I repeat: we must examine Chinese culture if we want to explain what is wrong with China today.

Developing our judgement

Over the past 4000 years, China has produced only one great thinker: Confucius. In the 2500 years since his death, China's literati have done little more than tack on footnotes to the theories propounded by Confucius and his disciples. Rarely have they contributed anything original to the body of Confucian thought, simply because the traditional culture did not allow it. The minds of the literati were stuck at the bottom of an intellectual stagnant pond, the soy paste vat of Chinese culture. As the contents of this vat grew more and more putrid, the resulting stench was absorbed by the Chinese people. Since the many problems in this opaque, bottomless vat could not be solved by individuals exercising their own reason and intelligence, the literati had to ape other people's way of thinking, or be influenced by other schools of thought. A fresh peach placed in a vat full of putrescent soy paste will soon wither away and turn into a dry turd.

China has its own peculiar way of transforming foreign things and ideas and making them Chinese. You Westerners say you've got democracy; well, we Chinese have democracy too. But in China, democracy is understood as follows: you're the demos (people), but I've got the kratos (power). You Westerners have a legal system; we Chinese have one too. You've got freedom; so do we. Whatever you have, we have too. You've got pedestrian crossing lines painted on the street; we do too, but in China they are there to make it easier for cars to run pedestrians over.

The only way we can do anything about the Ugly Chinaman syndrome is for every individual to cultivate his own personal taste and judgement. One doesn't have to be an accomplished actor to enjoy going to plays. People who don't understand what is happening on stage can at least enjoy the music, the lights, the costumes and the scenery, while those who do understand can appreciate drama as an art form. The ability to make such distinctions is a great achievement in itself.

When I first arrived in Taiwan some thirty years ago, I met a man who owned eight sets of Beethoven's symphonies on records. I asked him if he would sell or give one of them to me, but he refused. Contrary to what I had assumed, each set of the symphonies was performed by a different conductor and orchestra, and they were not at all similar. When I realised that, I felt quite ashamed of myself. This friend was a true connoisseur of music.

During a recent US presidential election, the pre-election debates were broadcast on television in Taiwan. Many people found it remarkable that not once during the debates did either of the candidates reveal anything about their opponent's private lives; American voters disapprove of such tactics, and it would have cost the erring candidate many votes. Chinese politicians are just the opposite. They go out of their way to expose their rivals' personal secrets and perhaps invent a few as well, all couched in the filthiest language.

The quality of the fruit is determined by the quality of the soil in which the tree grows. Similarly, people are the 'fruit' of the societies in which they live. The citizens of a country should cultivate the ability to judge their leaders; otherwise, they only have themselves to blame for the consequences. If we are willing to shout our praises for a man who is unworthy of our respect, who is to blame if he rides roughshod over us? Buying votes is a very disturbing phenomenon. Voters line up to cast their ballots, a man starts handing out money, and the voters ask him, 'Hey, where's my share?'

If this is Chinese political judgement, is China really ready for democracy? Democracy is a privilege to be earned, not a free gift. People say that the Taiwanese Government has relaxed its restrictions on human rights considerably, but I find this a terrifying situation. I have my own freedom and rights, whether the government grants them to me or not. If we had the capacity to make proper judgements, we would demand elections and be rigorous in our selection of candidates. But lacking this capacity, we will never even be able to distinguish a beautiful woman from a pock-marked hag. Who are we to blame for this? If I paint a fake Picasso and you give me half a million bucks for it, who is the fool? You are the one who is blind and entirely lacking in taste and judgement. If there are too many deals like this, no one will buy authentic Picassos, and as the market becomes flooded with fakes, all the real artists will starve to death. Thus, if you buy a fake, you only have yourself to blame. To give another example, you hire a tailor to install a door in your home, and he puts it in upside down. You scold the tailor, 'Are you blind?' But the tailor says, 'Who's blind, you or me? Who told you to hire a tailor to install a lock?' This is a story worth remembering. Without the capacity to make informed judgements, we will always end up making the same mistakes.

Only the Chinese can change themselves

Plagued with so many loathsome qualities, only the Chinese can reform themselves. Foreigners have a duty to help us, not through economic aid but by means of culture. The Chinese ship of state is so large and overloaded that if it sinks many non-Chinese people will perish in the whirlpool as well. I would like to invite all the Americans attending this lecture to extend us a helping hand.

One final point: China is seriously overpopulated. The country has more than a billion hungry mouths to feed, with a collective appetite that could easily devour the Himalayan range. This should remind us that China's problems are complex, and call for a high level of awareness on the part of each and every Chinese. Every one of us must become a discriminating judge and use our ability to examine and appraise ourselves, our friends and our country's leaders. This is our only hope.

[From: Bo Yang, The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture, translated and edited by Don J. Cohn and Jing Qing. St. Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1992.]

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Confused by Terminology - Catholicism

by Fr. William P. Saunders

Is there any difference between a nun and a sister? What about a monk– are they priests or brothers? I have always been confused by these terms.

These terms are indeed confusing, because they are often used interchangeably even though they have technical differences. First, let's look at the difference between nuns and sisters. A nun is a woman who belongs to a religious order and takes the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Their vows are publicly accepted by superiors in the name of the Church and solemn. In general, solemn vows are professed by members of religious orders after a period of temporary, simple vows. When bound by solemn vows, a woman is a nun but is commonly called "Sister" (although some orders use another formal title, like "Dame" or "Mother"); when bound by simple vows, a woman is a sister, not a nun, and thereby called "Sister." Nuns recite the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office in common, and engage in some work to help support themselves.

Another distinguishing mark of nuns is that they live a contemplative, cloistered life in a monastery. "Cloistered" refers to living within the confines of the monastery behind the "papal enclosure." Nuns are permitted to leave the cloister only under special circumstances and with the proper permission. Moreover, visitors are not be permitted to enter into the cloistered area.

When visiting these monasteries, like the Poor Clares' Monastery in Alexandria, a person may enter the public area of the chapel, but a wrought-iron screen separates it from the nun's side or "cloistered" side of the chapel. Also when visiting one of the nuns, the visitor is physically separated by a grill or other barrier from the nun who is in the cloister. Besides the Poor Clares, other strictly cloistered nuns are the Carmelites and Benedictines.

In some cases, the cloister restrictions are not as strictly enforced. Some orders of nuns, while technically cloistered, conduct works of charity or education, interacting with the public. For example, the Visitation Sisters are technically cloistered nuns but teach school.

With this understanding of the term "nun," the title "Sister" denotes a woman religious under simple vows, who is a member of a particular religious congregation. (The distinction between a "solemn vow" and a "simple vow" is a determination made by the Church when the religious community is established: members of religious orders make a final profession of solemn vows, and members of religious institutes or religious congregations make a final profession of perpetual simple vows, after a period of temporary simple vows.) These women religious also take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; live in community in a convent; and share in a particular apostolate. These religious congregations may serve either a particular diocese under the immediate jurisdiction of the local bishop, or serve throughout the universal Church under the immediate jurisdiction of the Pope. Examples of these communities are the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sisters of the Holy Cross, and Daughters of St. Paul.

In a similar way, a monk is a man living in a religious community and makes a final profession of the solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. A monk may be a priest or a deacon, who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, or a religious brother, who is not ordained. Monks live in a monastery, the word from which "monk" is derived. Depending upon the circumstances of the particular order, they may have a very strict contemplative, cloistered lifestyle, like the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance (commonly known as the Trappists), or a less strictly cloistered lifestyle, like the Benedictines.

Just as an aside, these monasteries are referred to as abbeys when they are independent, self-sufficient, and have a certain number of monks or nuns. The head of the abbey is either the abbot or abbess.

Moreover, religious institutes or congregations of men include those of both priests and brothers, like the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and those of only brothers, like the Brothers of the Sacred Heart or Brothers of St. Francis Xavier. These men religious also take the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, live in community, and share in a particular apostolate, like education, health care, or other charitable work.

While this article has dealt with the fine distinctions of terminology, we must not forget that these individuals have totally dedicated their lives to God; taken the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; serve the Church in special way; work for the salvation of the world; and strive for the perfection of charity in their own lives. They are an outstanding sign of the Church, and a witness to Jesus Christ.