My Chinese Experience

Playing the last two years during my WNBA off-season in Athens, Greece where life is a party could not be more opposite to my current experience in AnShan, China, where their mantra is more like “all work and no play.” I have always embraced new experiences, and have been pleasantly surprised by my time here and what I have learned from the Chinese people.

At first glance, the opposites are blatantly obvious, from my sheer physical stature to my democratic thought process. In all fairness, I have to admit that I am uncertain whether my experiences with Chinese culture is applicable to the masses or just the small percentage of which after having their talent recognized, were forced to drop out of school at a young age and practice twice a day every day of their lives up until the point where I now know them as my teammates. Our days are like those in the movie, “Groundhog’s Day” where Bill Murray wakes up and experiences the same day over and over again. To an outsider who is so used to having passion associated with sports, one would naturally question their stoical behavior on the court, until you realized that it is a natural defense mechanism where freedom is absent and perfection is required.

As I walk though the streets of AnShan and some of the other smaller cities we play in, I am well aware that I am the only American some of these people will ever interact with in their lifetimes. Initially, people stare with what seems to be a very hard, expressionless face, but then a simple hello (nihao) and a smile will melt away the misconstrued harshness and very genuine greeting is returned. Once this preliminary barrier is broken I have found most Chinese people to be unbelievably kind and hospitable. When it comes to the Western world, the Chinese culture possesses a very dichotic reverence. On one hand you find there is high level of fascination and attraction and quite equally on the other you are greeted with the same level of mistrust and abhorrence.

Overall you will notice there is very little pretense in their culture from their mode of communication, to the content of information, to their social interactions. Americans have championed the ability of talking a lot while really saying nothing at all, meanwhile, the Chinese words will be few, but they are spoken with an immense amount of intent and meaning. What is deemed “socially acceptable” in conversation varies greatly as well, as it is not uncommon for one’s personal information like their salary to be spoken with the same ease that Americans discuss the weather. With regard to relationships, most of the Western world has a wide social web of friends where interactions range from very intimate to extremely fake. The Chinese culture places more emphasis on depth and authenticity, so you will find that most people will have a tight circle of very close friends and they do not waste any effort trying to maintain pseudo relationships.

More than any country in Europe that I have played in, China has remarkably preserved their history and tradition over the years and there is an unmistakable air of pride in their heritage. This is physically evident in the ancient temples, it is obvious in the knowledge of their countries historical events and figures and it is also evident in their unwavering adherence to traditions. Some might argue that this preservation has come at the steep price of communism and lack of modernization. Just as heartbreak increases ones ability to understand their capacity to love, witnessing the effects of socialism has allowed me to more fully comprehend the freedoms we enjoy through democracy. Please know that I am presenting my reflections with immense respect to the people who have so graciously welcomed me to their country, it is not my intent to come off presumptuous or egocentric.

Surrounded by such devotion to their customs, I cannot help but contemplate how our country compares in this category. With the words of our founding documents constantly under scrutiny and the key values of our country seemingly negotiable, I find myself questioning how much if any of our heritage as a nation do we adhere to? It seems as if we are defined by the simple ideals of democracy, the freedom of thought and action and speech, but those principles by pure definition are constantly evolving with time. There is and will always be an overwhelming sense of patriotism and respect for those who fight to defend our freedom, but I cannot help but wonder if we have anything in our heritage that is concrete and static or are we and should we be defined simply by our freedom and ability to progressively evolve that???