The ugly duckling with a swan’s voice

China’s preoccupation with face (mianzi) has two faces, but only one voice.

For the “national interest,” Yang Peiyi (l) was replaced with Lin Maoke during the opening ceremonies because “the child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression,” according to the music designer.

You can read the New York Times article, In Grand Olympic Show, Some Sleight of Voice, for more information.

I just feel sad for both of these innocents.

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Indivdiual versus collective

As you are watching the Olympic Games…and if you have even a smidgen of curiosity about one of the primary differences between East and West, I urge you to check out this op-ed piece by David Brooks in the New York Times titled Harmony and the Dream.

It’s the best and most concise distillation that I’ve run across recently analizying the gap between the cultural mindsets of societies that value the individual and those that value a collective.

Cost of educational e(quality)

Following the pervasive, highly pressurized third and final year of middle school in China, preparing for the entrance examination, Jenny’s daughter will enter high school this fall. Top scores equal entrance to the top schools. And in China, entering the top high schools is deemed to be the best path to top universities, which all hope will translate into a “bright and happy” future.

There are two “top” high schools here in Xiangfan – No. 4 and No. 5. Though most locals appear to favor No. 5, which just completed construction of a new campus that opens this year, to the tune of 200 million RMB ($29 million). After the entrance examination is held, all parents and students hold their breath waiting to find out the results. But, even more important, they anticipate the school’s announcement of minimum entrance scores.

Not to worry, however, if your child’s score is less than the minimum, it doesn’t mean they can’t attend the school. It simply means you’ll have to shell out more moolah to secure a spot in that year’s class.

Here’s how it played out this summer…

Anny’s score was 561.5, out of a possible 600. About two weeks later, No. 5 announced that the minimum entrance score was 566. But here’s where the sleight of hand lies. Anny’s middle school is located north of the Han Jiang. There are other school districts south of the river, where the announced entrance requirement is 553. Most of the lingdao (leaders) live south of the river.

If Anny had attended school south of the river, it would have cost only 3,000RMB ($437) to attend No. 5. One of her classmates, who lives next door, scored 571, so her parents only have to pay the same, 3,000RMB. (By the way, these tuition costs are for all three years of high school. You have to pay in full, not year by year.)

This morning Jenny walked across the street to her bank and withdrew 27,000RMB ($4,000) – the tuition for Anny’s three years of high school.

Mei ban fa…

A (fake) Olympic achievement

Some friends invited us over for dinner last night to welcome us back to Xiangfan. Jenny’s best friend, Tian Jingsong (and her husband, Liu Jian) hosted the dinner party at their new home. Aware that one of my favorite local dishes is longxia (crawfish), Laodi and his wife (Tian Jinsong’s older sister, Dimei) had worked hard all day preparing this and many other dishes for us.

(Laodi means younger brother, Dimei means younger sister; they call me Laoge (older brother) because I’m the eldest of the group. Laodi, by the way, is a retired Air Force pilot, an interesting man who’s also interested in learning more about this laowai laoge. And the funny thing is that Jenny doesn’t even know their given names since the Chinese typically address each other by a relationship name.)

The table talk naturally turned to the Olympics, starting with the opening ceremony. Never mind that the 29 footsteps, representing the 29th Olympic games, turned out to be fake fireworks; digital creations that took a year to produce and inserted into the live broadcast…everyone had been suitably impressed with the spectacle. And never mind that it cost $300 million, compared to Greece’s $30 million in 2004. A certain amount of ostentation was necessary for China’s debut on the world stage.

Anyway, given all the pre-game hype about whether China can best America this time in gold medals, medal count, or both…I asked everyone about their opinion. The general consensus surprised me somewhat.

Doesn’t matter, they said. Even if China does win more gold medals (which is more important than the medal count, as all cultures place little to no emphasis on paltry runners-up), it would be just a jia chengjiu…a fake achievement. Because everyone knows the Chinese government recruits, trains and supports its athletes in a manner that is, well, downright unfair.

As I have been watching the coverage here, when CCTV lists current medal standings, the ranking is ordered by the number of gold medals. As of this moment: China–11, USA–7. On the New York Times website, since I can’t watch NBC coverage, the ranking is ordered by total medal count, currently USA–21, China–18.