15 October 2013

UK to USA via China

JINAN CITY, Shandong Province, China—If anything exemplifies the Chinese character, it is their behaviour in elevators. Most Westerners walk to an elevator, select a floor, and wait for things to happen. Not the Chinese. They run into elevators, select their floor, and immediately press the “> <“ button to close the door. Beware; in China, these buttons actually work! In the UK, they are buttons with no obvious purpose; most of us suspect they are not connected.

So, entering an elevator with a Chinese person in it requires rapid reactions and split-second timing. If you are some distance from the elevator, do you run, or do you wait? Getting that wrong could mean bruised elbows as the doors slam shut (another feature of Chinese elevators) and little sympathy from the occupant. If you get close to the elevator before the door slams shut, you may have the opportunity to press the call button and retain the elevator, incurring the wrath of the occupant or occupants.

The Chinese seem very impatient in their daily lives; everything happens at breakneck speed: driving, walking, speaking, eating, and thinking. To some Westerners—this one included—it can be exhausting. Retiring to your hotel room at night is like heaven.

But I love the Chinese people. They fascinate and frustrate in equal measure, something I discuss regularly with my Chinese colleagues. As the old cliché puts it, China is a country of contradictions, and these contradictions are everywhere.

On the one hand, it’s a nonindividualist, collective culture where, on the other hand, people drive with little regard for other road users. On the one hand, it’s a health-obsessed culture where taking exercise is highly regarded and each food is considered healthy for one spurious reason or another, this juxtaposed, on the other hand, against astonishing levels of tobacco use and alcohol abuse (amongst men). At a more prosaic level, Chinese adherence to modesty in dress and sexual mores is puzzling. When using the washroom in the school, I stood at a male urinal while the students I had been teaching (predominantly female) stood next to me and washed their hands, as if a more-than-middle-aged gent did not have enough problems.

Since my last entry, I have been back to the United Kingdom to teach, supervise, and hold meetings. I am ultimately heading for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Nursing in Washington, D.C., but I took the opportunity to return to the Far East to make one of many visits to Shandong University School of Nursing. These visits are intended to promote the Journal of Advanced Nursing, but I was asked to do some teaching and delivered a session on statistics to Master of Nursing students.

Yours Truly, Florence, and friends.
I am always surprised to see the large bust of Florence Nightingale in the foyer to the school; another contradiction. What place this Western epitome of class, privilege, and Christian values has in atheist, communist China is hard to fathom. And nobody here can explain. China remains a communist country; students of all subjects at the university have to study Marxism. Official dinners, such as my welcoming banquet, are attended by the director of the School of Nursing, who is a Communist Party official. Every school has one. On the other hand, China has a free-enterprise economy, one of the strongest in the world, although its success is viewed here as an outcome of communism. Outside my hotel, I saw an old man rummaging through a garbage bin. Chinese communism/capitalism—whatever it’s called—has been successful, for some people.

The pollution here is very bad. Even my host admitted that Jinan is one of the most polluted cities in China. I arrived on a warm day with the usual blue haze in the sky. After a three-mile run near my hotel, the taste in my mouth was terrible, my eyes were stinging, and my throat hurt. The following morning, the rain came, and the clouds concentrated the pollution at a very low level. The fumes literally choked me, and I got an idea of what some of the industrial cities of England must have been like before the Clean Air Act. We have largely lost our heavy industry, as European manufacturing has moved on a large scale to China, the rest of the Far East, and Southeast Asia—and they are paying the price. The rain did, however, clear the pollution for a day, and I faced a beautiful clear morning on my third day. It felt like winter—perfect for running—but the effect in my respiratory system was the same. 

Before the rain.
After the rain.
While working out a round running route through my part of the city, I had the added pleasure of finding that, for motorcycle users—going at, yes, breakneck speed—the distinction between the road and the pavement intended for motorcycles is flexible. This uncertainty was compounded by pavements suddenly giving way to unguarded storm drains and then ending at busy junctions, with no obvious sign of a safe crossing. Next time, I may eschew running altogether but, at least, I got mainland China on my Garmin GPS webpage, and I intend to get the USA on the same page with runs in Washington. D.C. and Boston over the weekend.

Great news to end this entry! I just received an email from Rob Fast, the PA to my good friend Dean Courtney Lyder of UCLA School of Nursing, inviting me to dinner at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday night. Last year, this topped the best restaurants Washington. I feel like an A-list celebrity.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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