I was at the park last Sunday and my children and I had made a point of leaving the park better then we found it. It was fun.
Then a woman my age or maybe a little older came and dug up something along the shore of the small pond there. I wondered if she was cleaning the park and then realized she was putting small snails she dug up in a bag. Her bag must have had 40 small snails and she added 4 or 5 at that spot and went on her way.
She was collecting a 10 RMB meal for free for her family. No wonder my children have trouble finding wildlife.
Would you spend your afternoon collecting food for your family in the park? What causes this? The China price is in here you know. Extreme cheapness is one factor. It is a deep yearning to get something without spending money. We have this feeling in the West, but it goes farther here. That woman is not destitute. She is Chinese. Very Chinese. What she did is not bad. However, it is far from us. It reflects something that is hard to name but part of all we experience here in China.
China is shockingly cheap for example. I once led a micro finance start up. The industry standard worldwide for loaning money was to spend 11 cents or less for every dollar you lent out. Most organizations worldwide struggled to get there. I empowered the Chinese staff, and they made loans for 3.3 cents per dollar loaned. Everything was well done, and the snails tasted good.
I want to link to the case of gutter oil which you can find here and yesterday’s post on attitudes toward theft and the post on attitudes toward law . It is not my goal to look down on Chinese culture. My life has been blessed by what I learned here. However, I want us to think about how our assumptions need to be analyzed when we work in China.