inside thoughts on China and beyond

Micro Worries

“Next year I will not be in elementary school anymore!” my son exclaimed with a mix of pride and scare, one evening last week.  I don’t think he did it on purpose, but it surely hit me hard and evaporated my youthful feelings in one breath. And as if to add salt on the wound, my daughter announced she had a party, a high school party. One of those with tuxedos and gala dresses and 4 hours at the beautician shop for 2 hours dancing. But despite being suddenly reduced to an emotionally troubled and quickly aging, worried daddy that knows the horror stories all too well, I was glad to learn that no alcohol would be poured and that there would be more chaperons than students, so that’s OK. But when we saw her the next morning, or more precisely, the next day, because by the time she managed to stumble out of bed the rest of the family just finished a late lunch, the surprise came. “Who are you?” I wanted to say but of course I didn’t. Her little brother simply exclaimed, “Wow” and I wasn’t sure it was in admiration or terror. “What happened to your eyes?” “They burned it”. “Aach! They burned it?” If there was any admiration earlier, this now definitely changed to horror.  “No, they heat up your eyelashes so they curl up.” “And what about your hair …?”

As a father who sometimes worries about the inevitable –and yes I know: no use, waste of time, but what can I say?- , it can be worse. What would you think of your daughter on auction? China Daily presented it proudly. It was a public display. Ladies were lined up. All with numbers in their hands. They were on auction. No, they were not visitors to the auction; they were the items auctioned. This was not the old Roman empire of 2000 years ago or the Song Dynasty of 1000 years ago, where slaves and concubines could be bought on public markets. This is Beijing 2011 – today. Nannies for sale. Their teeth are checked, their strength tested, their smiles measured and perhaps their cup sizes too, in silence. Six of the 10 changed laoban (boss), the remaining 4, well, we will never know, the paper didn’t say.

But let me assure you: I’m not the only parent in China worrying about his kids. Chinese are worriers. You wouldn’t say it, but it is a fact. Great warriors in the past, great worriers now. And modern Chinese parents beat them all. With all those grandpas and grandmas stumbling after their one and only abusively spoiled grandchild filling in for the forever absent parents; with all the private boarding schools popping up and piling out, you may think the opposite. Not so. It’s just that Chinese parents worry from a distance while multitasking. And it’s a booming market.

Last month, an experiment started in Beijing with irremovable GPS armbands for kindergarteners. So mum and Big Brother can track them 24-7. Everyone is excited! Kids think it’s cool. Mums think it’s safe. Big Brother thinks it is a good practice to get used to. So no future Nobel Price winner will object to it when his time comes.

But the latest invention catering to these worriers is a system for video monitoring of classes so that parents can see their kid all through the day on their iPhone while lining up for the hard-to-get iPad 4G second edition. How fun! Watching your child color his paper; watching him write the Chinese character for yi (one) wrong -by now mum is making a mental note (or an iPhone note) to get her son a tutor as soon as possible; no, better still: get her son his own phone so she can SMS him if he needs help. Oh, see, he’s pinching his neighbor and throwing erasers at the teacher…How cute! Now, while playing cards or flipping through flashy fashion magazines in one of the many new Starbucks that  are popping up everywhere, mum can constantly check whether the teacher is treating her little darling appropriately, which practically means that the kid needs to be treated better than all others. One wrong move and the teacher has her phone ringing. And with a student population from anywhere between 20 to 40 in her class, that phone will be ringing nonstop. Surprise, surprise, the teachers are not happy. Already they need at least one assistant with that many spoiled brats in class, now they need one more, just to deal with all those mummies on the phone. But, it’s a real hit and more cities will soon start implementing it. That the teacher doesn’t like the idea only adds fuel to suspecting them of ill intent. What do you have to hide, teacher? For kids it is their first real tool to blackmail their teacher. Soon, we’ll be able to follow the fights on micro blog….

You see, in this progressive society where people are born with phones on their ear, constant and instant information is the key. Because for decade the traditional news providers are mouthpieces of the Party and thus per definition not really trusted, citizens and netizens turn to other means to get informed. Their new medium: micro blog.

See it as a Chinese version of Facebook. (But what do I know about Facebook, since here it is unreachable on the other side of China’s Great Cyber Wall.) With it’s millions of ‘friends’ it has caused more than one rumor to grow out to a nation-wide panic. One of those was shortly after the nuclear disaster in Japan. People started buying all the salt they could get, just in case the Japanese radiation cloud would invade China. Salt absorbs radiation, but only if taken in quantities that turn your blood vessels into pillars, but then, when has panic ever lead to good reasoning? The rumor was spread and the people full of fear. Worry. Within days, a small message that started somewhere on a Shanghai micro blog effectively spread to 600 million fellow Chinese, the other 600 must have heard it in the supermarket. We haven’t heard from this blogger again, but each week, we are updated by micro bloggers of their latest discovery of deadly habits or products and they freely provide the remedy that goes with it. And each time, it causes shortages in the stores triggering more panic and worries. The self-fulfilling prophecies of micro blog worriers. But micro blog is not only spreading news, it is also making it. And that, well, that is Beijing’s greatest worry.

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4 responses

  1. Gerrit Dorgelo

    Zo te lezen heb je grote zorgen ….

    May 29, 2011 at 4:33 pm

  2. Jing

    wow..很有意思! 很有意思的article!
    I just got my micro blog (wei1 bo2) today.. I rejected it for very long time! however, after all I realise that it will be a tool for me to understand China (or my generation) better!! What are people (friends) talking about on it!! But what makes me sad is that people starting spending more and more time communicate through computers, instead of face to face communications.shallow relationships, instead of a deeper and closer relationships…..is it matter of time or something else??

    July 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm

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