Just after 6 this morning I was awakened by a soft but surprisingly inviting sunlight that pushed its way through the curtains of our bedroom. And by a sound that was equally astonishing: the sound of silence. Take it from me; this is a rare combination in these parts. Truly a day to remember! It was the last day of the holiday and I suddenly fell fresh and energized. It happens. And if you’re like me, you will understand; it is like the excitement that tickles somewhere deep in your belly just before departing on a long anticipated holiday, all on a Sunday morning. Surely a day to take the family out and about!
But alas, they know me too well. The easily energized impulsiveness and endless flow of ideas -all brilliant, trust me!- that has befallen me for reasons I still don’t quite understand, well, let’s just say, it really isn’t theirs. So when I turned to my wife she was still asleep -or so I was made to think. Ah well, she deserves her beauty-sleep. I’ll just take my son. But I found him in his room, still in bed, and completely oblivious to the outside world. When I tried to wake him -though I knew he already was awake, but you gotta play their game- he was unimpressed, grumbled unintelligible and simply turned away, pretending to be indeed coma.
Realizing that a family outing was not going to happen, I boiled water in the kitchen for my first cup of tea and spread the China Daily out across the breakfast table. Nothing better than a Chinese newspaper, though ‘newspaper’ is a somewhat deceiving term for what is mostly a mediocre propaganda tool: it will never bother you with news you can’t do anything about and keep all information from you that would otherwise only stress you out. But beyond that; it informs you of everything else there is to know, which is, by enlarge, not worth knowing. If you ask me, censoring news is a healthy thing to do -and I know that Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Murdoch will agree with me. Everyday, censors’ critical eyes select what is good for you and me. Isn’t that thoughtful? And across China, there are a lot of these eyes at work: more then 2 million pairs are strained in 12-hour shifts for less than US$500 a month, according to a recent study. Eyes mostly belonging to young men in their early 20s. Just wondering what they tell their girlfriends about their work. But let’s put it in perspective, after all, what is 1 million people on a population of 1.3 billion – one censor for every 1,300 citizens? Peanuts, you would think, except if you do some more math (well, I’ve done it for you, so don’t worry), it appears that China employes half a million more censors than soldiers. No that shows how much they care.
This morning’s paper is really no exception. Let me show you one example. Prominent on the front page, followed by more in-depth articles on page 3, is a story about how to improve appearance. There is now -and I am glad to pass this on to you- a relatively cheap new trent: beauty-trips to Korea. One and a half page of the paper; this must be important! (Mental note: I should have my wife read it later; she might be interested.) That most Chinese are overly concerned about appearance isn’t really news. (You noticed I wrote ‘most’: those who find themselves beyond saving no longer care -kinda like me, you might say.) The sidewalks are increasingly crowded with blondes, reds and even greens and pinks. All half-baked Caucasian-look-a-likes. It does make the otherwise so grey and dusty streets of Chengdu more colorful. But changing hair color is no longer enough.
These cosmetic surgery tours to Korea have already been well tested by increasing numbers of Chinese who want more. Young and old; male and female, escaping the never-ending humiliation of bad looks and avoiding the often fatal risks of Chinese aesthetic hospitals and their malpractices. All in search for larger eyes, finer noses, narrower chins, bigger tits (or, to be less ‘offensive’, my American dictionary suggests a word which in this context may well be more appropriate: falsies), tighter skin, smaller feet. You name it. A total make-over that The Maker wouldn’t do -or, for whatever reason, forgot to do. Beyond recognition if need be (until, of course, the first baby appears). And all that for a starting price of as little as 2000 Euros. In the last ten years this business has bloomed like no other, especially after research revealed that beauty (or the lack there of) is a decisive factor in hiring, firing or promotion decisions -and of course: marriage. That the unwritten -and surely unintended, but because of that so revealing- message of it all is that China today is still driven by a chronic inferiority complex that has characterized its last 60 years, is a little too far fetched, true as it may be. The Party approved message of page 3 is clear though: make this trip and you will be noticed in the real world. You can finally be someone, because with good-look, you will gain good-luck, and with that: confidence. You will gain a job (or more than one); and if need be, gain a husband or wife (or more than one). Parents and friends are often supportive and co-finance these trips. And if all this is not convincing you to visit Korea, let me add a quote of a happy husband, enlarged across page 3: “I loved my wife, even when she was still ugly; now I love her even more”. At times, Chinese can be so honest. But, well, that does it, right? When was the last time your spouse gave you a compliment like this?
And while I’m still reflecting on this edifying article, my wife slowly stumbles down the stairs.
“Good morning, dear. Want some tea?”
“Ah! Tea and the newspaper; anything interesting today?”
“Hmm, something interesting? Only the tea, I’m afraid…”
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