“Doing the happy”

It’s not what you think . . . if you’re thinking that. The title is from a Chinese friend’s WeChat message while she was in Togo. She was excited that her local host planned to take her out that night. Both women are in their twenties. While the host enjoys her nights out during the weekends, my friend has no concept of that. She doesn’t drink, so bars or pubs are irrelevant places. She hasn’t been to a dance club because she doesn’t know how to dance. Her idea of “doing the happy” is based on the few times we’ve been out in Guangzhou. We’ve had dinners together. Once we even went to an Irish pub after a farewell dinner with a group of friends. We also went biking at one of the parks near the outskirts of Guangzhou. But, certainly, “doing the happy” couldn’t simply be linked to these activities. The way I understand it, “doing the happy” means having fun that’s unattached to work. I should mention that my friend is a businesswoman, doing wholesale. Business in Guangzhou could and often does entail working seven days a week. So, does this mean that Chinese people in their twenties, who are entrepreneurs, can’t find time for or don’t know how to have fun?

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Small things matter, including modes of connecting people and places

I’ve been using the buses, including the BRT (or bus rapid transit), more frequently this time in Guangzhou. Previously, I’ve used the subway or metro system. Whichever one we choose to use, these transportation systems connect the city and allow the majority of us who don’t have cars to move from one end of the city to another. They are heavily used every day and practically at all hours. They even connect to other cities within the province. We could actually describe these modes of transportation as the veins of the city, allowing the masses to move about, getting to work, meetings, and places of leisure and consumption. Unlike other cities where I’ve spent some time, such as Johannesburg, Singapore, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, and New York City, Guangzhou’s public transportation systems are convenient, with clear guides/maps, and affordable. Such convenience within the city exists side-by-side with the national hu kou (population registration) system that limits people’s mobility across China. Indeed, this is but one contradiction among many.

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“This person is ‘ma fan’”

Ma fan, for non-Chinese speakers, is actually not the name of a person. It’s a Chinese word that looks like this 麻烦. It can be used as an adjective as well as a noun, meaning “trouble.” The kind of “trouble” referred to by this word is specific. In my view, it is to make or create an inconvenience or an inconvenient situation that demands one’s time and energy. It’s an important word in Chinese society today, especially first tier cities that have attracted many foreigners and heightened government oversight. The three are inextricably linked. And, I have become a part of this circle, acquiring for me the label ma fan.

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Fieldwork, gender, and race

I haven’t written about the research process in awhile. Recent knowledge of a fellow researcher’s experience at her fieldsite has motivated me to finally put some thoughts in writing, related to being an Asian woman researcher who does fieldwork in communities other than her own. Though the focus is very specific, non-Asian female researchers would be able to relate to the issues that I shall discuss here.

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Business there, life here

To say that the African women I’ve met in Guangzhou, China are complex people is a bit of a cliché, I know. I’ve already introduced a Somali research participant in a previous blog. She’s a businesswoman (or trader) who’s engaged in cross-border trade. Specifically, she imports women’s fashion into Kenya, where she has a wholesale shop.

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Left-Behind Children Left Behind

Looking at the four photographs below, could you guess that the Chinese children and African child have something else in common other than, possibly, age? The youngest child was about four years old when the photograph was taken. The oldest, at the time I met him, was reaching his teens (pre-teen).

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Do they really look alike, the wholesale markets!

Except for identifying the source in one, I’ve intentionally excluded detailed captions to the three photographs that immediately follow below. Scrutinize and compare them them before reading further. Can you tell where each one was taken – city, country, or continent? The only clue that I’d give here is that they’re all wholesale trade or shopping centers.

photograph from the guardian online

photograph from the guardian online


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