Sunday, January 07, 2007

china doesn't abide by my motto

oh, what a tangled web 2.0 we weave,
when again we practice to deceive.

--- Sir Walter Scott, modernized by Niniane

When I visited Shanghai two years ago, my niece Tingting owned a pet rabbit that she played with every day:

During my recent visit, I realized after two days that there were no traces of the bunny.

"What happened to the rabbit?" I asked my uncle.

"We left it on the balcony during the winter, and it froze to death one night. When the nanny went to feed it in the morning, it was dead."

"Oh!" I clucked my tongue to indicate my pity. "How did Tingting take it?"

"We didn't have the heart to tell her that it died, so we said it escaped to go find its mommy."

"What? Eventually she's going to realize you lied!"

My uncle shrugged. "It's for her own good."

I walked away. Later I joked to Tom, "I'm going to find Tingting and say, 'Remember your bunny? The cute bunny that you loved? It froze to death! 兔子死了! The rabbit is dead!"

Tom raised an eyebrow, not laughing.

The prior week in Beijing, my mother's friend "Beth" called my brother and I nearly every day to invite us to her research lab in Tsinghua University. We don't have much in common with her. Out of fear of stilted conversation, we begged off several days in a row.

On Saturday, Tom and I visited my young friend Lu, who is back to studying at Tsinghua after the conclusion of his Google internship in the fall.

He took us to the student cafeteria:

which had surprisingly damn good food.

The next day, Beth called our hotel room again, and we could no longer put it off. We went for a tour of her lab. Afterwards she insisted on taking us to lunch.

Despite Tsinghua being an enormous campus with a dozen cafeterias, she led us to the exact same cafeteria.

If we revealed we'd just eaten there, she would realize we turned her down to eat identical food with someone else. To avoid this scenario, Tom and I pretended we were going through the experience for the first time. "Ah, so this is the Tsinghua cafeteria." "This food is damn good!"

Driving back to our hotel, Beth mentioned the cafeteria, and I blurted out, "I know, we just --"

Tom immediately made an incoherent noise from the front seat, talking over me. He swivelled his head to look me in the eye, giving his head a single slow shake. I nodded, my lips shut.

After getting dropped off at our hotel, Tom said, "That was close!"

"Yeah," I said.

"It's a good thing we have a connection between us. When I turned around, you could see my eyes saying, 'STFU!' My left eye said 'ST!' and my right eye said 'FU!'"

In China, I find it's harder to let the truth set you free.


Librarian1968 said...

Oh no! More pictures of food. I read this blog at work and it always makes me hungry. Are you gonna turn pro in the field of food photography? We can say we knew her when... *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Considering your previous posts about canine cuisine, I was disappointed to read that hasenfeffer was not served to young Tingting. Maybe provide a screening of Fatal Attaction while you break the news to her?

Anonymous said...

It's really apparent why you are single. What did that last guy see in you anyway?

Anonymous said...

"It's really apparent why you are single."

Please be more specific as to how it is apparent. And what is wrong with being single? Can't people choose to be single?

Anonymous said...

Hi Niniane,

Enjoy reading your blog.

Not sure if you are aware of this, but your motto is based on a quote from Jesus Christ in the Bible:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31, 32)

Thought you'd be interested in that, even though it's unlikely that you are a Christian.

In case you ever were interested in Christianity though, some good books on how to be a scientifically minded person can also be a Christian are :

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
by Francis S. Collins ( Yale Ph.D. in Physical Chemisty, Head of the Human Genome Project)

Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About by Donald Knuth (Caltech Ph.D. in Math, Stanford Computer Science Professor)

Anonymous said...

"know the truth and the truth will set you free."

it's a helpful thing to remember. it does not address your particular worry.

you're afraid of being caught while deceiving people.

to address that worry, you should acknowledge your fear and consider why you feel that way.

good luck! viel gluck... hao yunqi... etc.

Anonymous said...

hey Niniane, i am a reader of ur blog in china mainland, so maybe i can understand u well in such situation:)
just as ur uncle said abt that rabbit: its for her own good! sometimes lies r not always bad, sometimes we can just make others know the truth, sometimes u can't distinguish wots the good or wots the bad in a lie..
thats the common custom in china, right? every nation has its special character, its hard to say its right or wrong, just get used to it, and that will make u a real chinese:)
welcome back to china any moment u like, and wish u good luck beyond the Pacific Ocean:)

Adam Lasnik said...


Do you ever wonder what will happen when folks you talk about read about themselves in your blog? I wonder if Beth will ever Google you and find your blog, for instance ;)

Then again, I'm guessing such discovery (in general on your blog) has already happened, eh?

Anonymous said...

The notion of growing up and then finding blog posts in some dusty digital archive by your parents' friends about when you were a toddler is just so bizarre. Kids these days.

But from these examples it doesn't sound like Chinese culture is less truthful than American culture. I mean, parents in the US also lie to their kids when their pet rabbit dies.

It seems more like the difference is that you're being exposed to lots of family in China and feeling obligations you normally wouldn't. Or maybe it's just coincidental that you had these experiences there.

I don't understand the purpose of the "web 2.0" joke. Is it just funny to append "2.0" after the word "web" wherever it appears? If you were talking about a network of lies on Friendster or something it might make sense, but you're not, this is just good old-fashioned social deception.

Anonymous said...

Dear Niniane,

I sometimes 'up beauty/nice up' reality the same way as you do in China.

I am a Christian, my Protestant friends tell me that I shouldn't make these little lies. In their opinion I'm behaving too Catholic. But I am a Catholic so I think I'm allowed to behave Catholic.

Dear Niniane tell us about your religious feelings/thoughts/believes or lack of religious feelings/thoughts/believes.

The religious feelings/thoughts/believes of Chinese people are a mystery to most Europeans (yes, yes ignorance).

There are Chinese immigrants in my country but the Chinese community in my country is so closed that no one knows what they really think. They seem happy and don't complain, but that is all we know.

You seem to be quite open.

RC, The Netherlands

Anonymous said...

You obscure the truth a lot.

Why not fill in what you want to say instead of using xxx ???

Throughout all my life, my dad has made racist comments on a daily basis. It is woven into every event. "What nationality is your perspective roommate? Indian? That's not good because XXX. Pakistani is worse because they XXXX. Black??? Then you should prepare for XXXXXX."

Anonymous said...

Yeah and also.

Dad: I want you to not make mistakes 20% of the time, like [racial group which is commonly slurred] and [racial group #2 which is commonly slurred]. I want you to be 95% accurate or 98% accurate like Chinese people!

Ninane seems to avoid the truth when is server her purpose.