Columns

2007.06.27 The Eight Big Things to have

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I read some articles recently about children in China. One article said they were addicted to the internet. Another said the addiction was to cell phones.

I suppose if I dug a little deeper, I’d find something else: cigarettes, Gobstoppers, who knows.

The topic of what Chinese children want reminded me an old By the Way column that I read recently when looking at old Observers for the “Through the Decades” review.

Here’s what happened in my house 20 years ago:

Conversation turned to the Orient the other night.

“Do you even know what the Chinese look like?” Colleen asked Ben.

“They’re all covered with beads,” he said.

That’s the problem with living in a small town, claimed his mother. If we lived in the Bronx where she grew up, Ben would know the Chinese are not covered with beads.

Or maybe if he saw some Oriental people on television it would help, but we’re just like 90 percent of the Mainland Chinese people—no TV. It’s number one on the list of “The Eight Big Things” that young people in China want to own.

The Eight Big are: color TV, refrigerator, stereo, camera, motorcycle, couch, washing machine and electric fan. We don’t have a motorcycle at our house, either.

“You know what I’m going to buy the China people?” asked Ben. “An air conditioner.”

Maybe you’ve heard about China’s slow return to capitalism. According to Orville Schell, writing in the Whole Earth Review, the billboards that formerly proclaimed quotes from Chairman Mao are now covered with advertising.

“Prestigious Virtue” shoes are a big item as well as cosmetic surgery. “Get an eye job done quickly. We do it while you wait.” The Chinese can now attempt to look more like Westerners without missing a day of work.

There have been more than just a few changes in 20 years, both here and in China.

Ben is on his own with his first job and he’s rapidly recovering from his deprived childhood. Of course he has a television—a big-screen model to make up for all those years of nothing.

He has most of the Big Eight covered, but still no motorcycle. There’s a car and a kayak instead. But the Big Eight is really outdated. As I mentioned earlier, it’s cellphone and internet addiction for China’s kids. Credit cards are on their current list of wants.

Extreme sports, a pair of Nikes, hair coloring, trendy clothes, tattoos—it’s described as a cultural earthquake. And you think parenting is a challenge here.

I read that after the Revolution in 1949, names such as Jianguo (Construct the Nation) and Jianjun (Construct the Army) became popular. During the Korean War, there were a lot of people named Fangmei (Resist America) or Bangchao (Help Korea).

Now youngsters are looking west. It’s very easy to change a name in China, so you run across Magic Johnson Ye (the former Ye Chongguang). He generally goes by Johnson.

There’s Medusa Fang, Bison Zhang, Jekyll Ji, Redfox Cui, Cherry Ge, Echo Zhang, Feeling Chen and Three Sun.

These names bring to mind the remainder of that By the Way column from 20 years ago. Daughter Rosanna was a one-year-old crawling through the house.

Remember Rosanna’s first word—Gorbachev? She spit out a new one Saturday night. I was washing dishes and she was down below clinging and crying.

Suddenly she said what I think was “même chose.” I recognized it as French and asked my wife if she remembered what it means. Colleen thought it meant “the same thing.”

Sure enough, she just wanted to get up on a chair and help me wash. She was soon happily eating detergent bubbles.

Speaking of eating, we successfully completed our first picnic of the season Sunday, the earliest on record.

We met some Detroit friends at a park in Saline—traditional picnic stomping grounds for this family spanning at least two generations.

In this case, soil and asphalt shingles were the main items on the menu for the younger set.

The most startling event of the day was Ben’s discovery of a secret burial ground.

He was standing next to a picnic shelter house when he yelled, “Someone is buried here!”

There in front of him was a crude concrete marker with the inscription “Saline Jaycees, 1974.”

    – June 27, 2007 

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