Yesterday I learned the phrase, "Yi2 Hua1 Jie1 Mu4 (Hanzi TBD)."*
According to my Chinese tutor, the literal translation is roughly "move flower tie tree" or "tie flowers on a tree." I was told this was a fairly well-known saying from a Chinese military strategist, but I forgot to ask which one. This phrase was shared with me after a multi-topic conversation regarding:
- Local tourist spots that make "possibly" exaggerated claims about either about their greatness or their wickedness (this one typically being something Japanese related).
- Chinese language text books that contain stories over-sensationalizing Chinese culture, as well as stories demonizing American society through an interesting selection of facts and figures.
- Government press releases. I don't think I need to explain this one.
At this point, I'm hoping the metaphor of tying a flower to tree is obvious at this point. I'm sure you can think of many examples other than the ones I mentioned below. China is very much of an image based culture and it's not hard to spot the lump of wood decorated with flowers.
It you can't see it, let me help. It's you, young lady, the one who spent her entire month's salary to buy that famous (phone, watch, purse, jacket, etc.) brand in order to make people think you are what you're not. It's you, Mr. Actually Rich man, who drives your banana yellow Ferrari down the streets of Beijing, even though you rarely crack 40kph. It's you, old man, with your little girlfriend who is half the age of your current wife.
The strange thing, after being here a year and a half, I'm not even judging anymore (ok, maybe a little). This is just how it is and it's not just because your Chinese, the rest of us foreigners are just as bad (or good?). It doesn't have to be expensive things or expensive people that create this effect. It could be as simple as a Doraemon button or something akin to Sami's Peacocking (great post!). Heck, even my teetotaling has created a small "flower" effect for me. People in the bar are suddenly interested by the guy who doesn't drink or smoke...I'm now different. I'm supposedly a "good" man.
So when you come to China, and you can't naturally find your place here, just think to yourself, "I'm a piece of wood, a piece of wood that needs to find a flower." And once you find that flower, tie it on tight. You'll be amazed at the results...
*If you're a Zhonguo-nazi, shut up. I probably made a mistake on the pronunciation. Feel free to kindly point it out and move on with your life. :-)