My History Professor brother emailed asking for a copy of what you see below. He wants to use this story in a lecture about "saving face". It's an email I sent from China about two years ago, and I've only slightly modified it to explain who's who, and I've changed a few names.
I was doing Quality Control in a factory in Xiamen, China at the time this was written. I'll eventually post another old email explaining about the washer/dryer wanting some Peking Duck. That's all you need to know to appreciate the following:
Am writing this Sunday afternoon at the apartment. The Internet is down, but I now have a DVD/CD player. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” is playing. Life is good. The washer/dryer refuses to release one load of T-shirts and socks. It either wants a love offering of Peking duck, or feels that my clothes are really nasty.
I’ve seen a traffic fatality every trip to China.
Friday night’s traffic event was also memorable…. Walter (Quality Control) got very irritated with me when I asked about it again Saturday night, because the situation made Mr. Chen “Lose Face”. Karen (Sales) thought the whole thing was hilarious. Or maybe she’s a good salesperson, and always empathizes with the customer. Or maybe she’s descended from my Notoriously Disrespectful Fujian Province Ancestors, who were nearly wiped out during the Ming dynasty for circulating scrolls and tablets comparing the Emperor to a Countryside Eunuch.
Friday night, we’re driving back into town, and Mr. Chen is going about 90 in a 50 zone. A huge wild dog crosses the highway. Chen can’t turn left (there’s a truck in that lane) and he can’t turn right (pedestrians). So he grits his teeth and slams into the dog, hits him with the middle of the front bumper. We were flying, and so was the dog, and I’m sure the dog died instantly, but it was horrific.
There was total silence inside the car for at least a minute. Gou (Chinese word for dog) was all over the bumper and grill, and was working it’s way up the hood. Karen was in the back seat, and didn’t say a word. To mention the accident would make Mr. Chen Lose Face in front of #1 customer. Walter was equally silent, for the same reason. Mr. Chen can’t even turn on the windshield wipers to remove what used to be a Gou, because there’s a customer and two employees in the car (The “saving face” and “losing face” thing is beyond me. These are very proud, status-conscious people.)
At this point, I’m already thinking of how to write this situation down so that one day somebody will believe it. (Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” where John Travolta accidentally blows Marvin’s head off inside the car, and Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson totally freak out? I think most of us felt like that on the inside, but had to maintain a polite, Presbyterian/Buddhist silence on the outside.)
Small portions of The Former Chinese dog are starting to creep down the passenger side window. Everybody’s staring straight ahead, ignoring “The Elephant In The Living Room”, so to speak. Another 30 seconds of total silence. Nobody’s even breathing. Mr. Chen is embarrassed beyond belief. Chen hasn’t slowed down at all, and he’s got a Gou hood ornament.
My last resort in this situation is to make a bad joke.
I take a deep breath, and for the benefit of the English As A Second Language people in the back seat, I say “I….HOPE….THE….DOG…IS….OK.” (we all speak to each other in loud capital letters)
There’s still total silence. You could almost hear crickets chirping. Nobody says a word. Face is being saved. Nobody says much of anything till I’m back at the apartment, and they definitely don’t mention The Gou.
The next morning, Walter, who is a good kid but a little dim, pulls me aside and says “Aaron, we could not say anything in front of Mr Chen, since he is factory owner. You ask if dog was ok. I’m very sorry, Aaron…..but…. I…. think….. the…. dog…. died.”
All details of this can be verified with Karen. As most of you know, you can’t make this stuff up.
Keep them cards and letters coming !