My vision was full of swirling rainclouds mixing with a background of daylight, my hearing dulled by the water and my naked body floated on the surface of a small lake tucked in the foothills near the Great Wall of Yongkang. Raindrops tickled my face and I felt so extremely small in the complete awe of one of those moments when appreciating the beauty of Nature makes one feel insignificant yet crucial to the makeup of the Universe. My body bridged the surface where gaseous sky met liquid lake and I was simultaneously within two forms of existence; both states rejecting me because of my inability to acclimate myself to its specific density. So there I was at the edge of either in a blissful purgatory of weightlessness and I reviewed my one year stay in China.
“Americans talk about Freedom like their french fries,” he had scoffed in reply to my foolish statement. It was a quote I never forgot. I was 18 years old and having lunch with my host family in Spain and a guy who had lived with them years earlier who was visiting. He was now living in South Africa and I believe we were on the topic of comparing countries lifestyles and the conversation was geared to how America wasn’t so great anymore. “But America has freedom,” was my silly input. I knew nothing of economics, international relations, nor the laws or freedoms of any other country. Not even my own country let alone Spain’s. I was simply regurgitating the propaganda slogans that had been fed me since birth. And it was true for living in Spain I did not feel any less free than I when was living in the states. The only real freedoms I knew of was a right to vote, own a gun and public speech. But even those are common among most countries and even now being infringed upon within the US.
Public speech is now a joke. On any school campus or mall or even city block, there will be a “free speech zone.” Doesn’t a zone designating the boundaries of free speech imply that speech is no longer completely free? The Patriot Act now declares that any act that MAY endanger someones life while attempting to coerce a group of people is considered terrorism. Meaning that if you stand on a soapbox or a bench and try to make a speech to many people to coerce (or convince- since that is usually what speeches are for) you could be a terrorist because you could get hurt if you fell off said bench. It is up to the government to decide what may constitute “endangering a life.”
There are many arguments now in the good ol’ gunslinging west for stricter gun laws and even the abolishment of firearms. Well if guns become outlawed then that means only the outlaws will have guns. But not de facto outlaws because they have guns but because they are outlaws who have guns.
And although we still have the right to vote, it seems the system of voting has become a charade. This was seen with the election of Bush Jr.- our most intellectual and articulate orator of presidents- who was not voted by the majority of people in the country but rather by a state numbering system which is further segregated by the antiquated gerrymandering system allowing political candidates to choose the boundaries of counties and therefore tip the polls in their favor. Not only that but with the humanization of corporations and corporate interest in politics, there never seems to be a truly fair ballot.
Living in China I did feel more free than in the states. Why? Because of practical thinking:
In the states, if you really have to urinate so badly that you are willing to do it somewhere in public, maybe in a bush or against a wall, its called public indecency because somebody could see your no-no so that’s…well a no no. In China you’re just peeing. Because everybody does it every day and its impossible to always be near a bathroom when it happens. As my good friend Reymon said after a baby pooped in the middle of his store: “Shit happens.”
Of about 195 countries in the world, America is one of only 10 countries that have their drinking age minimum at the old age of 21. The rest of the world settled on 18 as a default however most are able to drink much earlier around 16 years old because it is not so strictly regulated. Spain was one of those countries, 18 was official but if you looked about 15 and comported yourself like a mature person then you can get a drink. I was completely shocked by this and wondered how it was allowed that children could get away with drinking. It was because they weren’t doing anything stupid enough to make a big deal out of it. They weren’t OVERconsuming. They were having a beer or two and that’s it. In the states, kids go to parties to drink and its a special occasion so they drink ALOT and get drunk and then keep drinking and get into trouble. But in Spain, they were treating alcohol like any adult would because you can have a beer whenever you wanted. Its common practice to drink wine for lunch everyday so why should a drink in a bar be any different? In China it was pretty much the same. There were 18 and over signs at clubs but they were never really adhered to. I was NEVER carded once in China for buying alcohol or going into a club. And I look young for my age. And it doesn’t stop there because if you’re not finished with your drink, it’s okay, you can take it out with you on your walk. You can walk freely on the street or park with a drink and no one will hassle you. Why? Because you aren’t making any trouble. Once trouble is made of course there will be action. The beer alcohol content is cleverly set to almost half of that found in the states-2.5% compared to 4.5%. So the trouble takes longer to occur. However, in the states cops come making trouble because they have an excuse to. Oh you are sitting quietly in the park bothering nobody? Well that’s fine but if you’re sippin’ on some juice then you must be up to no good. I never felt more free than when I bought an ice cold beer on a hot day and enjoyed my beverage while I walked freely on my way. And I could do the same at 4 in the morning if I so choose since there is no cutoff time.
I recently read an article entitled Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and China now more free than America in notable ways. In it, the author sympathizes with James Stewart, a man who committed the “crime” of running a members-only club where people could pick up farm-fresh milk, eggs, cheese, melons and other better-than-organic foods.He had started a collective for the trade of farmers and growers to have access to healthy and cheap organic food. But because of the ridiculously bureaucratic food regulations in the US, he was considered a criminal for distributing unpasteurized milk. Do you grow excess fruit in your yard and wish you could sell it on the street corner? In China, of course you can trade your fruit for a profit, for no one would deny your right to make honest money. In the states you must apply for a license and subject yourself to any manner of inspection. Food is very expensive in America and organic food is not cheaper. True, there must be a purpose for such regulations but that purpose becomes self devouring when common sense practice is crushed under blind adherence to every letter of the law. And it is not above reason to question the ethics of the FDA whose pockets are filled with the recently raised fists of politicians as they were promising a better tomorrow. In fact the newest member to the head of the FDA was previously on the board of Monsanto, a company which pushes the bar ever higher for the allowance of chemicals and GMO’s. In China I can get a meal for the equivalent of 2 American dollars. If I want to treat myself to a restaurant then I can spend about 10. I believe that you may judge the prosperity of a country by its amount of poverty. Although there are impoverished, they are not starving; food is cheap and one is allowed to grow it anywhere. One very striking sight here in China that made me question the regulations of food was seeing ubiquitous mini gardens. I saw food growing in ANY unused plot of dirt. The side of the road, empty plot of land that would be used for construction sometime soon, bits of city planning fragments that didn’t necessarily belong to any structure, and even in the clumps of dirt that lined water canals and draining systems. I mean ANY small piece of dirt was used by someone for food. That meant that most people were growing a good amount of their own food and therefore had to spend less money to survive. In the states it would be considered illegal because that land belonged to somebody, and if it didn’t then it was “the state’s” and called “public property,” meaning the public can’t choose to use it for its own silly whims like eating food. It probably meant that many small businesses were using unregulated food. But I would rather choose to have my food locally and organically grown than regulated and filled with chemicals and a small percentage of insects and feces as according to the FDA’s food defect action levels. I would rather take the chance at unregulated food than regulated food which has a limit for how many poisons they are allowed to use.
A local food vendor makes some delicious noodles and soup from his portable cart on a morocycle.
Not only did I feel more free in that sense but also free from stress. The cost of living was so cheap that I no longer stressed about money. It also allowed me to partake in generosity more often. The Chinese have a generous culture where the check for a meal is never separated and it is an honor and privilege to pay. I have had my meal paid for so often that I couldn’t wait for my turn. You literally have to run to the counter before anyone gets up or have your card ready to give to the waiter and shoo him away aggressively as the others are trying to tell him no just to be able to pay. This allows for a pay it forward mentality and I very much enjoy it.
If you like buying cheap products or copies and cheap movies, enjoy smoking in public places, drinking and paying for sex, not wearing a seatbelt and wish you could drive the other way on a one way street when needed or use your adult discretion while driving and not adhere exactly to the rules, and want to start a business without jumping through bureaucratic hoops of fire, or drive an electric scooter on the street and highway without a license or age minimum, or swim naked in a lake then China may be for you. Western media gives us the impression that China is oppressed and lacks privacy, liberty and freedom. However, this is only true in the political sphere since China is an authoritarian military dictatorship. Elections are not practiced except for small town mayors and political speech is not tolerated. But everyday life is hardly inundated with political agenda. So in everyday life, in small pleasures that make being a human being human- China is more free than America.
I am not a proponent of smoking in public places, prostitution, public nudity and/or drunkenness, nor of children drinking alcohol. But in China one may act on their own discretion. If you need to pass a car on the road and no one is in the oncoming lane, why can’t you use it? Obviously 2 cars facing each other will see one another and act accordingly with the speed and direction they choose. You don’t have to wear a seatbelt because you are only endangering yourself. Prostitution is not technically legal but it is tolerated in certain areas. China is a manufacturing state that gets paid to make everyones products, so if they can make the same thing or nearly the same why can’t they sell their copy to their own people? There aren’t ownership laws in China anyways. How can you own a concept. Even in the states intellectual property laws such as inventions and written words can only be owned for a certain amount of time before it belongs to everyone. China just takes out the waiting period. If you need to partially park your car on the sidewalk, why can’t you if you aren’t blocking the entire path. It is public property after all. (This practice is also common in Europe, however the sidewalks are usually more spacious than a few feet wide.)
The internet is the only place I feel restricted. But only because I’m used to using google to search and I can’t write in Chinese so everything I search for won’t be from this country. The Chinese however get along famously. Youtube isn’t allowed but who needs youtube when youku has the same video sharing properties as well as entire movies and TV show seasons from around the world. I can watch any american tv show with ease for free because it is now in the public domain. And whatever I can’t find I can buy on taobao.com. The unadulterated unlimited Chinese version of ebay where you can buy straight from manufacturing and distributors and get ANYTHING for cheap. Clothes, electronics, movie,show or plane tickets, hotel reservations, sex toys, food, cold food shipped in coolers, cars, animals like pigs or jellyfish- even a 3meter man of war. You can pay your phone bills on taobao. And all for an unmatched price.
Yes, Americans pat themselves on the back as their chests fill with pride under the red striped flag for having political “freedom,” but when you’re in jail for a skinny dip, or having a beer outside, or peeing in an alley, or watching a movie for free that’s already out, or making an illegal vehicle maneuver on the road when nobody else was around but a cop, then you’ll remember how free you really are.