by Toffler



Olympics Behavior?

August 7, 2007, by TofflerN, category Uncategorized

Though I received a fair bit of criticism for my entry titled Responsible Tourism in Reverse: Educating the Chinese, I do not think I’m totally in the wrong. Consider the following excerpts from an article in City Weekend, titled: One Year and Counting: With just one year until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jonathan Haagen takes a look at what’s being done to get the city ready for its world debut.

Lu-Chin Mischke walks impatiently across the Lido Hotel Starbucks. She stands over the glob of phlegm, just discharged on the ground by a Chinese businessman, and hands the offending party a card detailing the harm done by public spitting. The man, stunned, stands dumbfounded for a moment, but then reaches for a napkin to clean the floor. “I suppose I could just let it go,” says Mischke, the founder of the Pride Institute, a non-profit organization aimed at improving Chinese etiquette, “but in just one year, the eyes of the whole world will be on China. We can’t keep hacking and spitting all the time.”

The Olympics are a powerful motivator for change. Never before has the world’s focus been directed at Beijing in the way it will be during the 2008 Games. In preparation for this unprecedented attention—and scrutiny—the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, city officials and regular citizens like Mischke are on a mission to makeover the capital inside and out. With the Olympics just one year away, how are they doing and what is left to be done?


Mischke agrees: “I don’t think improving the outside of the city will mean much, if we don’t improve the inside as well.” Eager to help Beijingers lose their reputation for jumping in front of the line, expectorating rudeness, officials at the Capital Ethics Development Office sent almost 2 million etiquette books to city families. China Daily also printed numerous articles this year on acceptable spectator behavior. Even the Beijing police joined the movement, investing millions of yuan in a surveillance van equipped with infrared cameras capable of spotting spitters at a distance of 250 meters. Private operators like Mischke have also helped the cause by offering seminars to encourage good manners and positive peer pressure.

Bussing her own table, Mischke describes what it will take for the Beijing Olympics to be a success: “We have enough volunteers. We have the drive. The key will be reaching a tipping point where regular Chinese people start to exhibit pride in themselves and their country.” Across the café, a customer stamps out his cigarette on the floor, and turns to leave. Mischke hands him a card warning him of the harmful effects of littering. The man stares at her blankly and then drops the card on the floor by his cigarette butt.

“We have made a lot of progress,” Mischke sighs. “We still have some work to do, too.”

Based on that, it seems you can think of me as an NGO also helping China prepare for its world debut with the 2008 Olympics.

One Comment

  1. HorseMechanic |

    Hi Toffler. Had your blog on my blogroll for awhile, but this is my first time commenting. Both this and your Responsible Tourism post had set me thinking about how us laowai interact with Chinese folks here and how we should deal with some of the less appealing behaviors on display here, so I thought I’d just chip in with my two cents.

    Before that, a little prefacing.

    First, I actually know you personally from back in the high school days. The connection there was that my family was one of those who took in Bolivian students, and Javier Salinas and I are still close friends. Also, my sister Margaret was on the lacrosse team, and I was a semi-frequent spectator at the games. That we would both end up in China is one of those surprising, but not altogether unhappy, coincidences. It’s good to know that I’m not the only member of the B-X community who’s found their way over here.

    Secondly, I’m now working for City Weekend in Beijing, so thanks for reading! My current boss is actually B-X class of 2000 (I find it easier just to tell people here that we went to the same high school than to go through the whole runaround of explaining what exactly B-X is, so I usually just tell people we went to the same high school). So yeah, happy coincidences all around.

    Anyway, enough prefacing. About your entries. I think the proper way to frame what I’m going to say next is to let you know that my first reaction upon reading your Responsible Tourism post was “Who the hell does she think she is?” That was about a month ago, when you first posted it, so I’m over it now. However, the fact that that was my initial reaction is important, for reasons I’ll explain below.

    Essentially, after thinking about this entry for a month, and turning over in my head all the different ways to look at it, I can only conclude that you’re 100% right in correcting all the transgressions you listed in your Responsible Tourism post. The behaviors exhibited by any number of people here are not suitable for an industrialized environment where people are stacked one on top of the other and share spaces that must be kept clean to be enjoyed by all. Such behaviors often reek (sometimes literally) of a lack of consideration towards other people’s well-being and sense of decency, and deserve nothing other than the appropriate reprimand. That you’ve taken it upon yourself to do so is courageous and praise-worthy.

    However, to the statement “you’re right”, I can’t help but affix the inevitable “but”. I say this because your message, which is both eminently fair and badly needed, is wrapped up in a presentation that is at times so insolent as to be infuriating. Basically, while the message is all right, the tone is all wrong. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve our last face-to-face interaction, and I don’t have any idea how you actually look or sound when you’re correcting the fellow spitting on the street, or throwing his popsicle wrapper on the ground, or cutting his toenails on the train, or peeing by the side of the road, or smoking in a confined space, or taking way too long at the ATM, or pushing in line, or cutting pedestrians off with their bike or car, or any one of the dozens of other behaviors that you’ve documented in detail, and which drive most westerners here nuts. All I have to go on is what you’ve written on the blog, and as you’ve presented yourself and your methods here, it doesn’t sound like you’re approaching your educational project from a position of humility, but rather from a mindset of superiority.

    I know that statement might seem paradoxical at first glance. What is education at its core, after all, but the transmission of knowledge from one with a superior quantity of it to one whose knowledge is lacking? To that I can only offer that I’ve always had my best educational experiences with teachers who’ve made learning feel like a collaborative process of discovery, and some of my most frustrating with those who’ve cast themselves as unassailable authorities on their subject matter. Perhaps this is why the parents on the boat mocked you instead of taking to heart what you had said. Your only weapon in the fight against such behavior is shame, and in provoking their anger, you awoke the enemy of shame everywhere.

    As an aside, I find it ironic that I would say something like “tone and presentation of a message are just as important as its content”, because it’s something I all too often fail to exhibit in my own life (maybe I’m even making the same mistake in how I’ve addressed you in this comment. The fact that I’m often largely tonedeaf as to how my words are perceived is one of my biggest failings). I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just me feeling these things about these entries, though, so I showed them a couple friends and family, and their initial reactions largely mirrored my own.

    One of the people I showed it to was my girlfriend, who was born and raised in Beijing. I wanted to get her reaction on it, and I think she had something to say that’s important for how you write future entries. When you say “the Chinese do . . .” and then proceed to list a series of repulsive behaviors, you lump the Chinese folks who are guilty of such acts together with all those who wouldn’t dream of doing such things, and who are just as put off by them as you are. My girlfriend wasn’t but one paragraph into your Responsible Tourism entry when she said “I don’t do this! My mom doesn’t do this, and she doesn’t let anyone in my family do this!” Making sure to point out that these kinds of things aren’t universal could go a long way towards softening the tone of your entries, and lessening the ire directed your way.

    As one final Responsible Tourism-related note, the lady mentioned in the City Weekend article that we both evidently read with such interest didn’t scold people verbally, but gave them cards instead. Maybe something worth considering.

    One other observation, and then I’ll give it a rest. There’s been a steady negative drift in your blog entries over the past couple months. Compared with what you wrote when you first fired up the blog, the tone and content of a number of recent entries have been strongly negative. I have no idea what’s been going on in your life outside the Interweb, but if I were to judge solely from what you’ve written here, I would guess that China fatigue is beginning to set in. Are there aspects of life in China unrelated to how some Chinese people do things that annoy you that you feel are worth relating? I’d love to hear about them on your blog.

So, what do you think ?