I think the chinese culture still very fundamentally different from our culture
Chinese people are much less individualistic than we are. Psychologists use this question “tell me something about yourself” and then they count and analyze how many times an individual uses a group to identify him/herself rather than just talking about what is specific about the person.
So you would have that many Chinese people would say “I belong to this family, this family does that, my father does this. And then maybe they would talk about their school. Of course, it’s still a very traditional society, so they would talk about their grandfather.
What I see in Europe and the US much more common is that the person just says “My name is Gianluca, I studied this and this is my career”. So it’s really “I, I, I” and what makes you in a way special in the context of what you do.
Chinese people like so much the western culture and that is fascinating itself. So you have this culture that is so different, very traditional but at the same time they like McDonald’s, fast food, they like Hollywood Blockbusters.
There is a cultural earthquake. I think many people try to combine the tradition with the new.
I spoke with many university students. I asked them “What do you want to do in your life?” And they told me “I want to make money”. It’s as simple as that.
But at the same time they also want to give an appearance that it’s consistent with their traditional values.
So they would say “that’s also something my grandfather would do” and maybe they are right. Because when you travel through the cities like Beijing there are so many people who are self-entrepreneurs. So many people who would sell food, products etc.
I have the feeling that trading is a real part of that culture. It’s something that the communist government has not really managed to change. Maybe it’s true, they are really there to make money.
You know, you see these two different cultures being present within today’s present Chinese culture and you wonder how long will the traditional culture survive?
First thing I recognized in China was when I was travelling on the metro. The metro system is friendly to travelers, all the signs are in latin alphabet.
When you get on the metro you see TV screens and they show the communist party propaganda and you would see historic hints of Mao Zedong.
And then there is a commercial break and it shows you a commercial of a detergent.
And then the propaganda comes back again.
That was the clearest example of this different cultures living side by side.
“There is one particular episode that really changed my view on things, on globalization”
It was in Vietnam. I was in a little city called Hoi An which is one of the towns that have been spared by the war by the US. Just by chance I followed this cycling tour to the countryside.
The encounter that really changed my way of thinking happened on the trip to the countryside.
We ended in a big field and there was a dramatic structure of rows, from a distance I couldn’t quite see. There were rows and rows of little rectangular objects. And there would be one person moving very slowly across this field. We stopped and I could see that the rectangular objects were bricks.
The person was an old woman, maybe in her 50’s. All the job she did was turning the bricks over to get them to dry. She would be in the sunshine 12 hours per day. The bricks were needed to build houses.
She had this typical Asian hat that protects from both sunshine and heavy rain. My guide translated and she told me about her job. She told me with a smile on her face that she earns US$3 per day and of course the US dollar is a lot of money. I figured out that with the US$3 you can buy two meals in a restaurant.
But immediately I thought she is exploited, she must work for a Multinational and I asked her “Who do you work for?” and she pointed to a man who was sitting close by. “I am working for this man”. The man was a local, very wealthy under local conditions.
She wasn’t working for the Multinational. She was just working for a local person and I realized.
And it was brought to me by reading more academic or scientific articles.
Here in this world we have the preconception that globalization is ruining the less rich part of the world.
But we have this very romantic idea that the multinational companies are going to a country and they put people in a situation of poverty, they worsen their limited standards because of exploitation.
The reality, of course there are many perceptions, very difficult to generalize, but the reality is that the same people who work for Multinationals would be under even worse conditions if they would work for local companies.
So I think globalization has many different faces and shapes.
But you have to be aware that the idea of Multinationals are the absolute evil and that people work in ideal environment before Multinationals came around.
That is not the case.
People are most of the times working under heavy situations of exploitation.
Of course they (Multinationals) exploit a lot but they are very clever. They just do the minimum that they can do in order to attract as many workers as they want to work for them. They can do a huge profit.
When Multinationals go to these countries, initially they have an infinite supply of people who are available to work with them. They have a stable salary, which is higher than what they usually would work for the price.
I think this encounter really brought home to me in the clearest possible way what exploitation is and what globalization is all about.
At the same time this woman seemed to be happy.
I never felt any sense of envy from themselves. There are some people who told me “you can travel, I can’t”. They didn’t say it with anger or with regret. It was just a matter of fact.