I think what I am looking for is an adventure. The second year here feels old, and I want something new. A new place, new people, maybe a new language. A mountain to climb, a windmill to fight, something. It’s not bad here, I just have trouble finding enthusiasm for so many things I have done before.
I am still learning new things, about China, about myself. My medical students were telling me about being a doctor in China. That sometimes if a diagnosis doesn’t work out some of the older patients can get violent toward the doctor. Not because of mistakes, but because the doctor isn’t magic. That if there is a blood shortage your boss might ask for blood if they know someone who needs it. The lack of value for any psychological help the doctor might give. Everyone has access to health care here, but no system is perfect.
My students tell me that it is getting better, that the hours, the hardships, and the money are all improving. Things change slowly, especially for a country as large as China, but my student still wants his son to be a doctor when he grows up in twenty years. He has faith in the system, in what he has seen as a specialist, in how the younger patients treat the doctors. That it is just the clash between the old generation and the new, that life will get better.
One of the interesting things is that there doesn’t seem to be any one person in charge of the change. Like we have the Surgeon General to work on medical directives and protocol, but my students couldn’t identify the person in charge of the system here. They have faith that the system will improve because of everyone’s efforts, not because of one single person. That society will move in the right direction. Faith in the group above the individual.
I’m not saying everyone here follows that ideal, but it seems to be common enough. I am still used to one person to be at the head, to be named a success or failure based on what happens. Not that it is all of us. As a sociologist, it makes sense, that we do or do not together. That a society is an ocean breaking on the shore. That the individual can’t do much to change it. But I have seen too often a single person in the right place change the world. I don’t know. I guess it’s like I tell my students, every kind of society has its problems.
And some things are just strange. I was walking through a mall toward the Starbucks where my friends were hanging out, and out came a herd of clowns to a techno remix of Phantom of the Opera. Clowns, a couple of people in giant bear costumes, giant inflatable clown costumes. I think it was advertising for a music school. They have clowns painted on the doors of their school, but it is hard to know. Advertising is a bit erratic here.
That is why the two years here, I think. Everything I learned the first year isn’t exactly true. It takes time to get the door open to really look inside. I am always fascinated by the new things I see here, by what is common but would be punished back home. That philosophical questions are never really studied here, or any questions. That self-defense is still violence, and all violence is illegal.
I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell again, about the difference between the Far East and the West, as they were called in his day. All the parts of society and myth that support the individual back home simply don’t exist here. Like after death, we keep our personalities, but they do not. All of who they think they are falls away to reveal they are simply part of the universe. That the group is of value, not the individual. That every society wants a partial person, the doctor rather than a person, whole and complete.
My second year, and it’s easier to see the patterns here, but I do my best to avoid what is right or wrong. Societies function, or they don’t. They exist until replaced, for better or worse. We create them more than they create us, so it’s hard for me to imagine a better world until we become better people. Or at least less complacent and confused.