Posted by: Lotus Light | September 8, 2010

Culture shock

"For he who has no tranquility there is no concentration."
– Bhagavad-Gita

I was asked the other day which aspect of life in China has seemed the strangest to me, what had given me ‘culture shock’.  I had to think for a little while, but in the end I realised it was the noise.   Noise is a constant in China, partly due to the population density, partly due to fewer noise regulations and partly due to, I think, the Chinese psyche.  Having a good time is ‘re nao’  热闹 in Chinese – hot and noisy.  Open-mouthed smile

Coming from a country with a smaller population density and much stronger noise reduction regulations than China, it took me a little while to adjust. I was used to restaurant dinners being almost hushed affairs.  Mobile phones were muted in movies, theatres, and meetings.  Traffic calming methods forced vehicles to slow down and fines for noisy vehicles kept the roads somewhat quieter. 

Now I barely hear the constant noise, it has just become background to my life.  I am not amazed any longer when I have climbed a beautiful mountain in the countryside, and on reaching the top, music blares out from a boombox. I am used to the calling from friend to friend as groups climb and separate. 

I am accustomed to walking around the streets, hearing horns blow regularly, each delivering a  special ‘horn-hua’ message to pedestrians and other vehicles.  As well as this cacophony, street vendors ride slowly on their 3-wheel bikes, with a recording of their wares. Many small shops play music constantly, hoping to attract customers.  At night, the waiters at the BBQ stalls call loudly to passers-by, enticing them to eat at that shop.  I am sure the only selection criteria they needed to meet for being employed was strength of voice.

Card players slam cards on the table, as do the mahjiang players.  Triumph trumpeted by the decibel level of the slam.

All of this makes for lively and entertaining wandering. 

But, I still enjoy peace and quiet and have found some small oases in the middle of bustling cities.  Temples, monasteries and mosques provide pools of quiet for reflection and calm.  The walls seem to reduce the noise of the outside world and it is only at set times that chanting or the call of the muezzin penetrates the peace.

People appear to move more slowly and quietly inside these sanctuaries.  The peace here is more than absence of noise, it emanates from the buildings and grounds.  The long years of meditation within the walls seem to calm  people, souls and noise.  It is not necessary to be of any particular faith to visit the temples or mosques, they are open to all and their peace can be enjoyed by all.

Other places that allow me peace are the very rural and remote areas.  Here it is easy to escape the music and horns and climb hills alone, finding no-one at the top.  Long treks or rides where you rarely encounter others are possible.   Less access to electricity creates a peace of its own. The power from one small solar unit cannot be wasted on CD players or radios when it is needed for light and phone re-charging.

There are peaceful places in China, and although I have adapted easily, I know where to go when I want some peace and quiet.


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