In the past two days, three very distinctive communities came into my view:
The first one is the Amish community in the U.S, introduced by Professor Dmitri Williams in the Thursday night’s class. We watched part of a documentary movie, ” Devil’s Playground”, which depicted this community’s lifestyle and beliefs. It was the first time I had heard of this group, and I was very amazed by their existence in modern society, by how they have excluded themselves from modern technology and have tried to fulfill all their social needs from their tight-knit communities and religion.
Chinese American Community
The second one is the Chinese American community in L.A.. Since I got to L.A.last fall, I have spent much time (in a lot of Chinese restaurants) in the San Gabriel area, an area which is packed with many Asian ethnic groups, and Chinese Americans make up a big group here. Even after five months, I still cannot get over the shock and big “WOW” that pops into my mind every time I enter a Chinese restaurant in the area. Every restaurant is full of Chinese people, from first-generation immigrants (or FOBs, as my friends have nicknamed them, for “fresh off the boat”) to local Chinese Americans who were born here, they talk in all kinds of Chinese dialects and enjoy a diversity of Chinese cuisine, with more choices than I ever saw in a typical Chinese restaurant in China. When I dine in these restaurants, I always have a moment of doubt of whether I am back in China.
Also, tonight, on my way back from a Chinese restaurant in the Alhambra area, I heard an interesting complaint from a Chinese American friend who grew up in the area. He told me how all the previously existing American supermarkets in the area had been replaced, one by one, by Chinese supermarkets over nearly ten years. These Chinese supermarkets offer you every local authentic Chinese seasoning and everything you need to make you feel life is the same as when you were in China. But as a kid growing up in America, he felt upset that he could no longer find a store nearby to get his favorite American snacks like string cheese and macaroni. As the car passed by a Chinese supermarket, he pointed it out and exclaimed that it was once a Vons supermarket, and the sad part was: when it still existed, it did make an effort in opening an aisle dedicated to Chinese seasonings and foods to cater to the local Chinese customers. But this effort did not save it from being swamped by the Chinese supermarket wave that flooded this area. At that moment, I was very amused by his sad yet funny tone, and I was also really intrigued by how the Chinese community’s power in transforming pre-existing areas to adapt to their own culture. I am sure future generations will feel more and more absorbed and assimilated to the main stream American culture, but I am pretty interested in how a culture can preserve itself in a new environment.
China’s Wealthiest Village: Huaxi Village
The third example comes from a piece of news I saw showcasing a “model socialism commune” in China, Huaxi village, which claims to be the richest village in China, even richer than many large cities. Even though I grew up in a socialist country, during the years I was growing up, China was experiencing a huge wave of reform and opening. People are encouraged and allowed to have their own private property and to create wealth for themselves through hard work, so seeing this real “socialism community” at Huaxi village and how it worked out sounded like a very novel concept for me.
I found more about this village from this Guardian (UK) article, “In China’s richest village, peasants are all shareholders now – by order of the party“. Two excerpts from the article bellow will show the very surreal traits of this village:
“Located about 100 miles north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province, Huaxi has been described in the domestic media as both a “paradise” and a “dictatorship”. While its residents are nominally richer than any other community, they have less time and freedom to spend their money. Bars and restaurants close before 10pm so that workers do not oversleep. Holidays are scarce. And villagers get little cash from their paper assets. Eighty per cent of their annual bonus and 95% of their dividend must be reinvested in the commune. If they leave the village, this paper wealth disappears. “
“None went as far as Huaxi in combining the strict political control of the ruling Communist party with the get-rich-quick economics of the market – and the results are being hailed as a model for the nation to follow. To demonstrate how good that cocktail is supposed to make the locals feel, “Huaxi Road” is decorated with smiling pictures of every family in the village. Each household’s assets are listed in detail: size of the family, value of their property, average level of education, number of members of the Communist party, as well as how many cars, mobile phones, televisions, washing machines, computers, air-conditioning units, motorbikes, cameras, fridges and stereo systems they own. “
Just look at the picture below that shows how uniformly the community is built. Insane, right?
(Rows of new houses illustrate the wealth – and uniformity – of Huaxi in China. Photograph: Jonathan Watts)
These community models out there seem so fascinating to me, and my head is full of questions about what is behind these different types of communities that make them all work for their local residents, even though they sometimes look so insane and novel to us outsiders?