Ever have one of those weeks? Of course you have. This was one of mine.
I started writing this blog 150,000 words and 135 posts ago for a couple of reasons. One was to renew my passion for writing. The pressure and time consumed by my work, and the pressure and time consumed by just surviving in China made the big projects I had previously made the focus of my writing simply impractical.
But then a friend said, “Don’t think so big. Take small bites.” And the idea for glassmakerinchina.com was born.
I also became increasingly aware how little the Chinese and my fellow Americans understood about each other. The knowledge gap is immense, and getting wider.
And last, but not least, I thought what a pity it was that there were hundreds of millions of people around the world who would never have the opportunity to come here and witness the energy and the beauty of the China I have come to call home and find so exhilarating and endearing.
Being a sexagenarian building and writing a blog was no small feat, I assure you. There were no personal computers when I was in college and Microsoft Office was introduced when I was half way through my career. (Oh, how I miss the days before PowerPoint.)
Nonetheless, I found that there were dozens and dozens of companies on the web that would do the heavy lifting for me. I just had to write. And when I had questions they were helpful and courteous and would respond using words that I actually understood.
I have always been a man of great enthusiasm when I start a new project. Who knows where that comes from? Who knows where anything comes from? But no matter how insignificant my actual life accomplishments have been I begin each day convinced that I will ultimately change the world.
After two months of writing and posting, however, I had 3 subscribers. I was one and I knew the other two. How could this be? I had read of bloggers who had tens of thousands of subscribers and YouTube and Twitter posters who had millions of followers.
It was disheartening but I didn’t give up. I scoured the Internet for ideas on how to get my blog in front of eyeballs. And all of the advice was the same – leverage your Twitter and YouTube networks.
But I live in China. I have access to neither. I’ve never Twittered anyone. And I’m a bit of a recluse anyway. As Dr. Walter Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) famously said in the movie, Splash, “I am really a nice guy. If I had friends you could ask them.”
I gain no income from the blog. I wouldn’t know how to solicit advertising even if I were inclined to.
Nonetheless, the number of subscribers has slowly grown. I’m close to 1,500 now and it appears they are from all over the world although I don’t really know who you are.
I get up every morning and check my site traffic statistics but those are difficult for me to decipher. It’s all just colors and columns to me. Sometimes up; sometimes down. And to make matters more confusing my blog host sends out the entire post to subscribers by e-mail so they have no reason to visit the site to read the post. And if they don’t, of course, they don’t show up in my statistics.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I offered free copies of my newest novel to subscribers and had my two daughters living in the US ready to make a little spending money by sending them out. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive a single request. I am as distrustful of the Internet as everyone else, but still a bit disheartening for a writer.
In the midst of all that disappointment I woke up one day recently to find that glassmakerinchina.com had disappeared from the Chinese Internet. Vanished. Puff!
I don’t know why, of course. They don’t send you a post card or give you a number to call so you might correct whatever grievance they have with you. Or perhaps they have no grievance at all. Perhaps some computer just caught a keyword it didn’t like. Controlling the flow of information requires a blunt instrument, not a surgical scalpel, as history has so repeatedly shown.
At a very high level this speaks to the irony of China. There are very few Chinese living in China who can read English well enough to understand the nuances of my writing and I doubt very much many of them work for the agency responsible for the Great Chinese Firewall. And if they did they would see that I am a friend and ambassador. If anything I have worried more about being labeled a Sino-apologist than any kind of threat to China.
Nonetheless, until moments ago I was planning to take down the blog. It’s a lot of work and I have more than a fulltime job already.
In yet another case of serendipity, however, the daughter of a friend sent me a link to a podcast from This American Life, a popular NPR radio show/podcast. The subject of this particular show was Americans living in China. If you’re interested, here is the link:
Some of it didn’t ring true with my own experience. I’ve never been asked to appear on Chinese television and have never actually seen a foreigner on Chinese television. But then again I don’t watch much television and when I do its always sports or news.
Many of the accounts did ring true for me, however, particularly the last segment which featured an author, Michael Meyer, who just published a book entitled, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, about a rural area of DongBei (literally East/North), the three provinces of Northeast China which border North Korea and is the birthplace of my own wife.
Unlike most ex-pats, he is clearly living more like a typical rural Chinese person than an ex-pat. And apparently suffers with the same frustrations of duality that all foreigners do here.
What all communicated above all else, however, was how difficult it is to explain China to Westerners who don’t live here. And in many ways it is getting harder. As Westerners we like to think China is westernizing. It’s not. The music and the dress may be merging but that only serves to mask the fundamental differences between the two cultures.
This frightens me, to be honest. America is pivoting to Asia. Japan is showing signs of reverting to its more militaristic past. China is seeking well-deserved respect and attempting to insure that the brutality it has historically suffered at the hands of foreign governments never happens again.
The U.S. is sending spy planes over atolls in the South China Sea where China is doing no more than what the U.S. itself has done many times in the past. Japan steadfastly refuses to give China any satisfaction in atoning for the atrocities previously committed against China in past wars.
Russia and China, not natural allies, are being forced into partnership. America refuses to join the AIIB while virtually every major ally, beyond Japan, has already done so despite America’s encouragement not to.
How can I stop at such a stage of world developments? More to the point, how can I not do whatever I can, however insignificant, to promote understanding in the interest of my daughters and the generations that will follow them?
The final straw. I recently saw a trailer for a television interview with Diane von Furstenberg, the famous fashion designer. In response to the question of why she was so devoted to the rights of all women Ms. von Furstenberg responded, “When one is given a voice one has a responsibility to use it to help those who don’t have one.”
Mine is but a timid and inconsequential voice. I suspect, however, that one or more of you has a much more impactful voice and I encourage you to use it to promote understanding between East and West.
Cheers. I’m glad this week is behind me.
Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China
Notice: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity. They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.