Friday, July 26, 2013

Neurotic parents and a goofy dog

I'm generally a very relaxed and laid-back guy, with very few things that really get me upset. One of the few things that really trips my anger trigger is when people project their inner neuroses outward as if their neuroses were the norm to which everyone else must conform. Clingy girlfriends and jealous boyfriends are in this category, along with many others.

I'm not upset at someone having a neurosis: you can't help that. What I object to is someone acting as if the neurosis were a perfectly normal and healthy response to a situation. Being responsible for two little half-pint dogs in China brings out a LOT of this behavior.

Ma Lei and I had the dogs out for a walk in the early evening, when the courtyards are full of strolling couples, children playing, and families walking dogs. Mimi, the little white puffball dog, loves this time of day because she's got so many people to bounce between, saying hello and accepting attention from everyone.

Tonight Mimi went bounding up to an attractive young expecting couple. Rather than welcoming a visit from the pretty dog, as most do, the woman completely freaked out. She jumped away, causing her belly to bounce like a basketball, while her husband kicked savagely at the dog (fortunately not connecting). "Keep it away!" He shrieked like a teenaged girl in a horror movie. "Can't you see she's pregnant?!"

Now mind you, Mimi is the least scary-looking animal in creation. Short and pudgy, she runs like one of those little toy dogs you see in the novelty stores, walking stiff-legged and going "yip, yip, yip" periodically. She's got a thick pelt of soft fur as white as a cotton ball. She's got one of those tails that curls up over the back and is constantly in motion like an overactive windshield wiper. She looks like she couldn't possibly real — like a stuffed toy rather than a real dog. One might as well be afraid of a cotton ball or a tribble as an "attack" from Mimi.

If the woman had said "I'm sorry, I'm afraid of dogs. Can you keep her away?" I'd have been fine with that. I'd have scoffed inwardly and found it annoying, but tolerated it. But when they shouted at Ma Lei and me, I let them have it.

"You're sick in the head," I told them. "You shouldn't be afraid of dogs, because you've got dog balls for brains." (Don't ask me why, but "dog-ball-brains" seems to be a common insult here. Ma Lei uses it frequently, anyway.) After they came back with something or other, I finished my tirade barking sharply: er... bai... wu... — "250" — which is a Chinese expression akin to calling someone mentally retarded. Ma Lei had gotten in on the conversation by this time, and she followed up with some more eloquent Chinese that I couldn't follow.

We continued our walk, and presumably the neurotic couple scooted home through the gauntlet of scary dogs (of whom perhaps 8 or 10 were out walking at the same time). Everyone out walking had heard our altercation, and I caught quite a few people chuckling at the foreigner dressing down the Chinese couple.

I am a fairly fearless sort, even for an American, so the extreme fear-drivenness of the Chinese has been one of the hardest things for me to adjust to. Chinese parents show their "love" for their children by bestowing upon them a shopping cart full of neuroses, and it stunts every facet of their development. Children aren't allowed to play (they might hurt themselves), so they never learn to navigate the physical world. They aren't allowed to form personal interests or values, for fear they won't study hard enough. They aren't allowed to think for themselves, for fear that their personal opinions will alienate them.

As an educator, I fight constantly against the results of this oppressive fear. As a China-lover, I read daily accounts of the deadly effects of fear on Chinese society. I saw all of that contained in that man's scream "Can't you see she's pregnant?"

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