Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Nation of Wusses

The pace in which structures get built in China is staggering. Xi'an markedly changed in the three and a half years I lived there. I would often leave the city for a few days, come back, and be amazed to see a new building erected or road paved in the time I was gone.

This following viral video (h/t @elliotng) really captures what I'm talking about. The video is of a hotel in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan Province, being built in two days (literally):

This is an eye-opening video. It fits in nicely with a popular meme in the US right now: that the US is a "nation of wusses" and that China is "kicking our butts."

Last night, I hung out with Qian, my brother, and my roommate from college at our apartment. We watched the Sunday night NFL game of the week on a Tuesday night. The game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between the Eagles and Vikings had been pushed from Sunday night to Tuesday night because of snow.

Pennsylvania's governor, Ed Rendell, had a lot to say about the NFL delaying a football game because of bad weather:
"My biggest beef is that this is part of what's happened in this country," Rendell said in an interview on 97.5 radio in Philly. "I think we've become wussies. ... We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."
This is a rather bombastic statement from Rendell. My old roommate from college, who lives in DC, commented that Rendell is notorious in political circles for bloviating and loves to hear the sound of his own voice.

I don't think Rendell's words are all that accurate.

Chinese people often get very worked up about weather. From my experiences of living in the middle of the US and the middle of China, Americans are not wusses when it comes to weather and braving the elements. While I get what Rendell was going for, he's off base.

First, domestic sports leagues are just not that popular and don't hold the same value in Chinese society as they do in the US. There is no comparison in China for something like an NFL night game in Philadelphia. And second, Chinese people would not pay boat loads of money to voluntarily sit in mind-numbingly hostile conditions to watch sports. I don't see any city in China packing 60,000+ people into a stadium to watch a sporting event in a blizzard.

All that said, the rapid development in China and the US' economic sluggishness scares a lot of Americans. The video above is a beautiful portrait of what the US is envious of China for. We pride ourselves on being hardworking and industrious. Seeing a different country beat us at our own game (and Communist China of all places) stirs up great emotion. I sense nostalgia for the way things were in the US post-WWII both in the media and in daily interaction with family and friends. I think Rendell is grasping for those "good old days" when the US was the economic engine of the world in his comments from the other day.

Things have changed. I don't see those heady industrialist days ever coming back to the US. That's a difficult pill for many Americans to swallow. But even if those days are gone forever, I don't think the US is done for as a country or an economic powerhouse. Although frustratingly sluggish, the US economy continues to churn. We went close to the brink, but did not collapse. We, as a nation, need to adjust our priorities, expectations, and, most importantly, education system. Wusses we are not, though.


Anonymous said...

Rendell's comments are pretty ridiculous in my opinion and his intentions did not seem to have anything to do with commenting on the NFL canceling the game but rather using it as an opportunity to get on a soapbox and stir up some good old fashioned fear about the new bad guy, China.

With regards to the cancellation, not much is made of how accurate weather forecasting has become and quite frankly I thought it was pretty responsible of the NFL to watch out for its fans, especially the children, who would have been at that game. It turned out to be a nasty mess of a storm.

That out of the way, I'm personally getting a bit disgusted with all the "man up", "nation of wusses" rhetoric that seems to be making the rounds. I mean seriously, what does that even mean anymore? Go out and wrestle a grizzly bear? Go back to treating women like second class citizens? Stop evolving as thinking peaceful adults and embrace our neandertalic heritage?

Welcome to the "Great Rut", things aren't gonna get better anytime soon and "manning up" or blaming the Chinese for our problems isn't going to get us anywhere. The Chinese doing calculus on their way to a football game that costs near $100 a head in a blizzard. LOL, that is the funniest thing I've heard in a while.

Matthew said...

The NFL postponing the game was about money--more people make it to the game and spend more money at concessions.

And with construction in the US, the unions slow a lot of progress that could be made because workers aren't allowed to do anything other than their specific job, even if they have nothing else to do.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the NFL 'watching out for its fans' seems overly optimistic in hindsight. It probably was about money. Regardless, it still seemed an opportunity for Rendell to soapbox.

Anonymous said...

Quick followup:

Lest anyone think Rendell's intentions were to motivate Americans as opposed to fear monger regarding China... He was on Colbet tonight

I can't find a way to link the video directly so it may be long gone by the time some read this. Basically he went on to talk about China's negativities including rampant copyright infringement (which I happen to agree with him on) and currency manipulation designed with the sole intent to bring down the US economy (which I personally think is the biggest boogie man story being told now.... China has pegged the yuan to the dollar for how many years now?).

Mark said...

I agree with you on the boogie man aspect of the governor's comments, Hopfrog.

I guess it's human nature, but Americans aren't willing to look into the mirror when it comes to the "Great Rut." Easier to blame commie China than to fundamentally change or question one's own actions and beliefs.

Stephen Cronin said...

Actually I can sort of see his point.

Disclaimer: I'm Australian, not from the US, and I don't know Rendell or the circumstances of the cancellations.

However, I know that there were some cancellations in the English Premier League recently and they were mostly for Health and Safety reasons (ie so fans getting hurt on the way to the game couldn't sue them). There were a lot of commentators saying that the games would have been played 20 years ago.

However, western society (not just US) is much more risk averse that it used to be. In China, risk is much more acceptable.

So who's going to be able to get things done? The nation that jumps in and does it, or the one that hangs off trying to do things without *any* risk?

Don't get me wrong, I know it's a lot more complex than that, and it's probably a good idea to build a building that's actually going to stay up, but I can see how we're much more risk averse than the Chinese. Maybe that does make us wusses! :)

Hannah said...

I really like your blog! It has loads of really interesting stuff about china!