Socialism is great!

When I saw the above picture in an October 31, 2011 issue of TIME magazine and a caption explaining that the couple owns a Mercedes among other luxuries, I almost burst out laughing. The awkward stance of the couple sitting amongst their evidence of riches appears silly to me. Often, I say the word “consumerism” with a bit of a scoff. I feel that there is more to life than shopping malls and the latest electronics, so when I saw pages of people in the article posing with their things I rolled my eyes. Yet, I am far from perfect and I do have my times of capitalism because I am a frequent buyer from the website Etsy. And okay, okay…I admit, I bought myself the new iPhone when my dinky Samsung phone broke. But I am considering returning this fancy phone because although I find the apps easy to use, the phone itself is not. I read books, not manuals.

Like Sarah Jessica Parker is with her shoes and huge closets, I am with books and bookshelves (it would be nice to have a bookshelf as impressive as her closet in the admittedly good Sex in the City movie). So, I benefit from this capitalistic holiday period because I usually receive books as my gifts (Joy!).

The author of “Socialism is Great: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China”, Lijia Zhang, shares my fervor for reading as well. When she writes about her mother throwing away her books, she expresses her frustration and refers to their family flat as a “cultural desert”.

I read this book with great speed because I felt it was relatively easy to digest compared to other books that tell a story alongside trying to introduce the reader to historical significances. Zhang not only gives a good account about China during times of important transitions, but also as a young woman coming of age.

Here are some of my favorite picks from this book:

  • “The old year was ending and the new year was impatient to start.”
  • “Standing under low eaves, one has to lower one’s head.”
  • “Unable to distinguish between fragrant flowers and poisonous weeds, these young people pick up capitalist trash like the ‘trumpet trousers’ and rotten music. We must resolutely defend the ‘four cardinal principles’ of socialism and firmly oppose bourgeois liberalism!” (Trumpet trousers are bell-bottoms)
  • “The ceiling fans threw fast-changing shadows onto Marx and the other poster boys of Communism: Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and our very own Chairman Mao.”
  • “Romance was rarely featured in Chinese films and novels because romantic love — not a respectable concept — played little role in our daily life. “
  • “My heart is higher than the sky, but my fate is thinner than a piece of paper.
  • “Shanghai is the Paris of the East” (only because I somewhat agree with Zhang in such a comment and Shanghai also has great food, just like Paris).
  • “Womens’ hearts are too soft to stand men’s tears.”
  • “…a man who met her requirements as a prospective husband: he had a university degree, income over 500 yuan per month, height above five foot nine, and age under thirty. But inconceivably to me, they met only so often, at parks and the like — a process termed “cultivating feelings”, a if love were a type of bacteria.”
  • “Liang, unlike other men I’d known, had a way of showing me new things, and inspiring me to learn, without belittling me.”
  • “The lotus roots snap but its fibers stay joined…Without his smile, the sunshine in my life, I began to wither….Moved, I temporarily forgot this was the man I hated intensely.”

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Recently, a friend told me about a television show called “Once Upon a Time” . I am not fond of television (I do not enjoy consumerism and television — Am I a true American?), yet I took her suggestion to at least watch the pilot episode (episodes are free online) because this show has many references to fairy tales I was introduced to as a little girl. Growing up, I donned Halloween costumes of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Sleeping beauty. This is because like most girls, a good part of my childhood was believing I could be a princess and that one day my Prince Charming would enter my life. Unfortunately, becoming a woman comes with the realization that no such Prince Charming exists to give you that magic ( a magical kiss is even more impossible) that awakes you from the realities of life which can dull a person to sleep. And many females have experienced the “Prince-Charming-in-the-beginning” conundrum in which their chivalry and consideration fades as time weighs on the relationship. Even if you have met “your other half”, no Prince (or Princess) Charming can bring life to your life, but yourself.

Gregory Maguire cleverly retells fairy tales in his books such as “Wicked”. The book’s musical adaptation (I recommend seeing it) also adds to the fanfare surrounding his books. In light of the nostalgia for fairy tales, my current read will be his novel titled, “Mirror Mirror”. I am quite excited to read it also because the story takes place in Tuscany and Umbria; and therefore, helping me to reminisce about my solo travels through those parts of Italy some years ago.

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As the close of 2011 approaches, I think of the recent passing of friends’ relatives that has sadly happened during the holiday season. I understand how it can feel to not be with a loved one for the recent holiday and the upcoming mark of the new year. Well, soon the new 2012 year will bring warmer weather to melt the ice of the past and bring back greener leaves.

Quiet or loud, have a pleasant new year weekend.

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