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Archive for May, 2009

Running in circles

The Amazing Race is my favorite reality TV show.  The previous couple of seasons weren’t as interesting… esp. when they did the US special and the family special, but this season is coming back in full force.  I love watching the contestants scramble to perform ridiculous tasks in foreign countries! 

Yesterday’s espisode was based on Beijing.  I wish they had better tasks then eating scorpians and painting Beijing opera faces…  how about trying to get on the subway during rush hours? 

During one part of the race, the contestants needed to find a clue box in a nearby location.  They have the name of the place in pinyin, but no directions.  So they all asked the locals for help, which seemed to be a logical idea (and their only option actually).  What happens next is typical in China – people start pointing them in all sorts of directions and they ended up running in circles. 

What I can’t quite figure out is: how can people have such different answers to one seemingly straightforward question?  Did they not know the answer to start with?  Or, they think they know but they are wrong?  Or, perhaps the question was not clear?

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Wang JianShuo, as always, wrote a thought provoking post a few days ago, titled, “Why people don’t use v-mails in China“?  I have always pondered about this, as well as the question raised in his related post “Do you have a calendar“.

Wang’s perpsective is that Chinese people don’t use v-mails because they have leaped over the technology and adopted SMS and IM.  If the objective for using v-mails is to reach others when they are not reachable…  then the internet and mobile phones should have eliminated the need because (technically) everyone is now reachable 24/7. 

There is certainly merit to this argument.  I also agree with some of the comments on his blog that social ettiquettes also come into play.  While it is impolite in the US to take a phone call in the middle of a face-to-face meeting, it is impolite in China not to pick up your phone when it is ringing. 

The question then is, are these differences in ettiquettes shaped by culture, or by habit?   If we had mobile phones in the 70s and 80s, would we have voicemails today?  If we had IM and SMS in the 90s, would we use emails the same way we do?  I think not.  Just look at the teenagers today; with no legacy habits, their behaviors resembles those in China.

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