My friend Julie invited me to go to a family gathering with her and her boyfriend. I was a little reluctant to go because her boyfriend is Chinese and I was afraid I wouldn’t have anything in common with the people there. Eventually I decided to go. This is my experience:
There is a difference in nationality, since I am an American. There are also distinct differences in religion (I am a Christian and they are Buddhists) and language (they speak Chinese, though they communicate with me in English). The foods they have prepared are mostly sautéed meals and they have some forms of rice puddings as desserts. I like the way that there were incenses in one corner of the house and I saw a small altar where some laminated pictures of their kin were displayed in front of the food, as though the meals was offered to them.
The most striking part of the gathering is their conversation about their feng shui, which literally interprets each and every position of people and things with certain energy such as bad luck and good luck. According to Liu,(Julie’s boyfriend) feng shui refers to the historic Chinese[->0] system of philosophy that interprets the laws of Chinese astronomy, their Heaven and Earth, to aid the people in improving their lives with the utilization of positive energies or forces called qi.
There was a painting with a Chinese character and it symbolizes lasting prosperity. The host of the party said that it was placed in their living room to instill the fortune within the house. It is also obvious that most of the house’s furniture and fixtures are arranged according to this ancient Chinese philosophy. Sen, one of the guests, seem to be adept with feng shui and so I talked to him. He explained that the goal of feng shui is to harmonize the people with their environment. He furthered that the placement of the head of the fish is crucial because it shows how money or profit would flow towards the house through their door.
I was also oriented to their foods. Sen explained that food plays an important role in their culture. These food items have symbolic meaning. For instance, eggs hold a significant meaning in various cultures and for them, eggs symbolize fertility. Their noodles also symbolize longevity. Hence, all birthday celebrations come with this food offering. Since this stands for longevity, it needs to be considerably plentiful. A big Chinese fish symbolizes prosperity. When this is served in a banquet, Sen said that the fishes’ head must be pointed toward the special guest/s. Fish means abundance and wealth for the Chinese and they also considered eating fish as one’s way of enhancing god fortune.
Similar with the western tradition, cakes are also part of their celebrations. They also have lighted candles on their birthday cakes. The sweet rice cakes which I liked are said to be part of the popular Chinese New Year celebration. This sticky little cake means a lot. Sen reiterated that a cake’s sweetness stands for the sweet and bountiful life for the celebrant. Also, the cake’s layers show the wish for more abundance in the years to come for the celebrant. The shape of the cakes also symbolizes the unity in the family.
The get together with the Chinese culture helped me realize distinct differences and universal commonalities of the North American cultures with that of the Asians. I observed that the world view is very different. Chinese are more akin to harmonizing with nature. They respect nature more than the westerners, who are more inclined to overrule the natural laws of life. The gathering shows that the Chinese has a low individualism dimension. There is weak degree to which their society supports individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships. Meanwhile, the American culture is more individualistic. They strive towards achieving personal goals by means of their individual characters and achievements. They are ruled by their personal rights and personal space. However, they have weak relationships even when they have various affiliations and formal or organizational relationships. Hence, the Chinese is more of a collectivist society. Their personal ties are very strong and this get together attests to their sense of oneness. The cake’s symbolism also reflects the acknowledgment of the family as one’s major social tie. They are collectively responsible for their kin and their own groups.
I observed the Chinese wives and they appear to be viewed as less significant compared to the males, especially in terms of the conversations we had. This is also reflective of the various traditions they have for weddings and other rituals. I know for certain that they often follow or obey their parents and/or elders. Meanwhile, the North American culture seems to be less conscious of uncertainties. They are more open to changes and they tolerate various changes even when it can greatly affect their lives and their relationships. As it is, the American culture is less conventional and they take risks as a fact of life.
[->0] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China