Life Behind The Wall

Thoughts and Experiences of a Black American Woman in China


Jo Gan

Tolerance: Need to Survive China

Everyday I wake up and kiss Michael good morning and then go to take my shower… I am always taking the time to mentally prepare myself for … Well, actually for China.   Although I am often teased about becoming more and more Chinese, I still feel myself having to tolerate things that in my other life (when I lived in the states) I would have never accepted.  China has taught me that more and more people in this world need to learn to tolerate each others differences.   We all have to live here on earth… until NASA finds a way for us to live on another planet, so why make things so difficult for each other.

I was reading the blog on where they quoted me on a few things.. but that is not way I am wanting to share it here.   I am sharing this post with you because I think that, she has really truly hit the hammer on the nail.   I think it is just a great post… Enjoy! Take it away Kate….

4 lessons Harry Potter can teach us about tolerance – cross-cultural and otherwise

 Posted by on July 15, 2011

Yesterday, our Random Nomad, Jo Gan said:

“If something one of us does bothers the other person, we compromise… If you really want to make a relationship to work, any relationship, it takes respect, consideration, and a willingness to compromise.”

Wise words, Jo, and sentiments which another Jo – Jo Rowling, better known as JK Rowling – would agree with.

Love them?

Since 1997 and the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we have been engulfed in the world of Hogwarts, wizards, witches, and muggles. With today’s movie release of  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2), however, this week marks the end of the Harry Potter era.

Perhaps I was just at the right stage of family life to love Harry Potter. My children were toddlers when Philosopher’s Stone was published; this month, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione reach school-leaving age, so do they.  Together, over the last fourteen years, we have read the books, seen the movies, and queued at midnight in bookstores.

Or hate them?

It’s apparent, though, that not everyone shares this affection. While I understand we all have different tastes and Harry Potter cannot possibly be everyone’s cup of butterbeer, in too many cases this aversion has gone far past simple dislike into the realms of…well, ‘hatred’ isn’t too strong a word for it.

Pretty ironic, really, when one of the main Harry Potter themes is Tolerance.

Could it be that the very people who claim to detest Harry Potter are, perhaps, those who most need to read the books?

1. Tolerance of things we fear

Harry’s aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, fear all things magic. They won’t even permit Harry to use the M word – “Magic” – in their presence, and they confiscate his Hogwarts textbooks over summer vacations.

These actions are not unlike those of some fundamentalist churches, who periodically burn Harry Potter books. One Baptist pastor claims:

“The Potter series is worse than pornography. The books are even more dangerous than the Satanic Bible. At least with the Satanic Bible, young people know that the book was written by Satan. The Devil just changed his name to J.K. Rowling this time.”

Satan needn’t have bothered. It won’t help him get a share of the royalties.

2. Tolerance of infirmities

Professor Lupin, a teacher at Hogwarts, is humiliated and discriminated against because, through no fault of his own, he has a chronic disease – lycanthropy. In other words, once a month, he will turn into a wolf, bay at the moon, and run around biting people. The disease is now fully controlled by potions, but Professor Snape still regards it as his duty to inform Hogwarts pupils of Professor Lupin’s  condition.

Sadly, many AIDS sufferers can probably empathize with Professor Lupin’s plight.

However, we learn that in his teenage years, when no potion was available for his disease, Professor Lupin had three friends who developed their own ability to change into animal form, so they could keep Lupin company during full moon.

A true friend, like a life partner, will be tolerant of you in both sickness and in health.

3. Tolerance of other races

Voldemort followers in the Potter series want to rid the world of muggle magicians – wizards and witches who are not born into aristocratic magical families, but born in the real world and who display magical talent. Hermione is one of these, as was Harry Potter’s mother – both brilliant witches, but their talents apparently not good enough for Voldemort’s approval.

The parallels between Voldemort and Hitler, between the uprising of Voldemort followers and the Nazi party, between the desires for a master race and for pure-blood magicians, are only too evident.

4. Tolerance of things we envy

Lastly, a lesson not in the text of the books, but from reactions to the books.

There is wide criticism from both writers and ‘readers’ (I use quotes because generally these people haven’t read the books at all, but are prepared to offer criticism nevertheless) that the books have a clunky writing style, use too many adverbs – in short, name a writing sin, and JKR has committed it, it seems, and therefore does not deserve all the acclaim she has received.

No matter that this woman had an idea, worked on it determinedly for many years under far from ideal conditions, and finally achieved her goal of turning this idea into seven books. How dare someone rise from single motherhood on welfare to happily married, multimillionaire author?

In other words: How dare JK Rowling not be me?

As Jo Gan also said yesterday:

We have learned to accept each other’s differences.

If only everyone could say the same.


until next time…

My Interview on Displaced Nation

I was asked to do a fun interview by ML Awanohara on an interesting website called  “The Displaced Nation”  It is a website that gives you a different view of different expats that have traveled or been displaced to other countries and their experiences and some fun information about what they have learned.  I found this interview to be different from others I have done and I think you guys would enjoy reading it and others that are found on this website… Enjoy.



RANDOM NOMAD: Jo Gan, Director of Foreign Teachers, Author & Blogger

 Posted by on July 13, 2011

Born in: Columbia, Missouri USA
Passport: USA
Country lived in: China (Yuyao City, Zhejiang Province): 2009-11
Cyberspace coordinates: Life Behind the Wall | Thoughts and Experiences of a Black American Woman in China (blog)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I left America due to the economy. I worked in the mortgage field and when the housing market crashed, I needed to find something else to do…or be on unemployment. So I chose to take a job teaching English in China. Two years ago, I got married to a Chinese man whom I met in Yuyao. No, he wasn’t one of my students, as most people assume. I met him in a bar. He came over and asked if he could buy me a beer. We exchanged telephone numbers, and he started calling me every day, three times a day… Six months later, we were married. Yes, it was fast by most people’s standards but I’m not one to waste time — nor is he. It’s been an interesting couple of years.

Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
No one else in my family — except a great-uncle who lived in Germany most of his life — has ever lived abroad for a long period. Some have been in the military and traveled around, but they always lived on base.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
When I arrived at the airport in Shanghai — it was my very first time coming to China. My luggage had been lost, and I couldn’t communicate with anyone to tell them or report it. I felt frustrated and angry. Then once I got all the paperwork finished, I needed to take a bus to the next city. I couldn’t find the bus station, and no one could understand what I was saying. At that point, I wanted to just get back on the plane and go home.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
When I went home to visit for the first time. Everything looked familiar but felt unfamiliar. I had spent a lot of time missing home, but when I finally got there, it didn’t feel right. In Yuyao, as I walk through the streets or sit in a restaurant and people recognize me, it makes me feel part of the community.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Wow! I guess I’d like to take a Chinese person — if you’d let me in with a companion rather than a suitcase. Yeah…the way they think and perceive things is so different from us Americans. Their ideas of “face,” status, and beauty are so alien to me that I am sometimes at a loss for words to explain it. I can’t get used to the fact that face — losing face, giving face and having face — is of the utmost importance to them. Also, their standard of beauty is so different: very white and very thin. The only way for you to get an accurate view of Chinese culture would be for me to bring a Chinese person along to explain it all to you.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
Since I live in Southeast China, the menu would have to consist of:

  • Steamed seafood. (I apologize in advance for its high salt content.)
  • Chicken feet that have been boiled and then fried.
  • Four kinds of eggs: tea eggs, thousand-year-old eggs, fried eggs with tomato, and boiled salted eggs that have been fertilized (there’s a chicken embryo inside).
  • And of course green vegetables… (By the way, the Chinese call all green leafy veggies “green vegetables.”)

For dessert we would have yangmei  (yumberry fruit), the local favorite.

And for drinks, a choice of:

You may add one word or expression from the country you’re living in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
I will choose Ni chifan le ma? (Have you eaten yet?). Everywhere you go in China, people greet you with Ni chifan le ma? Food is just so important to this culture. Weddings, birthdays, funerals — all of these events involve banquets lasting several hours. Everything tends to be associated with food, and there are many food idioms.

It’s Pocahontas month at The Displaced Nation, and we’re focusing on cross-cultural communications (or the lack). What would you say is the top challenge of an interracial, intercultural marriage — and can you recommend any coping techniques?
First I will say that the most challenging part of being in an intercultural marriage is the people around you. Usually, other people are more concerned about your marriage situation than you are, especially if you live in China. They tend to spend a lot of time telling you what is wrong, or can go wrong, with your marriage. They question the reasons you got married. For example, Chinese people will ask my husband if he married me to get a green card. He tells them: “We live in China, not America. How would a green card help me here?”

As for our personal relationship, we have learned to accept each other’s differences. If something one of us does bothers the other person, we compromise. For example, Chinese men have the tendency to put pork bones, chicken bones, sunflower seed shells, and fish bones directly on the dinner table when they are eating; I find this disgusting. So now we put a bowl beside my husband’s plate for him to discard these things. If you really want to make a relationship to work, any relationship, it takes respect, consideration, and a willingness to compromise.

QUESTION: Readers — yay or nay for letting Jo Gan into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jo — find amusing.)


Please go in and comment to help vote me into the nation…..

until next time….


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