The jolly baker was a fixture at the market where teaming masses of human bodies bumped and jostled their way around.
He always had a smile on his face and ready conversation for his customers while he kneaded and baked his flat bread. For a man who had an almost permanent spot in the market, his baking paraphernalia was incredibly mobile.
A small crowd had gathered as I was taking his photo. A friend had shown one of the customers a random print photo I had taken. They shared it around while making clucking noises. I promised the baker I’d give him a portfolio shot the next time I see him.
“He should pay you for taking his photo then!” someone shouted. Approving murmurs ensued.
“5 pieces of bread for one photo!” another cheerfully volunteered. The baker laughed heartily although you could tell he was mentally weighing the costs.
Then the negotiations among the crowd began in earnest.
“No! 4 pieces but with the sweet filling!”
“No, no!! He pays down payment with 1 piece!”
Over the din, more people joined in, wondering if a hostile argument had broken out.
Finally, his wife came along, perplexed by the commotion. Upon hearing the situation, she wisely settled on 2 pieces for a photo. And with that, all social order was restored.
One wishes the best to the Chinese on their journey towards what hopefully will be a better future.
During my stay in Shanghai last Spring I did notice the students pacing up and down in the early morning learning off some knowledge by rote on campus.
It’s great to see the hunger for knowledge. What is a bit worrying is the lack of balance and the tendency towards workaholism, with Sundays being one of the busiest days on campus.
I agree with you that Chinese people have a tendency to work excessively though I would question how efficient and effective they are in some regard. But I think the intensity is driven by the mere level of competition for anything in China and its understandable. It’s an entirely numbers game, as is many things in China, where mass education is concerned – scores, spots in top tier universities, funding etc. Everyone is trying to study their way up the economic ladder and plunge from one kind of pressure (academic) to another (material goods, supporting or starting a family). But attitudes will change over generations albeit it will be very slow. The shift toward a better balance in life will emerge slowly when they start recognizing how societal problems have become more prevalent – school-related suicides, divorces etc.