Posts Tagged ‘china’

We all have good behaviors that we try to model. Politeness, respect, kindness, those sorts of blanket ideas about being decent people. Beyond that, though, we have specific good deeds which we are individually tasked with. True mitzvehs in the Yiddish sense of “good deeds” rather than mitzvahs, the commandments from the Torah.

It’s not clear to me how we take on these tasks. Do we choose them based on our personalities? Do the fates (or G*d, if you prefer) confer on us those good deeds we are best able to perform? Or are we given the good deeds that require the most effort from us? A mix of both?

For example, one of my mitzvehs is reuniting dish sets at the Salvation Army. I love china and spent many years in Florida buying and reselling china. I no longer do that, but when I go into the Salvation Army on one of my regular searches for treasure, I often spend an hour in the dish aisles. Not shopping for anything, but finding the sets of dishes that have been separated on accident, either in the donation or the pricing process. The sad fact is that many sets of nice china get separated and lose both their value and their purpose. By bringing the soup bowls and dinner plates and tea cups and saucers back together on the shelves, I’m helping those dishes go to a new home. I’m helping people buy matched sets on which to enjoy their nourishment. It’s a small deed to be sure, but it feels like something I’m meant for. It gives me pleasure and it’s useful.

Two of my other mitzvehs are not well-suited to my personality, and yet they are my good deeds to perform.

I am an introvert. A text book sort of introvert. I will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with people and, although I’m able to do so for short periods of time, I find it exhausting. Meeting new people is a kind of agony for me, which requires significant girding of my loins.

That said, as I walk across campus during the summer months, it’s not unusual for me to see students and their families posing in front of various landmarks for pictures. Of course, it always means one member of the family is left out of the picture. Despite my discomfort, my mitzveh requires me to approach and say, “Would you like your picture taken together?” To date, no one has ever turned the offer down, which is how I know it’s a good deed and not an intrusion.

Friends don't let friends pitch with their zippers down.

Friends don’t let friends pitch with their zippers down.

This business of approaching strangers is not at all suited to my personality, but it does not compare to the final mitzveh that I’ll mention here. XYZ. I am the person who tells you when you forgot to zip your pants. Or your slip is showing. Or your sanitary napkin has leaked through on your khaki pants. If you’ve ever been in an elevator on your way to an important presentation and some stranger said, “Um, your fly is down,” that was me, or one of my people. I once crossed behind a line of presenters on a stage to whisper into the ear of the guy who was about to stand up and speak in front of a thousand people: “When you stand up, turn back toward me like you have something to tell me. Then zip your pants.”

He did it, in a convulsive gesture of horror, and I could feel the members of the audience who had already noticed it exhale in relief. That is the mystery to me about this particular mitzveh. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I cannot imagine how uneasy I would be to let someone walk around in that state without telling them. Yet I know people who won’t point these things out, because it embarrasses them. As though I’m not embarrassed to say, “Oh, hey, you have a big booger in your mustache.”

I think that’s the nature of these tiny good deeds, though. They find us, or we find them, based on our view of the world. I spend a lot of time not looking people in the eye, so I suppose it’s natural that I should be the one who notices the gaping fly and flash of underwear.

What about you? What are your tiny good deeds? Why is it your mitzveh?

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According to recently released minutes from one of Henry Kissinger’s meetings with Chinese premier Mao Zedong in 1973, Mao offered several million Chinese women to America, as China “had too many.”

It seems like an amusing anecdote in retrospect, if you don’t think too much about the possibility that Mao was apparently sincere and that slavery had only been illegal in the US for 111 years.

When you’re looking back on Mao’s offer and trying to decide whether it is funny, consider these two elements: America’s trade deficit and China’s woman deficit.

China currently has a trade surplus with the US in the neighborhood of $1.4 trillion, and that increases by about $1 billion a day.  (If it makes it easier to laugh, you can say those numbers in your Dr. Evil voice.)  According to The Atlantic, the Chinese government has mostly parked that deficit in American treasury notes, and the end result is the equivalent of every American borrowing $4,000 from someone in China.  (I borrowed mine from a goat herder in Guangxi Province, how about you?)

We don’t seem likely to turn the trade deficit around in the near future, so if America’s in hock up to its eyeballs, what do we have left to bargain with?  Women.  According to China’s own Family Planning Commission the current ratio of 118 men to 100 women will result in a shortfall of 30 million women by 2020.

This leads me to two questions:

  1. How far in debt to China will the US be by 2020?
  2. What is the exchange rate of US women to Chinese yuan?

Of course, I’m a fiction writer, so I’m always contemplating the ridiculous as likely and the absurd as possible.  Sadly, we’re not that far from the days when people were a commodity.  When people could be held as collateral on debts.  When women couldn’t vote or hold property.

I don’t know that the US will ever find itself trying to trade 10 million American women for debt relief, but if I had daughters, I might consider teaching them Chinese.

*For those who don’t recognize it, that’s from The Blues Brothers, when Jake and Elwood are at a fancy restaurant trying to convince Mr. Fabulous to get back together with the band.

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