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糖纸与美国信用社会 Candy Wrappers & Social Trust

in 陈凯论坛 Kai Chen Forum 不自由,毋宁死! Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death! Sun Oct 16, 2011 2:59 pm
by fountainheadkc • 1.387 Posts


Candy Wrappers & Social Trust in American Capitalism

"Free Beings" vs. "Chinese" Series

陈凯一语: Kai Chen's Words:

Most people in the world are asleep. Only a few are awake: They watch even the smallest occurrences around them with fascination, with amazement, amusement and wonder. They participate in this fabulous world of ours with courage, conviction and enthusiasm. They project their energy, ideas, freedom, happiness and joy onto others around them and onto the entire world.

这世界中的大多数人都在沉睡不醒。 只有少数的人一直清醒地活着。 他们充满兴趣地,惊异地,兴奋地观察者他们周围那些即使最小的事物. 他们以自身无畏的勇气,坚定的信念与热烈的激情参与着这个美妙的世界。 他们用自身的能量、意念、自由、快乐与幸福投射到这个世界上。 他们以自身发出的光照亮他人。


By Kai Chen 陈凯 (Written 9/6/2006, Reprint 9/10/2011)

(I wrote this chapter sometime ago and it may still be a chapter of my future book. I paste it here for I think it conveys an important message. I hope all of you enjoy it.)

Best. Kai Chen 陈凯


Candy Wrappers & Social Trust in American Capitalism

by Kai Chen 陈凯(Written 9/6/2006, Reprint 9/10/2011)

There are many great things most native-born Americans take for granted, or take as some small and trivial matters not worthy of mentioning or even noticing. But to me, a new immigrant from China back in 1981, they are most wonderful and amazing occurrences which in my wildest dreams would never imagine possible.

Although I have traveled to many places in the world representing China playing basketball in the 1970s, I only observed how people lived in those different places. Due to a very strict communist party control and team rules, we could only move around in those places as a group. My family background with my Taiwan relatives serving in Kuomintang’s army put me in an even more awkward, constrained and self-censored mode. In every hotel room I stayed, a communist party member was assigned to stay with me (just to spy/monitor me, in case...). So my superficial encounters with the outside world did not prepare me to live and function in a place other than China.

When I first arrived in America, Susan (my wife) and I lived with her parents in Garden Grove, Orange County. I had comfort and security of a home and yet grew restless and uneasy as each day passed. I guess I just wanted a place I could call my own before I could ever relax and feel free.

I started to attend an adult language school to learn English, pedaling a used bike I borrowed from Susan’s parents to and from the school. Meanwhile, after many attempts, I finally found my first job in America -- working in an Arby’s Roast Beef outlet not far from Disneyland. I made about three dollars an hour and to me that was an amazingly enormous sum of money, considering that I as a former Liberation Army’s officer, playing for the famed Chinese “Bayi” ("August 1st" as the birthday of the Chinese Liberation Army) Team, only made about 16 dollars a month. Of course back then the state took care of my food, housing and traveling expenses, since all the national athletes were considered as very valuable tools for the communist state's diplomacy (They are still viewed that way today in China).

I worked quite a bit at Arby's in the evening after taking English classes at school during day time. I found that working at that fast food outlet helped me a lot in actually using English to communicate, besides learning the difference between a “regular” and a “club” sandwich. The workload was heavy and I remember writing back to my friends in China to describe to them what working in America was like. “Sure I make a lot more money now.” I wrote, “but I now worked probably five times as hard as any manual worker in China.” I think I scared them a little.

Every night after I got home from work I was so exhausted. My hands often were bleeding with cuts from cleaning up the beef-cutting machine with its sharp blade. Susan would bring me a Band-aid and a bowl of ice cream. I would then sit on the couch and devour it. That cooled me down and took my sweat away.

Don’t mistake me as if I am complaining about the hard work. I had been benefited so much more from the Arby’s experience I would not change it for anything. It has given me a sense of reality, a sense of how an ordinary American worker goes through every day, how a salesperson deal with his customers, what the relationship between a worker and his boss is like and how an ordinary American worker sees the meaning of his job… It was fascinating to see how the manager would throw some perfectly good leftover sandwiches into the trash can by the end of the day, rather than letting us workers take them home, and how they hired and fired workers, and how workers could quit at any time they wanted… It was just so fascinating to think about all these new things I had never experienced before.

Even with her law degree from UCLA, Susan could not find a job for quite some time. Once she went to the local social security office to ask for help and came back in tears. She was insulted by the clerks for some unknown reasons. She never went back again. Soon after that she found a job as a secretary in some office. And we started saving our money.

The first thing we did with our savings was to find an apartment so we could move out of her parents’ home. We eventually found one in Anaheim, very close to Cypress College, so that I, having completed my adult school English study, would go to Cypress College to take some college courses. The rent was 300 dollars a month, an exorbitant amount. The compound had a pool and I could walk to the college and a local supermarket and jog in a nearby track. We had no furniture. We only borrowed a mattress and a couch from Susan’s parents. Susan drove her old Ford Pinto she had in her college years to ship the pieces. I found some bricks and a wooden board to build a coffee table on the carpet. A very old black and white TV was our entertainment. I was very happy and content: Finally we had our own place and started our own new life. Besides, it was better than any place I had stayed in China: I could take a shower or bath anytime I wanted and I did not have to share the toilet with 100 other strangers. There was hot water to use and gas stove to cook 24 hours a day. Best of all, there were no others you don't like intruding upon your privacy any time they wanted, like in China.

I helped Cypress College varsity basketball team with their practices as an assistant/player to Coach Don Johnson. The school waved my tuition. My English was not proficient enough yet then and I had to try very hard just to get by in my classes. I was shocked and frustrated when my teacher gave a quiz right after she showed us a movie about Dr. Ruth in my psychology class. I barely got by with standard spoken English and I could hardly understand a word Dr. Ruth was saying in the movie with her heavy German accent. However, I found a way to quickly, steadily and interestingly improve my English: Watching TV and mimic the words with their pronunciation in comedies and commercials, because of their repetitions. I could also increase my English vocabulary and familiarize myself with American idioms. After a while I found that TV watching helped me in another extraordinary way -- showing me how people react to each other. My favorite show? -- "Three’s Company".

After months passed, Susan eventually found a job in a Santa Monica law firm as an associate. Because of the long commute, she could only come home during weekends. On weekdays she stayed with a friend in Santa Monica. With a new source of income, I quit my job at the Arby’s and filled up my time with school classes, basketball practices and TV watching. Before Susan went to Santa Monica, she taught me one fascinating thing, besides cutting out coupons from newspapers to save money in grocery shopping: Gathering and collecting many brands of candy wrappers.

Susan told me that if I could find twenty candy wrappers and put them in the mail to send back to the manufacturers, we could collect five dollars from them. I was very skeptical toward the idea though, being from China and all, because I simply did not believe (not to mention expect) the manufacturers would truly honestly send five dollars to me for my effort: "Why do they do that?" I asked myself incredulously. I was taught all my life in China that the ruthless, heartless capitalists only want to accumulate their wealth by brutalizing the workers and exploiting their energy and values for their own ugly and selfish greed. They would find every way to grab and hoard money. Now they are giving money back to the customers? This was an almost insane proposition. Secondly, how do the manufacturers know that I truly ate that much candy? And if I just pick them up on the streets and from garbage cans, do they still give me five bucks they have promised? It sounded a little crazy to me. Furthermore, if I indeed sent in the wrappers and they just ignored me, I would have wasted all that time and energy. Should I try it?

Hey, I had got to try it just once. I had some time and energy. What else did I have to lose? Besides, if it did not work, then I would stop and I might have learned something from this experience.

The following weekend when Susan came back from work, in front of her on the carpet, there was a pile of candy wrappers. I still remember that night. “Three’s Company” was showing on TV and we sat on the carpet. One by one, we straightened out those wrappers with logos intact on them, counted them and put them into the envelops. We had a couple of envelops filled up with candy wrappers.

A couple of weeks later, the money came. I was ecstatic. Even more, I was amazed by the fact that someone in this world did keep their words and the lies and untruths that the communists instilled in me started to crumble. Something entirely new, entirely fresh started to seep into my mind and my consciousness. Slowly but surely it took its roots: The power of the candy wrappers! It sounds comical. Yet, it is indeed magical. It is indeed magnificiently powerful. Some rubbish others put into my head started to be washed away. My vision started to clear.

Today, I can almost see how the liberal left would point their fingers at me and curse me to hell: You stupid, naïve poor bastard. Just for a few candy wrappers, a few dirty bucks, the evil capitalists could buy your soul?! “You make me laugh, Kai Chen.” They would mock me with their sweeping cynicism. Yet they can never deny what I had been through with those candy wrappers is true. And for the first time in my life, the words honesty, integrity, reality and trust started to mean something.

Since then, whenever I receive the warm pizza from the delivery man’s hands at my door, or the supermarket clerks honor my coupons, I cannot help but continue to be amazed by the degree of social trust in American society. I am deeply moved every time by this trust: People are real! Their words do mean something! They do respect themselves! They do exist! When I call a pizza parlor to place my order, or when I use a coupon to get some discount, they honor their own words. They trust me - a stranger. They trust my words. And I trust them as trustworshy individuals and their words when they utter them. It is amazing! I do expect them to carry out what they have told me they will do and they in turn do expect me to carry out what I have told them I will do. What an amazing relationship based on sheer trust, nothing else! What an amazing respect for/to each other! What an amazing way of building wealth through an amazing degree of mutual trust and benefit! And afterwards, besides a “Thank you” and a “ You are welcome”, no one ever suggests, even to a smallest extent, that someone still owes someone else something. Clean, crisp, honest, cut and dry. What an amazing social and economic arrangement! What an amazing culture of trust and faith! What an amazing people, with amazing dignity and simplicity! What an amazing society!

Back in China, we are only tools and lackeys of the government/state. Government/state are supposed to be our parents and they raised us with their benevolent love toward us -- the ignorant and insignificant masses. Confucius and communists told us so. We forever owe them our loyalty, gratitude and everything we have, because the state and the country are everything and we are nothing. We had never expected anything from anyone, besides the government, and no one but the government expects anything from us. We as individuals are really not sure if we exist at all, if we have any meaning at all. We translate that uncertainty throughout our actions and words. Every yes from us may mean no. Every praise from us may mean contempt. Every smile from us may mean malevolence and animosity. Every glance from authority may mean danger. Every gift from a friend may mean betrayal…

My fellow Americans, think a little deeper and more carefully: Maybe to you this is all too common to be mentioned, or even to be noticed. Someone would sneer at me and claim that I was just some crazy Chinese dude who had not seen much of the world. The fact is the opposite. I have indeed seen many countries and many cultures and many societies… I had lived among my fellow Chinese people, a billion of them, all my life. Not once, not even a single moment I had ever had a secure and trusting feeling until now after I lived in America. Zero-sum game defines all that I had witnessed in China and in all other countries, cultures and societies. The stories of distrust, deceit and victimhood are innumerable. Yet until the day when I was enlightened by the pile of candy wrappers, I had never concluded that existence does indeed exist.

Since then, around the beginning of 1982, people in and around Cypress College often saw a strange creature, an Asian-looking man, tall about 6’7” and weighing about 200 pounds, in his shorts and T shirt, probably bought from some local thrift shops. He was not good looking but well built with sturdy muscles, leaning on a very used, yellowish colored bicycle, poking through garbage cans to fetch some dirty candy wrappers, never noticing the strange, even scared look on the faces of the people around… Occasionally though, people would notice some smile at the corner of his mouth. It was not a cynical smile, but a frank open smile. It was a smile that was emanated from some deep corner of his soul, from some deep pulse in his heart. It was a smile only he himself could understand its full meaning. It was a laughter he, in his quest for inner peace traveling through many countries and places of the world, had not found from himself. And finally he had found it in America. He had found that it was always in him, from the day he was born.

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