The China we were introduced to in social studies textbooks and National Geographic TV specials is long expired. The land of Buddhist monks and kung fu masters, of temples and dragons, and even of red guards and communist work units is now just a figment of historical records and wikipedia articles. Today’s Chinese urban centers are flanked with advertisements for Starbucks, and KFC, and Nike. The children of poor peasants who once toiled their fields for meager earnings, are now driving Buicks and sipping lattés. And a society which only two generations ago shunned everything foreign, is now lapping up Western culture (and investment dollars) like never before. While change has not been evenly distributed across the country, few Chinese will tell you their life today is similar to that of 20 years ago.
My name is Benjamin Ross, and I grew up in a cookie-cutter, upper-middle class suburb of Kansas City. My formative years were spent playing youth soccer, eating Happy Meals, and watching Scooby-Doo. After graduating from college in March of 2004, I moved to Fuqing, a small town in Southeastern China’s Fujian province, in order to experience the Middle Kingdom’s evolution first-hand. My goal was to learn the language, acclimate to the culture, and make sense of what was happening in the world’s most populous nation.
My stay in China lasted until August of 2007, with my time split between Fuqing and Fuzhou, a medium-sized metropolis located an hour outside of Fuqing. For 2 years I worked as a university English instructor, and then for another year as an ethnographic researcher for Pacific Ethnography. As part of my goal of immersing into Chinese culture, I spent a month working full-time as a hairwash/massage boy in a Chinese barbershop, and blogging about the experience. I also had a short stint as a Chinese TV show host.
“Midwesterner in the Middle Kingdom” began in January of 2007 with the goal of examining China from the view of a participant observer. My aim with this blog is to draw on first-hand observations and experiences from the Middle Kingdom, rather than what can be revealed from secondary sources. My background is in anthropology and ethnographic field methods, so much of what I blog comes from this perspective.
I am currently a Ph.D student at the University of Chicago, studying urban sociology. Outside of academia I am an English-Mandarin interpreter specializing in the health care and legal sectors, an adjunct ethnographer at Pacific Ethnography, Inc, and the administrator of How To Order Chinese Food Dot Com.
My New Job…In a Barbershop
The first post in a series about my 30 day stint as a hair wash boy in a Fuzhou barbershop
From the Delta to the Backwoods
2009 travel log through Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui