China Musings: Views from a Different Well —by Jinny Batterson
Last September, I set out to post a weekly blog entry about some of my experiences and impressions of China. Now, as June begins, the school year is winding down. I have only a few weeks to go before I stop posting as regularly about China. I’ve tried to write what is true to my experience. I expect that once the year’s posts are complete, I’ll revisit some entries from time to time to update them and clarify them. Perhaps I’ll expand or prune some further as my experiences change. As this school year draws to a close, I’m nearly as puzzled by the vastness of China as I was at the year’s start, and just as intrigued as ever. Early on in my attempts to set some impressions on paper, I remembered a Chinese folk tale that some of my students in China had told me about a frog:
This frog lives at the bottom of a well. She finds there all the nourishment and beauty she needs. From her vantage point in the well, it’s possible to see a small disk of sky. This is what she knows of the world above. One day, a large turtle happens to hear the frog croaking as he passes by the top of the well. He stops to chat with her. The frog invites the turtle to climb down the well to share in the bounty she has found there, but the opening is too small for the turtle’s shell.
The turtle then tries to describe some of what he has seen to the frog—wide expanses of sky stretching to far horizons, a sea so broad and deep that it maintains its level despite the most massive floods or droughts. The turtle invites the frog to climb out and travel with him to view the wider world. The frog considers, then decides to remain in the security of the well, enjoying a more predictable life and viewing the sky she can see from the well’s bottom.
I like to think that, like the turtle, I’ve seen a bit of ocean during a fairly long life so far. However, I’m aware that, like the frog, I can still see just small parts of a larger sky—my views have been colored by my culture, my “American well,” and the times during which I’ve lived.
Most Americans and Chinese I know tend to view the world from different wells, shaped by our respective cultures and histories. My aim with this year’s set of “China W(a/o)nderings” has been to show the small disk of sky that I can see, perhaps to broaden its edges a little, and to nourish conversations that may over time broaden the edges of other wells, too. Happy June!