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Jul 03 2012

6 O’Clock BS – Carpooling

6 O’Clock BS – Today I learned about China.

I have a new carpool mate. I love carpools because I drive about 45 miles round-trip every day and sharing the ride (and the gas) is convenient. I hate carpools because you don’t always end up with the carpool mate you’d like. I like carpools because I get one to three additional cars off of the road, and that’s good for the environment and the roads. I hate carpools because I don’t get to listen to my atheist/skeptic/political podcasts.

My first carpool ever was with two young male professionals. One was laid back and casual, in that professional, don’t share too much way. The other lived for Jesus. He was young, hip, a bit of a goof and very friendly; we got along rather well all things considered. But he tried to get us to listen to bible readings (“It’s totally cool if you don’t want to, but it’s what I usually listen to during my drive and I think they make interesting stories and good conversation). He also believes in the whole “wife is to husband as husband is to god” family dynamic. His family believes that it is his wife’s place and responsibility to share her opinions and knowledge with her husband, but that ultimately it is his responsibility to make final decisions. He and his wife don’t use birth control; they believe that god will send them as many children as he sees fit. They’re up to four now. These are not ideas I can overlook in a friend, and when the carpool eventually ended it was a bit of a relief.

My new carpool mate is from China. She’s earning her Masters at the University of Minnesota and serving a summer internship at my company. I don’t know her at all, but she’s in my neighborhood in Minneapolis, without car, and the public transportation to our industrial park is a pain in the ass. I volunteered to give it a try.

I love her. It’s only our second day, but she’s a talker and friendly, but not in a creepy or annoying way. On our first day I was late for the carpool and she was very forgiving. On our first morning I promised that I’d try to not bring up politics, and then we spent 10 minutes talking about Arizona SB 1070.

Today on the way home she brought up a news item that she had read about. Her English is very good, but she still has a little way to go. She said “Today American 9/11 happened in China.” I said “WHAT!?” She quickly added some details and I found out that six men failed in an attempt to hijack a passenger plane (apparently some people are arguing that it wasn’t an attempted hijacking, but an in-flight brawl). I know nothing about Chinese politics, but she gave me a crash course in ethnic tensions between Xinjiang’s majority Hans and minority Uighur (I also learned that there are over 56 ethnic groups in China), and of those between China and Tibet and Xinjiang. She got a kick out of trying to teach me to pronounce Xingjian (which is sort of like “Sheen jeeang”, but with a Mandarin accent that is currently outside of my reach), a large northwestern division in China:

The Uighur hijackers came from Xinjiang, and according to my new carpool buddy, they don’t like being a part of China and would like to be an autonomous country. She is Hans, but she didn’t seem to bear ill-will toward the Uighur people; I forgot to ask her where in China she is from. I asked what the Chinese government was doing about the tensions in Xinjiang, and that got us talking about all sorts of topics. We talked about welfare in America and government assistance in China, school vouchers, and religion.

At one point she was saying that much of China is non-religious, whereas in America most people are Christian…and I was all like “Waitaminute!” I told her that we have all kinds of religion in America – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, people who identify as spiritual but not religious, and atheists – people who don’t believe in god at all. And after about two seconds of internal debate I said, “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in god.” She said, “Yeah, god is a strange idea. Huh – I thought most Americans were Christians.” I had to sigh and tell her that she was right, but that there were a number of people who aren’t. And then we moved on with our conversation.

Because that’s what you do when god beliefs aren’t on the table.

Did I mention I love my new carpool mate?

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Disagreeable Me

    Sounds like a great car pool journey.

    Just wanted to point out that China is no rationalist paradise.

    As you know it’s a country with a troubled history and severe limits on speech, meaning that free thought is generally frowned upon in many circles.

    They might not have much religion but they have plenty of superstition, numerology and traditional medicine to make up for it, while for many people Mao Zedong plays much the same role as Jesus.

  2. 2
    anthonystec

    Love the story! I have become a huge fan of carpooling myself, especially for bigger trips.

    Here’s the site I use, it’s called Amovens. I’ve met some fascinating people as well, it’s such a fun experience. http://www.amovens.com/en/

  3. 3
    Elipson

    The best part of working at an international company, is that I get to eat lunch with people from all over the world. Makes for stimulating conversation! :)

  4. 4
    smhll

    On the having as many babies as God wants to give you thing, my best guess is that in the 1930s, 40s and 50s in the US, after you had plenty o’babies, a compassionate local doctor might say “Next one might kill you” and give the woman a hysterectomy. (I’m getting this idea more from novels than from historical records.)

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