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Night in Shanghai
The forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese jazz age, and a...
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Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

Created: 01/11/15

Replies: 14

Posted Jan. 11, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1303

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Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is first faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react, then and now? How would you have reacted?


Posted Jan. 13, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
lindah

Join Date: 04/17/14

Posts: 90

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RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I think in the late 1930's most Americans might consider the coolie was pulling a rickshaw from choice- labor to provide for himself and family and might not give much consideration to the individual. It was an acceptable custom. Thomas probably had a stronger reaction as recognizing the coolie as an individual with limited options, no education and working in a demeaning job doing a job an animal might do. I would have felt sympathy for the lack of options of the cooiie.


Posted Jan. 14, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
lorik

Join Date: 08/25/14

Posts: 13

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I'm not sure how a typical American would have reacted in the 1930's. I would imagine that a typical American in Shanghai for the first time would have been marked by the Depression, and would have most likely experienced people doing whatever they could do to earn a living, but to have a human pulling other humans sounds like a difficult existence. It's not clear if the coolie was paid anything at all in either money, food, or lodging. I think Thomas' reaction was probably consistent with what many other newcomers would have felt- that it didn't feel right, especially if it appeared that the coolie had no other choice in life.

In large American cities today, we often see people pulled around in rickshaw-like vehicles as a business. They are generally powered by bicycle, not a single person running, and I wonder if Shanghai has anything like this today. I have never been to China, so it is hard to comment thoughtfully. I think, today, if it looked like the person was earning a living and was happy working, I would not be as shocked a Thomas was when he experienced the rickshaw scene. If the person looked as though they had no other choice, though, I would feel extremely upset by it. Shanghai is a cultural center, so I would venture a guess that if rickshaws are in use, it is as a business. Would love to learn more. If this is covered in the book, I haven't read all the way through yet.


Posted Jan. 14, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
LisaBr

Join Date: 01/14/15

Posts: 2

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

In literature I've seen from the time, the Americans commenting on rickshaws pulled by coolies often found the practice degrading.

I travel to China frequently, and yes, you do see bicycle "rickshaws" in major tourist centers. Human-pulled I have not seen -- I think in China they are too symbolic of the colonial past. In addition, you will even more often see hauling carts pulled by bicycles, and you'd be amazed at the loads some of these carts carry.

Not sure if this is allowed, but here are a couple of external links:

http://www.china-mike.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/17-beijing-rickshaw-houhai-lake.jpg

http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/elyse-sewell-china-styrofoam1.jpg


Posted Jan. 14, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
lorik

Join Date: 08/25/14

Posts: 13

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

Wow! Very interesting, Lisa. That one cart with all of the boxes seems nearly impossible!
Thank you for filling in with some additional information and perspective on this. I appreciate it!


Posted Jan. 14, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
LisaBr

Join Date: 01/14/15

Posts: 2

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

My pleasure!

FWIW those are styrofoam boxes in that photo, but I have seen some crazy-heavy loads being hauled too. Huge sections of pipe, refrigerators, you name it.

In Chongqing there are workers called Bang Bang men who haul things by bamboo carry-poles, in part because of all the hills and narrow streets in part of the city. You see those sorts of porters hauling loads up mountains as well. So much has changed in China, but some things haven't changed much at all.

http://articles.latimes.com/2002/nov/10/world/fg-porters10

http://www.chongqingnow.com/the-army-of-bangbang-bang-bang-jun/


Posted Jan. 15, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jeanettel

Join Date: 01/05/12

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RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I think that Thomas was so uncomfortable with the coolie who wanted to pull him in the rickshaw because as a black man in segregated Baltimore he was a victim of many demeaning jobs with no options and this is how he saw the coolie’s job. I don’t know how and American would react, this is how I reacted.
I was in Hong Kong in the 60’s and being from South America where there is so much poverty in many areas I did not think that I was humiliating the coolie by riding in his rickshaw, that was his job and I paid for the ride. To me this was his way of making money to live.


Posted Jan. 16, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
beverlyj

Join Date: 12/22/11

Posts: 49

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

Unfortunately, I think it would depend on the person. For some American who still held racist views, they probably would not blink an eye.
For other Americans they would be uncomfortable.
I think for African Americans it would be a very painful memory and yes thus uncomfortable.


Posted Jan. 16, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ruthiea

Join Date: 02/03/14

Posts: 86

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RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I agree with Jeanette, I think that Thomas saw the job as demeaning and it cut too close to home. I would have felt the same, especially since it would have felt so different from anything I was accustomed to at home. Once given the explanation he was - this was the way the man made his living and it was considered respectable and he met a need in society I think I would be slightly more at ease. I once took a bike ride in Savannah when our cab never showed up and I was so uncomfortable! All I could think of was how heavy we must be and how ridiculous we must look. There are many pedi cabs in NYC and many other cities but I think now they cater more to tourists.


Posted Jan. 17, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
mal

Join Date: 09/09/13

Posts: 155

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RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I was NOT surprised by Thomas and his reaction. I would have reacted similarly. I would like to think a typical American would be taken aback and express empathy if not refusing this method of transportation - both past and present. I would feel completely uncomfortable and seek another form of transportation. Although in present times we have a better understanding of the 'coolies' choice and his ability to earn, still I would feel wrong in partaking in his services, seems barbaric and archaic to me.


Posted Jan. 19, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
suzie

Join Date: 01/19/15

Posts: 4

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I think in 2015 Thomas would not have reacted as in did in the late 1930's - with the world becoming smaller we are exposed to different cultures and I think we are more accepting if traditions aren't necessarily the ones we're familiar with.


Posted Jan. 19, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Brendaraye

Join Date: 01/19/15

Posts: 1

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I think that Thomas' discomfort was based on his perception of the job of the coolie--that it was burdensome, toilsome, heavy labor, all too familiar labor conditions for a Black man in the 1930s.
I think that the typical American response then would have depended on one's familiarity with the culture at the time and means and options of travel around Shanghai and assets at their disposal.
I traveled to China in 2005 on an educational exchange study trip. One of our 'excursions' included a tour of a few hutangs by human-pulled rickshaw and I have to saw that while I understood this was a job and a means of making a living I was quite uncomfortable taking part.


Posted Jan. 19, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
juliaa

Join Date: 12/03/11

Posts: 160

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RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

Thomas's discomfort appeared very natural to me, especially since he had come from de facto segregation of the United States in the era between the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement of the late 50s-1960s. He was also in a new, strange culture and something seen as normal in that culture would hardly have seemed normal to him. I would like to think I wold have responded with horror then and I know I would now, even though I might recognize that the rickshaw driver may have had no other possibilities for making money. It just makes me uncomfortable in ways that observing other menial jobs doesn't. But then I have to wonder if I am just being a bit of a cultural imperialist by my attitude. In any event, I related to Thomas's discomfort.


Posted Jan. 22, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
franee

Join Date: 01/22/15

Posts: 2

RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

Even today in Atlantic City you will find people on bikes with an attached cab transporting people along the boardwalk. Even though I have never utilized this method of transportation, you do not get the feeling that anyone is "demoralized". It appears that people will do what they have to do, or what is available to do to earn a living. It seems it is the attitude of the customer that defines the role of the worker as it seems to be in Thomas' situation. As time goes on, Thomas gets more comfortable using the coolie as his thinking and circumstances change and perhaps as he is further acculturated into this society. I believe when you attempt to look at a situation from an employees perspective your thinking will change. If I needed to, I would not be against doing the work of a coolie to make my living. We all have worth in this world!


Posted Jan. 29, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Sharlene

Join Date: 04/10/13

Posts: 78

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RE: Mones shares an uncomfortable moment when Thomas is faced with a coolie who wants to pull him in a rickshaw. How would the typical American react then and now? How would you have reacted?

I think Thomas reacted the way he did because as a Negro in America he identified with the coolie and felt that the job was demeaning. He did not take into consideration that this was possibly the only employment the individual was able to obtain. I may have reacted the same way because although I would likely have realized this was the coolie's livelihood, I would have felt sympathy for him having to perform this difficult and somewhat demeaning job.


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