Why Strauss?

Lots of things still perplex me about China. That much probably stands to reason. Currently, because I’m at the university all day, I’m occupied once again with the question of music, specifically why it is Chinese society doesn’t seem to mind playing one song so many times that it begins to qualify as torture. At this university, for example, every time there is an official break in class (after 45 minutes) or it’s time to change classes, loudspeakers in the hall and on the campus play the first thirty seconds of Strauss’ “The Blue Danube Waltz.” I don’t have any grudge against Strauss or that song, but any song, if played partially and ad nauseum, can become a thing of nightmares.

And actually, I’m fairly lucky. It could be much, much worse. It could be Kenny G, the Carpenters, Celine Dion, or The Eagles. If I had to listen to “Yesterday Once More” every 45 minutes, I’d give myself a month before I went insane and bludgeoned a student to death with a pair of language-lab headphones.

But here’s my question: why does it have to be the same song every time? Why could they not play the first thirty seconds of a series of fifteen songs in rotation? I’d enjoy coming to school and hearing something different every day, like, say, one of Chopin’s Nocturnes or a Brahms cello sonata, and I can’t imagine it would take that much more effort to program it. I realize that’s a stupid question, of course. Every public place in China plays something awful, and frequently it’s the same something awful as another place. I’ll probably go to my grave never knowing why people like The Carpenters, for example, and I imagine there will be a visual picture of a Higgs-Boson particle before I receive an acceptable explanation for the ubiquity of “Hotel California” or “Country Roads.” I’m not even sure there is a reason, and if there is, it won’t matter because no one will ever do anything about it. There are bigger things at stake than one waiguoren’s displeasure at the music in the Tianjin West train station.

Another question, too, one I haven’t succeeded in answering: do people in China truly not hear background noise, like the same annoying song played fifty times a day, or do they simply not respond? I’m perfectly willing to accept the fact that I’m overly-sensitive when it comes to music, and therefore can’t tune out something hideous mewling from the speakers over my head at a coffee shop, but is everyone else in China truly oblivious? Do they legitimately love The Carpenters? Is it something else entirely?

Forget research into the origins of the universe. Someone needs to figure this out.


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