The Two Taras: Same Name, Very Different Lives

Meet Tara and Tara, two young professionals, one Chinese, the other American.

November 16, 2010 — -- Meet Tara and Tara, two twenty-something, college educated women pursuing their professional and personal dreams. One lives in China and the other lives in the United States.

Tara Tang, 25, starts her morning every day with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and soy milk before heading to work as a lawyer with Lenovo, a China-based multinational computer technology corporation.

Tara Walsh, 29, eats her oatmeal every morning before heading to work as a kindergarten teacher at a charter school in the Washington, D.C. area.

For both women, career is a passion and they have worked hard to get where they are. Both spent six years in college.

Soaring Number of College Graduates In China

Tang said that her goal is to be general counsel for a major company. The starting salary for an attorney like her is $12,000. In the United States, a starting attorney makes almost triple that, $35,000.

She said that her family always stressed the importance of education.

"Imagine how many people we have and how many vacancies the university can offer, you know. The supply and the demand is totally crazy so everybody has to study very hard," Tang said.

In China, the number of university graduates like Tang soared from less than one million in 2000 to more than 5 million by 2008.

The Chinese curriculum is tough, placing a strong emphasis on memorization. Families become consumed preparing children for the gaokao, or high test. The nine-hour test determines which students get into Chinese colleges and universities.

Over in the United States, Walsh said that she was aware of China's emphasis on education.

"I think that culturally they have an expectation of good grades and standards for school, and that education is really valued and is a reflection of your family as well. I don't think every culture in America values education the way that we should and the way that we need to be so our economy is competitive with China in the future," Walsh said.

The fight to get into university in China is tough, but the fight to get a job after university is equally so.

Many recent grads with impressive white-collar degrees are forced to live in tiny rooms, hours outside the city in villages known as "ant tribes."

Competition For Jobs Fierce In Both China and U.S.

The feeling of working hard for little payoff isn't exclusive to China. In the United States, the recession has created nearly double-digit unemployment and led to massive cutbacks across the board, including in education where Walsh works.

"My generation, we really weren't in tune with the idea of being laid off or having it be difficult to find a job," Walsh said. "I knew people in the recession that were laid off and who are still looking for jobs."

Walsh said that she was lucky to find not just a job after graduate school, but a job that she loves teaching kindergarteners.

"At the end of the day, you think back at your day and you have like five funny stories in your pocket," Walsh said.

Walsh eats lunch from a canvas bag with her students every day.

Across the world in China, Tang eats in a cafeteria with her coworkers. She buys snacks from a vending machine that also sells cigarettes. Tang follows her lunch with a game of ping-pong.

These young women have more in common than one might think. Both love sports. Tang loves yoga and swimming. Walsh loves going to the gym and taking spin classes.

They both fret about sky-high real estate prices.

"I've always thought that I would own a home by now, but D.C. has a bubble for housing prices," Walsh said.

Chinese Wedding vs. American Wedding

Both women are married. Tang wore red robes at her wedding. That's considered lucky in China, a tradition dating back 1,400 years. Walsh wore a classic white dress.

While Walsh lives with her husband, Tang's husband lives some 600 miles away in Shanghai, where he was offered a job in real estate. In China, one doesn't say no to opportunity.

Tang sees her husband every six weeks.

The two women both want to own homes and have children. Tang wants two, despite her country's emphasis on having only one child.

"I heard that if both the man and woman are the only child in their families, for the next generation, they can have two," she said.

Most days, Tang hits a restaurant with girlfriends after a long workday. Back in the United States, Walsh and her husband cook dinner before settling in front of the television.

"We like 'Modern Family,'" Walsh said. "We really enjoy 'The Office' too over the years."

Tang doesn't watch much TV in her Beijing apartment, but when she does, she'll watch American shows like "The Good Wife" or "Gossip Girl."

Two Taras Differ On Views of Religion

While so much about these women is similar, so much is different too.

Walsh and her husband were married by a priest and attend Catholic Church weekly.

"Family is really important to us, so we want to have as many kids as we can, around three or four kids...and it's important to us that they are raised Catholic in the Catholic community as well," Walsh said.

Family is important to Tang too, but in atheist China, religion is not.

"Well, I respect people who have religions, but...when I grew up, I didn't know how to believe in [being] religious, but I respect them," she said.

Emotion Not Expressed as Openly in China

The two women differ in how they express emotion as well.

"I say 'I love you' every single day to my mom, to my dad and my brother and to my husband and even to my dog," Walsh said.

In China, Tang admits that she doesn't always tell her husband that she loves him, even though she feels that way.

"We are not taught to always say, 'Hi, Mom, I love you,' but you can feel that they love you of course, but they don't really express their feeling to your directly," Tang said.

On the subject of each other's countries, there is mutual admiration.

"I think in America, you can have your dream and people always talk about [their] dream and believe that one day your dream can come true," Tang said.

Walsh said that she thinks China is a fast growing superpower full of opportunities.

"I know that the U.S. and China, their economies are really closely tied, so in a way, we're bound to China and they're bound to us... so it's really important for the U.S. to have a great relationship with them," Walsh said.

Two women with so much in common despite 7,000 miles between them.