snowper (snowper) wrote,

Deep Breath Before the Plunge

I'm taking a break from Facebook. A couple of days ago the thought nagged at my mind that Facebook was sucking the life out of me and making a waste of my remaining days in the US before living in China again for a year. It's only been one day, and I'm strangely in no hurry to check FB. It might have something to do with my concern of a possible backlash from something I posted on the China program's FB group page before checking out for a week.

It was one of those situations in which I found it hard to restrain myself. I often respond to people's posts about China since I had quite a packed experience in my previous year there, and it's entirely possible that already some of my fellow grad program students think I'm showing off or that I think I know it all. I know I don't, but culture shock is definitely something I understand, and quite a few people, the ones I addressed in the post, are going through the shock already without even stepping foot in China. So, I responded in spite of a few hesitations.

[Read on...]

To clarify the situation, at least one person has already had some indication of how crazy life can be in China. And I do realize that my idea of crazy is totally my judgment call, since many Chinese might think it's normal for a corporation or government entity to revoke a promise made to an individual. The rule there, after all, is that big always overrules small. This goes for achievements, unofficial traffic laws (try crossing a street in China sometime), and apparently larger entities dealing with individuals who don't have the backup of other large entities. The individual doesn't matter, only their network does.

The people in our group that this has affected are understandably upset. I feel frustrated for them, and I'm not the only one to sympathize as there were some bursts of outrage. What I could not agree with is that some people blamed our program for this problem, as if they could have foreseen this. That was issue number one for me. I don't think my colleagues really understand the amount of effort put into this program, and I've heard repeated comments about its disorganization. The funny thing about it is that after having to work and live in China for about a month, this program as a whole will probably seem a lot more organized to them.

Issue number two is that I'm possibly the only person in our program to read everything that's been handed to me, because I did see a warning in the program contract that did address the possibility that things like this might happen. The problem with giving warnings about living or working in China is that, if the warnings are blunt, they would seriously scare away everyone. Warning: the university where you will be employed might rip you off, never pay you at all, or completely revoke their offer of employment altogether. Warning: the dogs in your neighborhood, or anywhere really, more than likely have never seen a vet and you might have to be med-evacced to a major hospital if one of them pursues its taste for laowai. Warning: the smog in some cities can be so thick you might even be able to chew it like a giant sulfur dioxide-based marshmallow. At the very least, you might not be able to see past a few blocks, your flights might be cancelled and leave you stranded in whatever smoggy city you're in, and oh yeah, it just happens to be the direct cause of the leading cause of death in China. Yeah, people would sign up in droves. I think our program's disclaimer was appropriate, considering we're all adults in this program and can do the research for ourselves. On a side note, I actually giggled as I read through the contract and the list of do-nots enumerated in the guide, especially over this topic.

Issue number three, and I know they can't help this just yet, is that they are obviously expecting things in China to be run similar to what they've seen before, whether it's Japan, Korea, the US, etc. This is what constitutes the culture shock. I pointed this out in my post on FB because I had made this mistake the last time I was in China. I had consciously made the decision not to compare China to Japan and hold Japan as the standard, but at one point I caught myself doing that anyway, and it was definitely the cause of some of my misery. I don't mean to say that Japan is necessarily better than China, but if you're going to raise one country / culture as your ideal or your expectation for another, you're setting yourself up for disappointment because each country is different. The things you liked about one country should not matter when you've chosen to live in another, and that goes for any expectations of how things should be run. Your China experience should not be overshadowed by previous expat experiences in other countries. So, in other terms, China should be taken as China. Clean slate. Carte blanche.

This leads to my next issue. Carte blanche, but with eyes wide open. A lot of people who have never been to China before or perhaps only visited it seem to see it with some mysterious rosy glow in spite of many reports about what can go on over there. Sure, the news can report on some rather extreme cases, but after being in China for a year, I can say that China is one big paradox. Situations are but aren't, and things both do and don't happen. I've seen great kindness there, and yet extremely terrible things occur on a daily basis. The problem is that much of China is like the American Wild West where the capital is far away and laws easily become suggestions. Imagine trying to find a job in an environment like this by yourself without the aid of connections or at least boots on the ground. You can do very well and find your dream job, but the total opposite can happen, even with the use of ESL sites.

No, I didn't say in my post everything I said above. I tried to keep everything gentle and concise, and tried to make sure I communicated my regret for what has happened. I wanted to give tips on how to cope, but I didn't think that'd be taken very well. If any of my colleagues read this, please know that the stuff I post is only meant to be informative and to help perhaps clear some misconceptions that any former expat in China would want to warn a newbie about. Like I said before, I know I don't know everything, but what I do know can prove useful to someone.

Tags: crazy capricious, culture shock, health, roadblock, smog, teaching

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