I wrote this sitting on the beautiful island of Jeju in South Korea where, with the rare occurrence of time to spare, came time to reflect on my current life in China. It’s been a whirlwind year with work, life, travel and learning all struggling for my attention but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Whilst my experiences in China have been overwhelmingly positive I’ve found over the past year that I’ve developed somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the country which seems to be the case for many foreigners who’ve spent an extended period here. I’ve summarised some of these feelings below in my top 5 love/hate list:
- People – I have almost always found the Chinese people to be kind, helpful and friendly. I’ve made some great friends here and while there may be cultural differences to overcome this makes things more interesting. Being a foreigner in China makes you an object of curiosity so making new friends is never hard and whenever I’ve had any problem people have always been happy to help.
- Food – on the whole, Chinese food is delicious, nutritious and cheap. Whilst some of it might be a little unusual (dog, brains, snake, camel…) the variety is huge, ensuring that dinner time is never boring. Half the time I have no idea what I’m eating but usually it’s better that way. The Chinese have a saying when it comes to restaurants “the dirtier, the more delicious” and I have to agree in general!
- Culture – Chinese history provides the country with a rich culture which is as wide as it is varied owing to the vastness of the country and the many ethnic groups which inhabit it. This aspect continues to fascinate me and the longer I live here the more I have come to understand and realise how much more there is to learn.
- Places – I’m fairly sure someone could spend their entire life exploring China owing to its enormity and diversity. All extremes of climate, architecture, dress, flora and fauna can be found under the roof of China with something for everyone’s taste. I’ve seen a lot but the list of places I still want to visit is extensive. Yunnan and Tibet are high on my list for exploring next year.
- Chinglish – Whilst some people are aghast at the misuse of the English language abroad I never fail to find it entertaining. It brightens even the dullest of moments and I hope it becomes an official language in its own right one day (like American English is to British English).
- Government – of all the things wrong with China the communist party ranks highest above all others. Whilst there can be no doubt about their accomplishments they are riddled with bureaucratic, corrupt, insidious, ignorant, and generally lazy “officials” who leech off the rest of society for personal gain. Don’t get me started about censorship and the great firewall.
- Traffic – China’s roads are constantly clogged with drivers who rarely obey the rules of the road. Traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, lane priority all seem to be ignored with reckless abandonment. Overcrowded buses catch on fire and the number of near misses I’ve witnessed is staggering (luckily the traffic moves so slowly that crashes are mostly minor).
- Manners – pushing, spitting, shouting, queue jumping and smoking in public spaces seems to be the rule rather than the exception here. Parents frequently let their children use the street as an open latrine. Whilst I can usually tolerate most of it things sometimes get a bit much and my inner voice has to be restrained from screaming out loud.
- Environment – pollution is a big problem and for many cities thick layers of smog can often be seen hanging over their towering skyscrapers. In really bad areas children are more likely to be born with birth defects and many people experience respiratory problems as a consequence. The environmental damage caused by over-development here is staggering.
- Stereotypes – the Chinese have a tendency to assume that all foreigners “laowai” are alike which basically boils down to confusing being independent with being “too open” / immoral (thanks to countless US TV shows and films). Unfortunately, some expats only enforce this behaviour which annoys me even more.
So China it’s all out in the open now. I hope we can work things through and continue to be friends!