China Is Not Utopia

Okay, go ahead, ask me yet another personal question even though we’ve just met. (all photos: AvaMingImages)

Yesterday’s post produced some interesting feedback.

Here’s the link –

I wrote about how my bosses were becoming frequently slow to pay me, blaming the most recent delay on the Chinese New Year festival. I explained the subsequent frustration I was feeling and the hit my bank account had taken. Friends suggested other ways to make an additional income as well as choice words to lay down on my managers. Er, thanks.

I didn’t mean to mislead. I’m not starving, I was just having a rant at how people are sometimes treated here. Every working foreigner I’ve met has had a similar experience at one time or another and probably many Chinese people too. It’s certainly not uncommon.

Which leads me to ask; Is messing about with people’s salaries deliberate? Is it part of the culture or could it simply be an oversight? Who knows?

When China gets to you, take it out on a toy Koala

I think that it’s good to highlight these types of problems because it smashes the myth that moving abroad and living in a new country, experiencing all of its joys and wonders is like living in some kind of promised land.

Yes, being in China is great and has led to all kinds of things I’d never had had the chance to do if I’d stayed in England, but it’s not a perfect life. It isn’t Utopia, Nirvana or even Valhalla, far from it.

Bills still have to be paid. You still have to go to work on the days when you’d rather stay at home, even if you love your work as much as I do. You still have to deal with annoying colleagues and ego driven bosses and you still get sick.

My first winter in a freezing, polluted city gave me pneumonia, bronchitis and a chest infection. Being unwell and far away from home was awful, not to mention having to deal with a medical system in a foreign language when the only Chinese words I knew at the time were ‘hello, goodbye’ and ‘I’m hungry.’

On top of this there are the day to day frustrations of hearing familiar English words used in a totally different way. Chinese people often say ‘maybe’ to mean both yes and no. This is because hedging your bets reduces the chances of being wrong and consequently losing face. But how am I supposed to know what they mean when they say “Ava, maybe you will have no class today?” And they phrase it as a question!

They also say ‘good enough’ to mean ‘very good,’ which used to confuse the hell out of me. Sometimes one of my assistants will suggest I go ‘upside down’ when she means ‘go downstairs,’ but that’s just funny!

Then there’s being stared at – which warrants a post all of its own and, also regularly being announced as ‘The Foreigner’. Excuse me, I do have a name!

The most common complaint is being asked the same questions over and over again, often by complete strangers.  If they don’t speak English they’ll ask my Chinese friend and the two of them will carry on a whole conversation about me, right in front of me; Where are you / is she from? Why did you come to China? How long will you stay in China? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? What is your job? How much money do you make? Where do you live? How much is your apartment?

Lately I’ve been asked a new question; ‘Why are your teeth so white?’ I had no idea had to answer as I honestly never saw that one coming.

These questions seem intrusive to us, but are a normal way of getting to know someone in China. If I’m in a playful mood I turn the tables, if not I smile politely and walk away or tell my Chinese friend to be quiet, reminding her that these people are strangers and don’t need to know my business.

Many people have a  ‘special’ way of speaking to us because they believe that ‘that’s how you speak to foreigners.’ It involves giving lots of false compliments and, to be frank, is highly insulting.

I don’t want to go to work today. I want to stay at home and put bows in my hair.

Yes, I’m having a great time in China with no regrets about making the move and it  is undoubtedly an amazing place, but I certainly don’t wake up every morning and go skipping and dancing along the street (mainly because I have to be careful where I step, which is also deserving of a whole other post).

Even if you’re only here for a  short time, China pushes, pulls and compels you way out of your comfort zone.

From the beggars who follow you along the street, touching your arm or shoulder until you give them money or tell them to leave you alone, to the old aunty who rifled through my shopping basket (while I was holding it!) and called her friend over to look because she couldn’t believe ‘the foreigner’ was buying Chinese vegetables, to my employers who have paid like clockwork for two years but lately find copious reasons to delay. Everyday in the Orient certainly brings a reason to become more.

If you’re interested in personal growth and self-development as I am, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


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