Living without trust

This is really a topic I’ve been thinking about since back in December/January when our dog Addie died. I wasn’t sure how to put to words my feelings about it and so have shelved it until now. I don’t know that I’m any closer to knowing how to verbalize it, but maybe this post will help.

Of all the numerous things about living away from Canada I miss, trust is more poignant than them all. It is–more than family, friends, air quality or money–the thing that is most likely to cause me to eventually leave China.

When Addie contracted aflatoxin poisoning, it really forced front and centre a sense that I had only peripherally been exposed to through news articles and conversations with Chinese–trust is a commodity China is dangerously short on.

When you put this into the larger context of how much we rely on trust in our day to day lives, the gravity of its absence is frightening. Trust that the water coming out of your tap is clean, that the milk we drink is safe, that the meats we buy are fresh, that the cell phones we use wont explode, that the electrical wiring in our apartments wont electrocute us in the shower.

And further, extending this from the faceless products and constructions of daily life, to the “professionals” we rely on. Trusting the shopkeepers, the police, the vets, the journalists, the doctors — and when they all fail, the judges and the law.

Trust is required for all these things. Trust, faith really, is needed to be able to move about your day-to-day routine. Needed so that you aren’t paralyzed by the thought of what a lack of trust in any of those things might entail.

But my trust is gone. It was whittled thinner and thinner over my time here and then broke completely when a high-end imported dog food we trusted was left to spoil in a Guangdong warehouse.

The painful part is I understand it. I understand why it seems almost everyone in China is only looking out for themselves. Not necessarily pulling the trigger on things that will hurt others, but certainly complicit in evil actions so long as it doesn’t directly affect them or theirs. If no one is looking out for them, why should they look out for anyone else?

Call it history, culture, learned behavior. Tell me it’s not all-spanning, not everyone, not all things. Explain to me that development is everywhere, things are changing, just one more generation… Then rest your life, or the lives of those you care about on that ideal.

I often use the analogy of a single drop of oil in a barrel of water when explaining to Maggie why she can’t trust the Chinese news she reads. It doesn’t matter if 99% of that barrel is water, if there is just one drop of oil, it’s spoiled.

Living in China is like playing the Windows classic Mindsweeper on the “easy” setting. You can click and click and click and most of the time you’ll be fine – but that one random time you’re not — game over.

So, our new dog, Button, is sick. Again, we are forced into a position of hoping we can trust experts telling us what is wrong and what we need to do. We trusted the vet we bought her from that we needed to give her the medicine she suggested to solve the problem. When that didn’t work we trusted a second vet (the most lauded one in Suzhou) that he really had never seen anything like this problem, and trusted that we actually required the litany of expensive tests he prescribed. We trusted that he, one of the truly “qualified” veterinarians in Suzhou, was actually dumbfounded and had no idea what was wrong with her. And maybe he didn’t.

But after digging for just a few minutes online, after our trust in the experts had worn out, we learned that her symptoms fit a perfectly normal and common problem with female puppies and that it was nothing to worry about and rarely something to treat.

So… do we trust that the doctors were both clueless? Trust that they just didn’t tell us the details? Or trust that they, like so many others, simply had their own agendas, and not the health of our dog or the peace-of-mind of her owners, when giving their diagnosis? Trust that maybe they just wanted to string out an otherwise inexpensive problem as long as they could.

And this is “just a dog”. These problems certainly extend to human medicine as well. Doctor’s prescribing unneeded drugs is the norm, not the unethical exception — ordering costly procedures and tests under the guise of caution all in an effort to bump up the bill at a patient’s most vulnerable hour.

In any Western country my thoughts about this would be considered overly cautious at best, and paranoid at worst. But this is China. Whatever wonderful gifts this country has to give, trust simply isn’t one of them.

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  1. Pingback: Button sexes it up post de-sexing | A China Blog on Suzhou Expat Life

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