My Changing Life In China

It’s hard not to notice that my life here has changed. When I arrived in January 2005 everything here was non-permanent. Things I bought were “if it lasts eight months, that’s good enough” and emotional investment in a place or people was kept in check due to eminent departure.

Even well passed my scheduled “leave date”, I had maintained many of these ideologies and it’s only been recently I’ve noticed they’re wanning … giving room to new concepts of living here. More and more I see China as a long-term place to live. As my language ability increases (at a snail’s pace), I find living here more and more palatable and sometimes even down-right enjoyable.

However, waking up at about seven this morning – to the same sledge-hammering that woke me up yesterday and is sure to continue to wake me up at sunup every day until the apartment they are smashing to bits is done renovating – got me thinking.

It got me thinking about negativity of expats in China, and how it’s not necessarily a bad thing (inspiring the “Positively Annoying” post at Lost Laowai), and it got me thinking about some of the things I use to love about China, but now loath.

So, here is my list of things that I once thought were great about living here, but have soured to me over time:

  • Cheap Things: Top of the list. I used to LOVE how everything here is so cheap compared to back home in Canada. But, as mom used to say, nothing comes for free. The reason everything is so cheap is not due to some altruistic pricing plan sympathetic to Chinese cost-of-living. It’s also, despite the logic, got little to do with everything in the world being made here. The things are cheap because, well, they’re cheap. There’s little to no quality control and it all breaks or makes you sick after use. From beer to boxers, I’ve learned the hardway that paying for quality is generally worth it.
  • Ting Bu Dong: This used to be my ‘get out of any situation free’ card, but now it just represents failure. Initially though, I truely loved it. I could attempt to say little things and then when the cabbie or shopbunny went into extensive detail, I just “ting bu dong”d and we all had a good laugh. Now I know that we were laughing for very different reasons. Me because it was a comical experience in another country and them because it confirmed their belief that Chinese is completely unattainable except to Chinese (and Da Shan). There’s a great post that touches on the beauty of language naivety in this country over at Sinocidal, for anyone that’s interested.
  • Curious Chinese: In my China prep I had heard that Chinese people, on a whole, were quite inquisitive and were very likely to ask me lots of questions. In the formative months here I thought this was a bit cute, and happily answered their questions. I was awe-struck by how interested everyone was in me and generally felt fanfrigintastic about it. Now I know it’s considered just as rude here as it is anywhere, and by answering I only fuel the masturbatory nature of Chinese fact-finding. Chinese will rarely, if ever, ask extremely personal questions to fellow Chinese they don’t know – and on the off chance someone does ask, a straight answer is not likely. However, foreigners with our suíbiàn attitude, are fair game to reinforce the plethora of stereotypes that make up the country’s rather limited external view.
  • Bargaining: If there is a more capitalist function than bargaining, I’ve yet to meet it. A price is given that you know is too high, and the game begins. Working out all the angles, trying to maintain the proper disposition, express enough thoughtfulness about the item, feint possible dislike, launch your counterattack. Repeat. This was fun in the beginning. I liked going out and buying a pair of shoes and feeling I got them much cheaper than everyone else – because the shopkeeper really liked me. Bunk. Not only was I fleeced every time, I was fleeced for crap merchandise (see the first point). Now, fixed pricing never felt so good. Sure it’s generally more expensive, but it’s also much more likely to be real.
  • Chuar: This one quite possibly hurts the most and was one of the last to be tainted. For the record, I LOVE chuar, and whenever I’m in a more upscale Uighur restaurant, it’s the first thing I order. However, what I loved best (as my video blog showed) was going to dingy little places with a few friends, drinking a bunch of beer and eating loads of random meat. Now here in Suzhou it’s not as common to see it on the street, and for some reason that leads me to think that it’s a shady business, and with shady business comes shady animals on sticks… sigh. Having had serious food poisoning twice now (despite of my own accord), I’m just not willing to push my luck as much as I used to.

There are many more things that have changed for me over time here, and many of them are likely very positive. Alas, I just cannot think of them with all the pounding.

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