Welcome to China

I have another guest post and I’m very excited to share it.  I found this blogger – or more accurately, I think she found me – just recently, so I haven’t been able to explore as much of her blog as I’d like.  (Just so you know, it’s hard to catch up on blogs when there’s so many out there to read!  I had 56 new posts in my reader this morning!).

She writes about many things, particularly writing, travel and her experiences in China.  What’s so amazing to me about her is that she packed up and left her country just a few months after college and moved to China.  Most of us pack up and move to another city or state but she moved to another country.  Now THAT is stepping out of your comfort zone!  She is a teacher by profession but is also exploring her Chinese heritage and writing.  Her name is Kate and I hope you’ll take time to visit her blog, Live Out of the Box.  Her tagline is “write, travel and think beyond,” and she certainly does.

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photo by ernop.

She looked down on me as if I was nothing but a pesky mosquito in her large encompassing world. She held out her hand and said something. 

The words rang in my hand. Alien sounds. Fleeting notes of melodies I couldn’t grasp. I opened my mouth but no words came out that she could understand. 

Suddenly she started screaming obscenities at me, lashing out with unbridled rage, shouting with such a fury and passion that went unnoticed by all the passengers in the bus. 

Welcome to China. 

I had gotten on a crowded bus. It was my first month in this wild country. I was soaking up every experience and adjusting to the fact that I’m an expat. To me everything was all new and great and nothing could go wrong. 

Until the moment came when the bus conductor almost threatened to kill me. 

Or at least that’s what I understood from the tone of her voice. 

I felt so helpless. The language I came so much to depend on was of no use here. I had not yet learned the survival street skills needed to get out of this situation. I hastily gave her the correct fare and hoped that would satisfy her. 

The people in the bus looked at me with a mixture of curiosity, incredulity and pity. They along with that conductor, naturally assumed I was one of them because of my Asian looks. Not one of them had the common sense to talk to me in English or tell off the conductor. 

My cheeks were flaming because they were looking at me as if I was the stupidest person in the vehicle. 

Who’s this Chinese that doesn’t know how to speak Chinese?

What an ignoramus!

Can’t even speak Mandarin.

 She must be from the far outskirts of the countryside. 

It was so unfair! They don’t even know me. They don’t even know half the truth. I had these concepts about these people being educated and supposed to know the outside world. Boy, did that give me a reality check. Have you ever had moments when you just felt so small, like a speck of dust? Like the whole world is judging you on a false assumption and you can’t even put up some sort of defense? That’s how I felt back then. 

While I was nursing these open wounds, apparently the conductor felt she wasn’t through with me. No! While I was minding my own business she came back –spit foaming around her mouth like a mad dog. She screamed at me and pointed at me with twice her original fury and once again I was the center of humiliating attention. Whatever pride I had as a person was stripped away. I was treated like an animal. 

So what did I do against this person who treated me like a four letter that starts with s

I gave her more money. 

Why didn’t I retaliate? Because I wasn’t that strong then. I wasn’t raised to shout back at people (apparently it’s common courtesy here). This was the first time this has ever happened to me and the first time I ever suffered culture shock, and a cruel one at that. 

Shaking, I called my friend and said a lot of things. Many I won’t repeat because they were a string of dirty words so foul that came pouring out of me from my rage and anger at the unfairness of it all. I made sure to raise my voice so that everyone would get to hear it, so that everyone would know that I wasn’t one of them and that I was a foreigner and I don’t speak a word of Chinese! That they were all making a big mistake.  I made sure to have eye contact with that conductor while talking but she avoided it in obstinate embarrassment. 

A few months later, I realized the reason why the conductor was so mad at me was because she had asked me how many persons was I paying for (I think it was clear to anyone who would be looking that I had nobody sitting beside me) and  that I was unable to answer her. 

Try letting that sink in. 

For all the products it distributes around the world, China is still a closed country. Many people here are ignorant even those in the big cities. Probably because most of the residents came from the poor countryside, bringing with them their hard to break habits that they think are still applicable to civilization. They get carsick. They puke in the bus and on the roads. They take a dump in big swanky malls and I should tell you, they don’t do this in the bathrooms. They allow their children to pee on the floor in the arrival section of the airport under the public eye of all those arriving from other countries (and I’ve seen this happen in Beijing). Spitting, cutting in line and hitting others whether by bike or if they’re in a hurry with not a word of apology are all part of their common culture. Whatever heritage they had was wiped out during the Cultural Revolution and the sad truth is that most of them don’t know that. The government doesn’t want them to. 

They have no idea that so many of their fellowmen immigrated abroad and have a new life of their own in other countries. They’d be shocked to find out that these immigrants’ children don’t even speak Chinese. They don’t know that Southeast Asians look similar to them. Most of them have never even seen a foreigner before let alone another Asian so how else would they know that I’m one? 

There are still a lot of things they don’t know. 

And I’m still learning about that.



2 thoughts on “Welcome to China

  1. Very well done! I work in a factory where 90% of the population has English has a second language. I’m lucky that they’re pretty open and so kind.

  2. Hi Mathew!

    Good thing they’re pretty open and kind about it and there’s no miscommunication involved unlike the experience I had.

    People should be open minded about other things. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen for a long time in my city.

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