Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Changing and Learning in Shanghai

Accept you shall

     I was never a big traveler before coming to China (understatement).  It's not that I don't like to be in new places, it's that I hated the logistics of travel.  Tickets, visas, passports, airports, cabs, etc.  The actual going from one place to another really stresses me out.  But friends would roll their eyes at me, and say that I had never been "anywhere".  Now, I feel that I get what they were saying, but they were off the mark.  It's not the traveling to new country that changes a person's outlook, it's the actual living in a wholly different society.
     The first year living in a foreign environment is so challenging.  The daily struggles to learn the "where"and "how"of life became overwhelming at times for me.  Going to the market could cause my head to spin.  I had to keep reminding myself that everything is harder in China, and everything takes longer.  Of course my frustration was always based on how easy and how long things "should"take, not on how things really are here.  This is a very Western way of thinking.
     As an American, I was trying to "figure out" why things were the way they were.  I wanted things to be better than they were.  I wanted the repairman to come when he was scheduled.  I wanted the food at a restaurant to be the same every time.  I wanted stores to carry the same items one week to the next.  I wanted reliability & consistency.  I wanted it to be America.
      I don't know when it happened, but I have become less annoyed with China for not being America. I'm like the girl who finally stops punishing the new boyfriend for not "getting her" like the old boyfriend did.  I have accepted things that had once bothered me, and now see living here as less of a burden than an opportunity.  I see situations less as "why is this happening?" than "how can I deal with this?" This has been a really slow process for me, a change for the better.

Lessons of Culture, and some generalizations

     I discussed with my Mandarin class what the Chinese believe is the difference between Chinese and American people.  My teacher, Hope Laoshi, agreed that most Chinese feel that Americans are "always in a hurry" and are quick to show dissatisfaction.  But also that they are friendlier and unafraid to take chances.  I know these are generalizations, but I understand that culturally this is an image that we Americans project.  (I was in a taxi once, and when I told the driver that I was "Meiguoren" or American, he responded "shi de, qu GO, GO, GO".  Another taxi driver could only smile and say "Obama" and "Nixon" to us.)
     We observed that Chinese women are much, much more modest than Western women.  Even in the hottest days of summer, women walking outside are never sleeveless.  They will still have their shoulders covered.  Only American and European women and girls are out with shorts and tank tops.  for Chinese women it is ok to dress "cute", but never to dress "sexy".

The importance in China of "saving face" shouldn't be underestimated.  The risk of this makes many Chinese men unwilling to step out of the crowd.  Even the suggestion that someone needs correction or help can cause so much shame a further relationship may be impossible.  The women on the other hand are much more adaptable.  They don't concern themselves so much with "saving face", but are about working hard and getting ahead.  I believe Chinese women are the real future of China.

I am so grateful to have had Hope Laoshi as my Mandarin teacher.  She was a great resource my first year here, and helped in so many ways.  She was always willing to answer any questions about living in China.  She was not only my teacher, but became my friend.  My Mandarin classmates and I are so sorry to see her go.  Hope is a young, modern Chinese woman, and she is moving to Hunnan.  She is educated and making her own way as so many women here are.  We really admire her.

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