Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shenzhen, USA?

I am fortunate that I have a lot of family in Shenzhen who can take care of me when I need family love. I haven't needed to ask my 2nd aunts and uncles for anything major, but it feels good to play some tennis, or have a nice lunch with them a few times a month.

Every time I have food with my relatives and their friends, we always go through the same routine. My aunt usually announces the same things to the group:

  • I am an American. Yes. A real American.
  • I've lived there since I was very young.
  • Although it might seem that my speaking ability is good, I cant read or write at all.
  • I'm here as a "intern" at a enterprise based in Hong Kong.
  • I graduated from Columbia University.

I then take over attempting to explain that:

  • I am NOT an "intern" but a manager in charge of product development department with a lot of responsibilities and in charge of 4 employees
  • Although it seems I cant write characters that well, I can type them decently. I have also never had the opportunity to learn the characters and i'm still picking things up everyday. I can read about 50% of the stuff on TV or in the papers.
  • Yes. I am American.

The subject usually turn away from me until further along in the meal where I'm always asked the same 2 questions.

  1. What food is better, Chinese or Western?
  2. Have you become accustomed to living in China?

The answer to the first question is obvious. They're both good and bad. Sometimes I'm in the mood for chicken parm, turkey with mashed potatoes, or a burger and onion rings. Other times I'm in the mood for Chinese bbq, Chinese home style food or dumplings. I even enjoy sushi, tacos and Korean bbq also! And no, steak is not the main food of choice in the US.

My answer to question 2 is more interesting. I've realized that in reality, my life in Shenzhen, China now compared to what it would be in NYC, USA is basically the same. Everyone seems to be amazed at this answer, but to me it’s very apparent. You would go to work during the week and go to the bars during the weekend. That’s life in the US and life in China (from what I’ve experienced).

During this Spring Festival vacation, the similarities are even more resounding. With the mass exodus of migrant labor from the city (I’m assuming at least 4-7 million people left), Shenzhen almost feels like Columbus, Ohio. The traffic flow of the freeways has changed from constant traffic jam and congestion to now feeling like a Sunday afternoon on Route 315 traveling south from Worthington towards Ohio State University. The 东门 shopping area feels like Christmas rush season at the City Center mall (even the sales and the discounts are very similar). The vacation TV-watching and relaxation feels like the boredom of spring break when I was in high school.

Globalization is most definitely taking its effect. It has created a modern life style that is pretty much similar no matter where you go. I have been lucky enough to see it, feel it and experience it in person, not only through my work (by traveling and participating in Chinese manufacturing exporting into the USA) but also my daily life and experiences.

Now if I just found a place in Shenzhen that made a good Chicken Parm…


Yokie Kuma said...

Come to Shekou. Good chicken parm there. The bar XTaSea has an American cook who makes great chicken parm, buffalo wings, awesome ribeyes and NY strips, mozzarella sticks, philly cheese steaks, chicken fried steak, everything you could imagine. Nothing on the menu, you just gotta ask.

Then there is the Casablanca and/or Gypsy's restaurant for nachos, fajitas, salmon / tuna steaks, lasagne, etc. Plenty of good eating. It really is Little USA (Starbucks, Subway, Pizza Hut, 7-11, TCBY, McDonalds, KFC, and a Papa Johns!)

Mike said...

Oh yea, Shekou feels more like a vacation spot than anything...with a little too many ex-pats in my opinion.

The problem is, i dont want to take a 1hour bus ride over to get a good plate of spaghetti. I just surprised that they still have those facilities in LouHu yet.

Yokie Kuma said...

Agreed. Too many ex-pats (and I'm one of them). Been here 3 1/2 years. Wasn't too bad back then.

If you find good spaghetti or chicken parm outside of shekou, let me know. I don't mind the 1 hour taxi or bus!

国际不适应环境的人 said...

I've realized that in reality, my life in Shenzhen, China now compared to what it would be in NYC, USA is basically the same.

I'm also an American living in China, and I've actually observed the opposite since moving here. I find I really miss the "civil society" aspects of American life. Most people I know in the US participate in some sort of organized activity outside of work: as a PTA/PTO member, a "friend" of a library or museum, volunteering, book clubs, bowling leagues, faith-based organization, political campaign activities, etc. Because civil society is non-existent in China, life here feels rather empty to me.

Of course a life consisting of only work and bar-hopping would be the same anywhere, but American (and western in general) daily life has at least a potential for depth and individual social impact that China doesn't offer.

Mike said...

I do agree that the civil aspect of Chinese society is not as developed as in the US. Philanthropy is non-existent, churches are small, book clubs and political activism isn't available either.

The thing is, I think we need to first discuss what perspective we're looking from.

As an Chinese person in China, there are a lot of outlets for "civil society" activities that are all focused on the Danwei. For example, every Saturday, my friend Simon plays basketball with people from work. This is organized and paid for by their company. Also, Simon's wife plays majong with people from work as a weekly activity. Although, their company doesn't chip for the rent of the place, it's definitely a big thing.

Moreover, there are a lot of different activities within the company in an grand fashion. For Spring festival for example, everyone I know that works for a Chinese company had to organize a shit or performance for a little gala.

All of these things I mentioned are only small parts of what the chinese company does. There are ecen more actiities and organizations outside of Danwei organized in the north as well (Please refer to my post on Money and Culture entitled "Money Money Money").

A normal westerner is blind to these activities and organizations.

Patrick McAloon said...

Hi Mike,
I'm looking for "foreingers" who speak Chinese for work to participate in my dissertation research. Your having grown up in the US trumps your ethnicity, for the purposes of my study.

I will be creating for participants a digital language-use portfolio that anonymous Chinese peers in your field will then evaluate. These portfolios will be helpful to demonstrate your Chinese skill to current and future employers.

Can I send you (and anyone else who reads this) some details of the study? I will be in Shenzhen all next week (my sisters-in-law live there).

Take care,