Thursday, November 27, 2008

Expat Frustration in China

China is a frustrating place.

There i said it. Everyone is thinking it. You know you are too.

I would like to first state that I love China. I was born here and have been living here for more than 2 years. I have family here and a lot of friends too. I feel a incredible pride of being Chinese in the current state in the world as well as understand the burden of its history. I really do understand. It's in me.

As much as I enjoy living here, I have found China to be an incredibly frustrating place to live. People from the outside would make general arguments for this fact... ie. the water is dirty or the air is polluted, but the real frustration comes from all of the little things. These little things cant be seen or even understood by someone who hasnt lived in China. It builds up slowly until one day, you know you have to just get out of here.

When one first moves to China, everything is new and exciting. It can even initially be fun and interesting as something that is embrassed. However, given the right amount of time, these things become less fun/interesting. It's ok to laugh it off for a little bit of time, but after actually living with it everyday.... things change. Of course all of these little things can be properly explained and put into context of cultural difference, social development, a large population, ect. As a visitor in any new country, one has to accept the local society and its customs. However, that doesnt make day-to-day life easier.

So what are these little things? Here's a list:

1. The inability to just relax. The sheer number of people in China makes it so that is are people EVERYWHERE. I have never been anywhere where it was just me and no one else - where I can take a deep breath and get away from it all. 就不能安静下来. Even in places like your own apartment, the bathroom or anywhere else private, there are tons of ambiant noise caused by all of the people.

2.The horrible service. Although the general service is improving, it still lacks a huge amount to a solid benchmark. Examples include:
  • Waiting for hours in line at the bank where there is only 1 teller serving dozens of people
  • Any small mistake on any form will mean redoing that form
  • The amount of BS paperwork and incovenient transaction materials for just about any service including banking, general utilities, phone, ect.
  • Really long waits for any service at restaurants where a question or request can be left unanswered for more than 15 minutes
  • Some employees telling you the wrong thing while managers tell you the right thing
  • Basic lack of common sense where the idea that the "customer is right" doesnt exist
  • General inefficency
3. Lack of common courtesy by (not all) people. This issue depends on city and location, but it definitely happens just about everywhere. It is worst in a place like Shenzhen where there is a large migrant community. Although not all people are so bad, the small percentage of 1.3 billion is a lot. Some examples are:
  • Spitting on the street to spitting on the floor indoors and even airport terminals
  • Blatent littering when trash cans are close by (I've found myself picking up after other people)
  • Smoking in McDonald's or other non-smoking places
  • Not waiting in line for anything and pushing your way through to the front
  • Really loud disturbing conversations in restaurants or on cell phones
4. Life threatening transportation. With more and more cars on the roads everyday, the streets are not only more conjested but even more dangerous. Some basics are:
  • Taxi drivers swirving left and right in and out of traffic
  • Drivers sometime ignoring red lights or going in the wrong way on a street
  • Cars parked waiting for someone along the side of the road that blocks off traffic for
  • People standing in the street for buses
  • Jaywalking on really busy 8-lane intersections
  • People dragging carts along the street filled with random stuff.
5. For people not of Chinese decent, they get stared at all the time and approached with hi's, hello's and impromptu conversations. That's cool for a while but it gets annoying too.

All of these isses and problems all combine after a certain amount of time to build up incredible frustration in just about everyone I know. Good people become the epitome of the "ugly American" with this built up in their system.

I was talking to a friend of mine who is the nicest girl you would ever meet. She told me a story of how she just flipped out at a taxi driver after he said he couldnt take her to her destination becuase he was about to go off duty and had to return the car. She felt horrible afterwards and felt bad for the taxi driver who was only doing his job. That didnt prevent her from venting out yelling at him. That's something I would never expect from her.

Even my mom agrees. She has lived 60% of her life in China and 40% in the US. She comes back on business trips every year and loves it for a while. However, she would never be able to live here for an extended amount of time anymore.

I've seen myself become increasingly frustrated over time as well. After a while, you just cant help it but to be chippy douche to people, even friends. It's just one of those things. Maybe this is why all of the Chinese rich people are moving out to places where there are less people.

The only remedy is to get out of China for a while and go on vacation. The key is to get back to a place where these small things dont exist, or that they exist but are interpreted by a tourist mindset of acceptance, not a constant annoyance. Thank goodness Shenzhen, is so close to Hong Kong, Macau and SE Asia. A couple of days on the Thailand beaches really does wonders. Bali, here I come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sex, Love & Money in China

Anyone who knows anything about Shenzhen knows that it is the "wild wild west" of Chinese capitalism. Although some would argue Shanghai or Hong Kong as the major financial centers, Shenzhen is the real place where all the most able and capable entrepreneurs go. Maybe in 10-20 years, Shenzhen will develop into a international city, it is still currently a culture-less metropolis with a specific focus on money and everything money related.

I like describing Shenzhen as a melting pot of the most able people in China. The young worker in the factory is usually the eldest and most responsible or able in his/her family while the company owners are hotshots from every part of China. It is certainly a weird and unique place with a young population that like to get ahead.

One of the more interesting and somewhat unfortunate aspects of his money-hungry city is its hidden cultural intersection between sex, love and money. Here's the rule: those who dont have money will do a lot to get it. In this case it has led to a system of mistresses and

In a article published online by entitled "China girls: 'The only luxury we can't afford is love'", it describes the current and growing issue of 2nd wives and "concubines" in China. It follows a variety of individuals who are in this community of "二奶 [ernai]" and discuss the various social, political and personal issues that are involved.

Anyone who lives in a major city in China can see the various signs of this system. It is as simple as going to a club/bar on a weekend and seeing all of the 40 year old guys sporting the beer belly with a young and attractive girl in her 20s.

Even yesterday as I rode the elevator down from my apartment building at dinner time, I chatted with a really pretty girl in her 20s. I noticed that she was wearing expensive jewlery, clothing while radiating Channel purfume. As we parted ways outside of the building after some small talk, I saw her go directly into a high priced Mercedes waiting for her, driven by a 40-something guy.
Most 二奶 receive "rental on a fashionable penthouse in one of the city's dazzling white apartment blocks, plus a 5,000-yuan (about £350) monthly budget for clothing, haircare and skin-whitening treatments. That's more than double China's average monthly income."

In turn her 'husband' - a successful industrialist whose factories stud mainland China - entertains Little Snow once or twice a month. The nights are raucous, but the sex lacklustre, to Little Snow 'a function no different from brushing my hair or drinking a glass of water'. He's up before the sun rises, sometimes leaving a rose on the pillow.
Is this wrong? Is this right? I don't know. However, I do know that this is all created by the income disparity that exists between people from the countryside and those from the cities, between the young and old, between women and men.

As long as men in China have most of the wealth and the distrubution disparty between the different classes are so large, this system will always exist. As the Telegraph article states:'
The country has changed rapidly; but Chinese thinking hasn't caught up with this new reality,' says Yang Erche Namu, aka Namu, one-time mistress to a diplomat and now a postergirl for modern Chinese feminism, whose ballsy bestselling books urge Chinese women to pursue emotional and financial emancipation. 'Some men are getting very rich, with cash to throw around, but at the same time the wealth gap is widening and the countryside is full of young girls living in poverty. So it's natural that love becomes a transaction - it's a simple case of supply and demand.'
In addition to the young 2nd wives, there are also 2nd husbands, gigalos or 鸭子 [yazi] in Shenzhen. While this usually occurs less frequently, it is still a part of the culture. A recent Malaysian article described a young, 22 year old Shenzhen man blackmailing his 50 year old wife for 1 million HKD.

This just shows that its all about the money in Shenzhen.

Note: Many people have written about the issues relating to prostitution and brothels in Shenzhen and other Chinese cities. I have been recently reading China Inc. by Ted Fishman and it gives a great summary of the situation for girls who go into the pay-for-sex industry and its links with economic and financial struggles.

Also, just to show that Sex & Money is related in every culture, below is a recent ABC News report describing the growth in the US brothel service in the current bad economy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

China Takes Action. US Hangs Out

For the past few days since Barack Obama was elected President, I've been trying my best to keep up with the news about his presidential transition and the economy. Although it has only been a few days since the historic election, there has already been a lot of politics and fighting between the various interest groups in the US.

The main issue currently in the US is the economy. As GM is almost going bankrupt and more people hit the unemployment lines everyday, the country has sought a change from the current status quo and is looking to Obama as the savior. It seems that most people want him to start doing things right away and try to pursue his policy direction he laid out during his campaign.

Obama has announced his desire for middle class tax relief, help in healthcare and unemployment insurance for the poor as well as investments in infulstructure and public work projects all over the country to stimulate the economy. The issue right now is that:

1. He's still not the president. He only becomes president in January.
2. Even though he has a "mandate" from the election, he has to get past the lame-duck congress and lame duck president bush to see any of his proposals become law before he's sworn in.
3. Even when he is officially president, he will still have to play the politics game back and forth with congress to get anything done. As we've seen the $150 billion in amendments and pork addes on to the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, there will definitely more of the same to any new stimulous package.

So in the midst of an economic crisis for the ages, the US government cant act because of procedural issues and infighting.

On the flip side, look at China. Just before I went to bed last night, CNN reported that China, in all its "red, commie" glory, has announced a $586 Billion spending plan for the next to years to bolster its economy in this downturn. Without too much debate or infighting, China has acted urgently to combat this crisis.

And surprise surpise, the investment is for "infrastructure and social welfare" projects/programs. I guess this is what Obama was thinking about doing in his plan. Now lets see how long it takes the US to do the same exact thing as China.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Unity in the USA and China

I spent last night with a couple of fellow American friends to watch the complete and full election coverage on our little 3-monitor setup here in Shenzhen. After a rather quick electoral landslide, Obama will become the next President of the USA. This almost improbable moment just years ago - in a country with a racist and problematic past, the US voted for change.

Even though I am on the other side of the world, watching what is going on through video monitors, I could still feel the great aura of the moment. I could almost feel the excitement and sheer awesomeness felt all over the US. Many friends emailed, texted and even called me talking about their excitement, where they were and what was going on. Some partied in the streets of Harlem on the 125th and some were present at his acceptance speech with 70,000 others in a Chicago park. Just a great moment.

This moment, that brought together millions of Americans created a new communal feeling of togetherness and unity that has not touched the US for such a long time.

In actuality, this moment resembles a lot of the past few years in China. Yes its true. As much as a lot of people criticize China for "autoritarian gov't" and other "non-democratic" ways, it is a place that has this collective conscienceness.

Thinking back, I remember when China was awarded the 2008 Olympic games way back in 2001. I was in China for a few days and saw the millions of people celebrating in Tiananmen Square and all over the country. I remember the Sichuan earthquake and how that brought the Chinese people together. I experienced the sheer awe-inspiring 2-week Beijing Olympics and the subsequent liftoff and the 1st space walk of the Shenzhou 7 mission. All of these events (among others) are underlying reasons why China has been able to become what it is today.

Again this feeling of community, the collective idenity and conscienceness creates a great feeling of unity. With the looming economic crisis increasing in scope, this is exactly what the US needs. Just as it united the USA after the attacks of 9/11, it will make the country resiliant and powerful again. Even though i'm over here in China, i'm proud of my country and see a bright future ahead even with the problems that will come. For a country to be able to build the A-bomb and go to the Moon, nothing is out of reach.