headaches, musings, Shanghai, Uncategorized


08.14.10 | 13 Comments

Just over a year ago, I wrote the Chopstick Manifesto, detailing my experiences and perspectives on living in China. I noted that China has very complicated problems, as does the rest of the world, and that life is better here, especially if you are a foreigner and especially if you are white.

And here I am a year later, telling you that the charm long ago began to wear off. I don’t care about the great job market, high salary for low work time, or the cheap taxis. Even the fabulous food does not excite me as it used to. Instead, a gritty resentment has worn these joys thin.

For reasons I can’t pinpoint, China has made me an angrier person. I think part of it is just getting around. Transportation and organization here is so haphazard and careless that walking along the road or taking a taxi or riding my bike (in Huzhou; I refuse to do that here) brings me within breeze’s reach of death or roadkill. Having my life balanced delicately on the skill of Chinese drivers is not something that soothes my temperament.

Individually and in manageable-sized groups, most of the Chinese people I’ve met or worked with have been friendly and generous. But as many Chinese tell me, 中国人太多了。 There are too many Chinese people. And the problem is that when you get them in a group of more than say, ten, they collectively tend to go against all Western concepts of courteousness. [I’m not saying one concept is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but that the two are at odds with each other.]

Frequent readers of this blog and people who know me know that I don’t like making generalizations. But I’m about to make one that is true: Chinese people en masse do not understand the concept of 先下后上, or let the people on the train get off before you get on. There are even yellow lines and arrows on the floor in front of every subway door to indicate where to wait while your fellow country-people alight.

Instead, those waiting to get on stand right in the center of the doorway, as do the people waiting to get off. So when the doors open, a clash of sides reminiscent of Braveheart or some other violent war film results right there in the metro station. And since Chinese people do not get in line, this is a particularly bloody battle best left in the hands of Mel Gibson or Quentin Tarantino. And that is a compliment to neither of them.

Standing RIGHT in front of the doors:

Many people also seem not to have mastered the issue of stand on the right, walk on the left. On the other hand, I have lost a lot of weight leaping up the stairs two at a time just to get past the people on the escalator who are too oblivious to take a step to the right.

In China, personal space is defined as “Mine to defend” and any free space is “Mine to claim.” When I walk down the sidewalk, I am shoulder slammed on a regular basis, because when I move a bit out of the way for someone coming at me, I expect him or her to do the same. But here, they don’t, so they just walk right into me.

These sound like petty grievances about China. But these things grow over time– getting shoved and slammed and jostled about is fairly demoralizing. I’ve just reached the point where my excitement about being here has been dissolved by isolation and frustration.

Sometimes China can seem like an asylum; I feel like I’m crazy, unable to just accept people body-checking me on the sidewalk or in the metro.

I have been in this asylum for a long time without respite. As a result I have forgotten what life outside of China is like.

That’s right folks: I have amnasia.

I forget using a clothes dryer. I forget using a dishwasher, a garbage disposal, central heating or cooling, driving, buying shoes large enough and pants long enough. I forget grape jelly, expensive produce, full-sized ovens, water colder than room temperature, free water, free refills, and refrigerated eggs sold in cartons.

I honestly believe that the factor that has had the most impact on my state of mind is that I have not been home since last July. I have not seen a member of my family in more than a year. Skype is no substitute; virtual hugs do not suffice. I know my family misses me, but I am so often left to wonder, do they think of me? Have they grown used to me as a disconnected voice over a bad phone connection? It is driving me insane. Thankfully I have John, or I would be facing all this in solitary confinement.

But since I feel no desire to live out the rest of my life in the United States, and instead intend to spend it around the world, this is something I will have to learn to accept.

I miss my family. And I want to go home.




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