Sunday, March 4, 2018

Starting To Figure This Place Out

Last week, I returned from an English competition I participated in last year. It was four days of sitting under studio lights and listening to children showcase a talent they had prepared.

Some of the performances were great. Others were like listening to Gilbert Gottfried and Fran Drescher having sex with each other.

Despite the long days, I love working on this show. It's an opportunity to do something different and meet a bunch of new people. I make a lot of new Chinese friends and also meet many foreigners who are there doing the same thing. However, this year had one major difference from last year.

Last year, I had only been in China for a couple of months and was still in the "Crap! What have we gotten ourselves into?" mode. Now, I've been here for almost a year and a half and China doesn't seem scary anymore.

I was especially reminded of this when I got home and was reflecting on the week I just had. Each group of judges had two "native" English speakers along with several Chinese judges of differing talents. The other English speaker I was paired with was a Brazilian guy who had only arrived in China the month before and has not had a good experience so far. In fact, the company that brought him here really screwed him over, but he has gotten away from them.

While he enjoys working with children, he is acutely aware of everything around him that "just isn't right." He had a host of complaints over the course of the weekend.
  • He was disgusted that some children had memorized answers instead of interacting with the judges.
  • He hated that the breakfast they gave us was not what 'normal people' would eat.
  • He told us stories of the management style he had to suffer with at his new job.
  • The apartment he lived in was sub-standard.
  • He didn't agree with the educational system he was working in
  • He was having trouble making Chinese friends.
  • The language barrier was ridiculous.
 After one of his stories about something he was not happy with, he walked away and another guy in the room (in China for 6 years) said: "He's a whiny little bitch."

While I couldn't disagree with the sentiment, I tried to remind the people in the room that this man had just arrived in the country and is still in freak out mode. Everyone nodded. Those first few months are difficult. It's like being on another planet.

Since I was paired with this guy, we spent a lot of time together and I did my best to help him understand some things, tell him where to buy certain items that he couldn't find and how to do some necessary tasks that seemed insurmountable. One conversation stood out in particular. It happened over breakfast.

James: Don't these people realize that breakfast is supposed to be a different meal? Why are they serving the same stuff we ate at lunch and dinner?

Me: This isn't the same.

James: Well, maybe not. But why don't they at least serve breakfast food?

Me: This is breakfast food. It's Chinese breakfast food. You do understand that we are in China, right?

James: Why can't they serve the food that normal people eat?

Me: Stop and think about this. There are over seven and a half billion people on this planet and almost one and a half billion live in this country. China, the country you are in now, makes up close to 20% of the entire world. Statistically, whatever they eat here is closer to 'normal' than whatever either of us eats in our own countries. This is normal. Everything that happens here is more 'normal' than what happens anywhere else.

He understood my point and let it rest for a moment, but as I scooped up a spoonful of my congee, it struck me. "Did I just say that? Where did that come from?"

As much as I was annoyed at how little this guy was willing to open his mind and try to bend to his surroundings, it occurred to me that this was me a year ago.

I wasn't happy about anything. I didn't know how to pay my bills. Grocery shopping was a disaster. We didn't know how to cook. There were strange smells in our apartment. We came dangerously close to getting hopelessly lost every time we went outside. I couldn't talk to anyone. Even the few people who try to help don't realize how clueless I was. It was horrible.


What a difference a year makes. There is still so so so much about China that I don't understand, but the fear and anxiety is gone. I got this. I'm ready to tackle another country now.


  1. I'm very limited in my travelling experience, but it always bothers me when I go someplace and people complain they can't get burgers and fries. That being said, I do generally go home in a week so completely adapting is never really an issue.

    1. I'm with you. Any time I travel, I want to experience the food and the culture of the place that I am visiting.

      After living here, I do get longings for the food I miss from back home, but know that I cannot expect to find it. I'm lucky if I do.

  2. You hid your anxiety very well. Yes, we were both a bit freaked out, but you were definitely ahead of MY curve!

    1. My anxiety usually manifests itself as fever blisters and not altering moods. I try to maintain calm at all times, but you know that.

  3. I'm glad you are no longer freaked out!

  4. I think his problem was that he had certain expectations which were in no way met. Some he should've been prepared for (the food), others, probably no preparation would've sufficed. It probably didn't help that his company screwed him over. Glad you're adjusting :)

    1. I was really surprised at how much he complained about. I was able to relate as I remember back, but hopefully, I wasn't that bad.

      I am so happy to be adjusting also. Life is so much better now.


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