Monday, June 2, 2008

Home sweet home

Tomorrow I will be on a plane back to the US. I can't believe that it has been two years since I came to China. The time has just flown by. Part of me is eager to get back to the States, but another part of me is sad to be leaving.

Things I'm going to miss about China (in no particular order):

1. Food - The food here is delicious. Not only is it delicious, but there is also so much variety. One could try a new dish every day and never eat the same thing twice for years.

2. Convenience - In China, most anything you need is within walking distance. No matter where you live, there is most likely be a few stores and restaurants within a 10 minute walk from your doorstep. If you happen to need something that you can't buy near your home, the public transportation is great. It's not like the US, where you need to drive everywhere you need to go.

3. My students - Some of my classes are a joy to teach. The students in these classes are enthusiastic and bright, making the 2 hour class seem like 15 minutes. It may seem cheesy, but it really does feel good when you can see the positive impact you make on their lives.

4. Receipts - Whenever you dine out and ask for a receipt, not only do you get a piece of paper detailing your purchases, but also little scratch-off tickets that give you the opportunity to win money from the restaurant. It's a nice little thrill at the end of the meal.

5. The Chinese people - According to Chinese culture, guests in one's home are to be made very comfortable. Foreigners in China are always considered "guests" even if they have been living in China for years. In many instances I have had people in China go out of their way to make me comfortable or provide assistance.

6. Environment of change - China is changing so rapidly that it is hard to keep track of all the changes. Take my wife's city for example. One time we went to her city to visit her parents. Even though only six months had passed since the last time we visited, the city had completely changed. Smaller buildings had been cleared away and beautiful apartments were built in their place. We counted at least 20 new businesses. I could actually see the city mature right before my eyes. I'm sure everyone has seen those overused, clichéd pictures of China that show a luxurious apartment building with a shabby shack town next door or a BMW parked next to a donkey cart, but these pictures don't totally convey the atmosphere of change in China. Its one thing to look at pictures depicting change; it’s another thing to actually experience it, to be an active part of it. It is rather exciting.

7. Lifestyle - Although teaching English might not be my career of choice, I have to admit the lifestyle is quite nice. I must teach X hours per week, but all of my other work (grading, lesson planning, meeting with students, etc) can be scheduled as I see fit. For example, I have the choice to squeeze all my work for the week into one hellish Saturday or spread it throughout the week. Also, my school provides me with an apartment that is only a 3 minute walk from where I teach. Very convenient, yes?

8. Ability to feign ignorance – I hate small talk. Whether it is in English or Chinese, I don’t see the point of chatting up the person in front of me in line at the supermarket or the guy sitting next to me on the bus. In the US, I have to engage in small talk if prompted or run the risk of looking like a prick. In China, I can simply say “听不懂” (I can’t understand what you are saying.) and since I am white nobody questions it. If I don’t feel like small talk and someone uses English, I can magically become Russian. It’s great.

Reasons I’m looking forward to going home (in no particular order):

1. Family – I’ll get to see my family.

2. Food – I will finally get to eat some REAL Italian pizza. Here, Pizza Hut is as good as it gets. Forget about getting a good steak.

3. Foreigner issues – Being a foreigner in China can be nice, but it isn’t all roses.

a) Staring – Everywhere I go, people stare at me like I’m a zoo animal, which leads to…
b) “Halllloooo!” or “LAOWAI” – When someone “spots” a foreigner, this is how they announce it to the world. Here is how it works: I walk past a group of teenage punks. After I pass, one or two of them will mockingly shout “Halllooo!” at the back of my head and the others will giggle like school girls. “Laowai” means “foreigner”, and this word is usually shouted at the top of one’s lungs in conjunction with an extended arm and a pointed finger. These things happen EVERY day without fail. At first it’s funny, but after the 10,000th time…..
c) White tax – Sometimes things cost more for white people than they do for Chinese people. Taxi drivers might take the long route if the passenger is a foreigner. Etc. Etc. Etc.
d) Racism – Like I mentioned in an earlier post, some ultra-patriotic Chinese don’t take kindly to foreigners. I’ve been spit at and called names just because of my race. As a white person in America, I had no clue what it felt like to be on the receiving end of racism. In China I’ve been able to get a little taste of it.
e) Inability to perform simple tasks without a big fuss – In China, Chinese speaking foreigners are rare. On top of that, Chinese people are taught from a young age that their language is so complex and mysterious that only Chinese people can possibly understand it. Following this logic, any foreigner that can speak Chinese is a genius. Of course, I don’t agree, but that is how many people here think. As a result, if I perform even the simplest task in Chinese, like ask for ketchup in McDonalds, it is greeted by giggles, gasps, and sometimes applause. Quite often this initial response leads to the following conversation:

Chinese person: Wow! Your Chinese is so good! (remember, I only said one or 2 words)
Me: Nah, not really.
Chinese person: How long have you studied?
Me: X
Chinese person: You are so bright!
Me: Nah, not really.
Chinese person: Where are you from?
Me. X
Chinese person: Do you like China?
Me: X
Etc. Etc. Etc.

This was ok at the beginning, when I was looking to practice my Chinese. Having the same conversation over and over again was good for me. However, after having this same conversation 10,000 times…well, you can probably understand how it feels. I am definitely looking forward to getting home and being able to do everyday, mundane things without causing such a fuss.

4. General feeling of chaos – Sometimes things here feel so unorganized. For one, Chinese people are notorious for jumping the queue. Nothing is more infuriating than waiting in line for 30 minutes only to have some guy with a “man purse” (these are all the rage in China) elbow his way in front of you. Walking on the street or sidewalk is like a never ending game of Frogger, as the cars and motorcycles drive not only on the streets, but on the sidewalks as well. Think that because you have the green light to cross the street you are safe? Wrong! You still have to look out for crazy drivers that have no regard for pedestrians. Let’s say that you safely make it off of the street and into a store. Buying things in the store can be a huge pain, as you must first get a ticket from the salesperson, then walk halfway across the store to the register where you pay and get a receipt, then walk back to the original spot to show your receipt and pick up your purchase. This general feeling of chaos extends into how the Chinese people arrange things or make appointments. For example, May 1st is a national holiday when students get a vacation. Guess when we found out how long the vacation was going to be and when we would have to make up classes? April 28th! The school knew that May 1st was coming for a whole year, but waited until April 28th to make plans. This is a good example of how things are done here. Plans are made at the last moment and people take it in stride.

Chinese people seem to thrive in this sort of chaotic atmosphere. Actually, it has been good for me to live here, as I am usually a “make a plan” sort of guy and China has taught me to loosen up a bit. However, I am looking forward to the more “orderly” feeling of the US.

5. Minneapolis’ clean environment – It is going to be a nice change living in a city that was voted 5th cleanest in the world. Where I am now, there are days when it is hard to breathe outside.

6. MBA – I’m really looking forward to starting the MBA program at Carlson.

Ok, so this should be the last of my China posts and, as promised, this will turn into more of a “proper” MBA blog in the next few weeks.