Culture shock is a natural and spontaneous way people feel and interact with a new environment that greatly differs from what they call or feel is home. The ups and downs of this process have been documented by different specialists and they have concluded it is a normal pattern of behavior and feeling, and that each stage of culture shock should be respected and understood a s a valid way of facing new, everyday experiences.
Living in a culture so different from my own inevitably brings moments where the shock is just too much… a rollercoaster of feelings, from complete aversion to deep, passionate love, and all the way through sadness and disgust. Living in China is not easy, not impossible for sure, and yes, there are moments when you love it, others when you hate it… the constant seems to be ever-changing perceptions…
As you read through my list, inspired by the 90s movie “Ten Things I Hate About You”, be mindful of the stage of culture shock I was in while writing this, keep an open mind, and share… what experiences with culture shock have you had? Can you relate?1. Spitting
if you can call that spitting. It’s a skill that they have been practicing since very young, it may even be a legendary ability developed through generations and that has probably already been wired into their genetics through natural selection. I don’t know how it is physiologically possible to make such movements within the throat and delve into the deepness of the nasal cavity to reach and remove absolutely everything in their, and move it from the nasal passage all the way down the pharynx, and then into the mouth. The acrobatics they do with their tongues are also amazing as they inexplicably eject all of these contents onto the pavement, slapping the floor powerfully.
This is something that specifically triggered my latest culture shock, I am still not over this one. In the middle of the playground a three year old ran up to the play equipment, pulled down his pants, and peed directly under the slide. Dumbfounded, another teacher and I leapt to him urging him stop. Too late. I later learned that this is common behavior, that many times the parents help their children do this in a variety of places, included the aisle in the supermarket. Yes, the aisle, right there, directly on the floor, next to the groceries you pick up to examine and then take into your cart, and then to your home…. with pee on them.
China has built the world’s largest telescope, it’s 500 meter in diameter. They have the world’s first quantum communication satellite. They plan to build a space station in 2022. All these amazing technological advances…. and I am still not able to go online and use internet at a decent speed for common things such as checking my email. Seriously? i don´t think there has been one time where i log onto my computer and am able to seamlessly connect to the internet and access whatever it is I need at the moment. Everyone knows that sites such as Facebook, Google and others are blocked in China. The “Great Firewall of China” is a thing, and apparently there are 60 laws that control and regulate what can be accessed online, how, for how long, and at what speed. It’s a nightmare… I go crazy overtime I try go online.. which is all the time… so basically, I’m going crazy all the time.
4. The Air
Unbearable heat and humidity in the summer… freezing air in the winter … poisonous air every other day. It is just sad that everyone has an air quality index app on their phones and they consult it every morning before heading out the door, just like you normally consult the temperature to know how many layers of clothing to wear. It is even sadder that as you head out the door, you put on your jacket, your gloves, your hat… and a mask. Masks are part of the basic attire, of course not everyone wears them, but many people do. You can even find them in different colors and designs… and in different sizes. Yes, they have infant masks as well.
5. Everything is more expensive if you are a Lao Wai (foreigner)
China is generally safe… I can walk by myself down a street in the city center at 3 in the morning wearing a miniskirt and a crop top, expensive jewellery, and flinging my iPhone around and i will not get robbed, molested or assaulted in any way (although i wouldn’t give it a try to make the point!). The Chinese don’t steel. But they cheat. Nothing you buy on the street or on small shops has a price. You can end up purchasing it at 80% less the initial cost, but that does require some very talented negotiation skills. nevertheless, if you look Western, you will probably end up paying far more for things than you would if you were a local. I had my favourite dried fruit shop where I loved to get raisins and nuts. I would usually spend around 130 RMB. One day, our Ayi, who helps look after Ruben while I work, came with me. As the shop clerk told me the total – 60 RMB – I was totally puzzled. I was about to ask him if he had made a mistake, perhaps he had´t weighed my things correctly, and was charging me less than what he should be? I did´t say anything in the end and we left the shop. Then I made a comment to our Ayi “wow, the man must have made a mistake, this usually costs me much more!”. “That´s because I was along,” was her response… Just the other day i bought a bag of popcorn from a man with a cart, who was popping it right there in a tin pot. He charged 15 RMB and using my oh so practice Chinese to negotiate with him, I need up paying 10 RMB. “Score! Finally I don’t get ripped off” was my thought. When i got home and proudly showed our Ayi, she nodded disappointedly and said that it should have cost 1 RMB. No comments.
Because of culture shock, you are bound to have moments of hatred, shock, depression.. desperation. Believe me, I think I have a moment every day where I say “I HATE CHINA”.
But just as I have these “I have china moments”, I also have “I love China moments…”
It’s a rollercoaster of feelings… everyday here is an adventure.