Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

spartan wanderer

China: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Usually, when I leave a country, I write a long summary about the good stuff, the bad stuff, the awesome stuff and the absolute shit stuff. The problem with China is that I always think I'm leaving, and then something happens and I end up staying. Therefore, I always put off writing this thing. Well, it happened again. My school basically threw money at me to get me to stay and help them open a new branch, and I agreed, at least until January. 

I don't want to keep putting this off, however. I've been here for three years already and I think it's about time I got this out of the way. Especially because I feel like I complain about China a lot, and this gives me an opportunity to air out all of the things I find problematic here, as well as prove that I don't completely hate the place by telling you guys about all of the awesome stuff in the Middle Kingdom. Let's get to it.

The Good

Proximity to other countries - China is the perfect gateway to the rest of Asia. Flights are generally cheap, and the majority of the countries around China have an even lower cost of living. It's the perfect way to vacation and see the tapestry that is the enigmatic East. I'm not saying it's a good thing that it's really easy to get away from China if you want to, but it's good to have a lot of options if you need to take a holiday for your sanity.

Easy to find a job - If you're white, you've got a job somewhere in China. That's just the way it is. It's easy for non-white foreigners as well, but possibly harder to get a good job. Discrimination is real here. Whether it's teaching English or being a professional pretender to give Chinese companies more face because they have a foreign face in the board room, jobs are plentiful here. I don't recommend showing up without one, but you will probably be fine in the long run.

Locals are welcoming and helpful - There is a lot of negativity ahead, and yes, it has a lot to do with how people behave here. But, in general, the Chinese are wonderful and eager to help foreigners out. If you get a real, true Chinese brother, they will do anything for you. People here always go out of their way to make sure you're experiencing Chinese culture in the best way possible. This usually means a lot of big dinners and a lot of ganbei-ing. 

Great transportation system - I have to include this on the list because it's true and as a message for America to get its fucking act together. China's rail system is kind of an engineering miracle. I mean, if you have over a billion people, you've got to figure out an efficient way of moving them around. Chinese trains are cheap, fast, comfortable and make this vast country easy to explore. China has 11,806 miles of high speed rail; the United States has zero. America is not always #1. 

The Bad

The driving is dangerous - Here we go. Companies exporting cars to China should just leave off the indicator switch and lights. They would save billions of yuan a year. Your first taxi ride in China is sure to be an adventure. De jure, China adheres to an international standard of traffic laws. This shit is on the test people need to pass to get their license. It seems like everyone has an unspoken agreement to ignore everything they learned once they get on the road, however. Keep this one thing in mind when beating the streets in China - as a pedestrian, you have no rights. Don't expect anyone to stop for you and keep your eyes open. 

The "chabuduo" mentality - Once you learn the phrase "chabuduo", you'll never stop hearing it. It basically means, "close enough" and seems to be a widely held attitude whether it's a food service worker making sure the kitchen is sanitary, construction workers in charge of building apartments or government officials choosing to accept your paperwork on a given day or not. Take a close look around your Chinese apartment. You will eventually discover the whole thing is held together by duct tape and glue. 

Office politics are irritating - In China, your boss is the fucking boss. Whatever they say goes, and your input to the contrary is neither valued nor welcome. As foreigners, we escape the worst of it and I really feel for my Chinese colleagues who are often forced to come in on their days off for extra training that isn't really necessary. If a business suffers due to a manager's decision, it's usually the employees who suffer in return. 

The problem of face - Face is an enormous part of Chinese culture and can be an annoying obstacle for foreigners to both navigate and manipulate in order to get anything done. The concept of face is the amount of prestige one has (or is perceived to have) in Chinese society. Most Chinese are constantly trying to gain face and trying at all costs to not lose face. It is also a big no-no to make someone lose face as you are perceived as bad for making such a traumatic thing happen, and then you lose face. Because of this, people are usually not called out for their bad behavior, or criticized for their bad ideas. For example, it can be difficult to tell a Chinese colleague that they are incorrect on a certain matter without insulting them (because they lose face). 

The Ugly

Blatant racism - It gets ugly before it gets awesome. I don't care what any China apologist says, racism is a huge problem here, whether it stems from ignorance, nationalism or both. As a foreigner, you will be stared at, shouted at, have photos taken without your permission, and my personal favorite, people will talk about you while you're standing right beside them. Of course, the foreigner is too dumb to understand the glorious Chinese language. Foreigners also get a lot of preferential treatment, but I'd rather just be treated as normal and avoid both sides of the spectrum. 

Too much nationalism - This is very relevant to the race issue above. In China, children learn that the Han Chinese are superior from a very young age. This is known as the Patriotic Education Campaign. Get ready to hear all about China's 5,000 years of history and culture (that Mao ironically tried to destroy in the Cultural Revolution). This is often used as the primary excuse for China's several overreaching territorial claims in the South China Sea. Because history. Not very convincing, but the government has a done a great job at marketing the lie

Your environment is trying to kill you - Pollution, contaminated water, gutter oil, tainted milk, fake eggs, fake rice - China is not all that conducive to a healthy existence. It seems like almost every week there's a new food scandal, a new "airpocalypse", a new something that wants you dead. I chose to live here and acknowledge the risks, but it is truly an unfortunate environment for a child to grow up in. Consider this - almost 20% of China's arable land is polluted. That doesn't stop people from growing vegetables there that you're probably eating. 

Lack of empathy - This is the thing on the list that makes me loose the most faith in humanity. On a daily basis, I see evidence that a lot of people here are only in it for themselves. There seems to be no empathy beyond a person's inner circle of family and friends. The result is behavior that will certainly be perceived as rude by most Westerners - cutting in line, not holding the door, not letting others off the lift before shoving on and, in extreme cases, not helping someone in dire need of it. I have to seriously question a society where the first reaction is to pull out a phone and start filming someone's misfortune rather than helping to alleviate it. 

The Awesome

The food is incredible - Sure, I get huge cravings for enchiladas when I'm in China, but there is no shortage of deliciousness here. Everyone knows about noodles and the various chau fans (stir fried meat/veggies with rice), but China's cuisine is so much more varied than that. Every province has its own special palette. There's chuanr (meat on a stick) from Xinjiang, dongbei dumplings, Shaanxi noodles, the famous Beijing duck, Sichuan hotpot and on and on to the point where you could probably try a different dish everyday for a year and barely make a dent in this massive culinary catalogue. 

Low cost of living - If you're moving abroad in hopes of saving money, this is an important consideration. You can make bank here with one caveat - to do so you should probably avoid the world class cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. In Daqing, my monthly expenses usually come to 3,000 RMB (450 USD) per month. That's including buying foreign goods at the supermarket, going out to bars at least two nights a week and eating out the majority of the time. Taxi rides start at 5 RMB (0.75 USD) and if your employer isn't paying the rent for you, a nice modern apartment can be had for 2,000 RMB (300 USD). 

Learning Chinese by immersion - Another benefit of avoiding the bigger cities is that you will be forced to learn Chinese in order to complete the most basic tasks. This might sound like a nightmare for some, but it is a nice skill to have and you will get a lot more out of the experience if you can understand what's going on around you. A classroom environment is well and good, but it is not as functional of an education as using Chinese constantly in your daily life. Not only will it unlock more of China's cultural mysteries, but it will also be a skill that will look nice on any CV in the future. 

More "freedom" in China - People often don't know what I mean about this. The best way I can explain it is that there are more small, individual freedoms "on the ground" for the average guy on the street. I can drink a beer openly in the street. I can smoke pretty much wherever I please. No one is going to bat an eye at jaywalking and, in fact, you kind of need to do it to get anywhere. Small-town China is simply less puritanical than America. You can enjoy yourself more without people getting up into your business and passing judgement. Another thing you will notice after being here a few months is just how little political correctness means here. You will soon discover that you actually have more freedom to discuss whatever you want here than in America, where millennials' idea of free speech is becoming increasingly warped. 

In Conclusion

It's impossible to sum up China in a single blog post. The country is vast, beautiful and full of chaos and contradictions. No country has changed as rapidly as China. Never has there been such a migration of people from the farm to the city. People that enjoy a new level of prosperity here also know family, friends and neighbors that starved to death not so long ago. The government itself is confused, with one foot in classical authoritarian oppression and the other in economic freedom. 

Transition. It's best way to sum the place up at the moment. Largely, it's in a positive direction, although the current government seems to be closing off again more than opening up. If you want to really understand what's going on here, you need to see it for yourself. It's the perfect time. You've got the megacities of the Pearl River Delta and you've got villages that are almost completely inaccessible to outsiders. The "Real China" is still here to be experienced, but for how much longer, I'm not sure. 

Support Spartan Wanderer via Amazon