If I may say so, this post is far more valuable to the average Expat in China than the title indicates. Among other things, it’s very much about dealing with the fluctuations of your China-mood, and how to deal with the valleys, as opposed to the peaks.
**Note: For the handful of you who may be familiar with my immature excuses for writings — no, by peaks, I don’t mean titties…
Almost all westerners (i.e 老外 or laowai）get fed up with China once in a while. Wanting to kick the be-jesus out of certain Chinese people is a normal reaction. It’s a normal part of the cultural adjustment. The important thing is that you recognize that, and have the ability to shake it off and move on.
One thing that I’ve found that helps me adjust was first suggested to me by Dezza (of maskofchina fame), and looking back on that advice now, I realize how valuable it was. In a nutshell he said, “Go find a crappy little Chinese restaurant in your neighbourhood, and go there often.” Sounds very simple, and on the surface not so profound. But I’m gonna explain step by step why this advice is so kick-ass-a-riffic. Here goes nuthin’:
1. Wish You Good Health – Chinese food is generally healthier than Western alternatives. Pizza or McDonalds (aka Rotten Ronnies) is obviously just not that good for you, as good as it might taste. Many foreigners often lose a lot of weight after coming to China, probably due to the Super-value Combo of 1) Chinese food, 2) more walking and less driving, and 3) the Chinese tendency to focus all eyes on the fat laowai.
Would you like fries with that?
2. Where Everybody Knows Your Name – If you become a regular, the Chinese staff will get to know you and start chattin’ you up. You’ll develop a really cool 老外and 服务员 (fuwuyuan，waitress) rapport, kinda like Norm and Woody on Cheers, but replace the beer with those silly goddamn cups of jasmine tea.
Most of my foreigner friends in China who get fed up with Chinese people, often get pissed off with people they have a business/financial relationship with (i.e. their skeety boss at the English School, their dodgy unresponsive landlord, the salesperson who tries to charge them eleventy-seven times the normal price). I find that when money is not involved in the relationship, things are far less likely to go down the porcelin shithole. So hang at the restaurant, and try to build some of these types of relationships. They have a higher survival rate.
3. Who are the People in Your Neighbourhood? – Man do I ever miss Sesame Street… Anyway, if you go to your local shithole restaurant, chances are you’ll meet a ton of other people who live in that same little neighbourhood. It’s hard being a 老外, but if you are living in a small neighbourhood where friendly faces greet you with smiles and nods instead of gawks and zombified stares, it makes daily life far more pleasant. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll meet any Big Birds (this is China after all…) or Amazing Mumforts, but if your neighbourhood is anything like mine, you might see an Oscar or two waving to you from behind their trash pile.
4. Use the Force! Use Your Guanxi (关系)! – Becoming a regular customer comes with certain privileges. Feel free to ask them for custom made dishes. If you want disanxian without peppers and eggplant because it reminds you of fries and gravy, by all means go mad. Bring your own mozza and do a poutine if ya like.
5. The Everyday Low Low Price – Tiny Hole-in-the-Wall restaurants are just flat-out cheaper than anything else. This leaves you with more money to devote to
beer and hookers church donations and buying ice cream for poor children.
6. Be a Copy-Cat Eater – In the land of pirated DVDs and imitation brand-name goods, it’s probably best if you also learn the usefulness of copying. If you don’t speak Chinese, and don’t know what to order, just use the “I’ll have what she’s having” approach (Meg Ryan orgasm not included).
By going to the restaurant often, you can eventually build a big repetoire of dishes – and hopefully after a while, learn how to read and say their names as well. Most foreigners just rely on a few staple dishes like gongbaojiding or xihongshi chaojidan (Kongpao Chicken and Eggs and Tomato. I know I did that for a long time. Keep trying new stuff.
7. What’s your Reason for Being… in China? Many people come to China only to hang out in Expat bars, eat western food, and watch cheap DVDs in their apartment. But if you’re only gonna surround yourself with “foreign-ness,” why come to China to begin with? I try my best to keep these times limited. But having said that, I do see the value of “getting away from it all” when you’re having a Bad China Day. I like to call them cultural retreats. And usually they come complete with Blue Cheese Pizza, Beef Carapaccio, and a nice after-dinner glass of port (courtesy of Cafe Igosso).
Anyway, that’s it. I hope that this second-hand advice helps you in your quest for a happier China experience!
**Please note however, I am not responsible for any cases of food poisoning that may occur as a result of this post.