Staying positive in China is a topic that has been making the rounds through expat circles of late. Whether it be John’s generally always upbeat blog (except when it comes to Spring Festival), the well-written “10 Reasons Why Living In China Is Great” or Rick’s soon-to-be-published post about Chinese do-gooders.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I dig this (or, rather, hao hao it). I think we all need a bit of the warm-and-fuzzy living here in the cold and concrete. Little lights in the dark, reminders not to stray too far down the path of negativity, lest all be lost.
The thing that does get on my nerves a bit are the expats that take a stoical “it’s all good” attitude and use it as a way to raise themselves above those of us that (seeing it for what it really is) disagree. Ironically, it would seem both complaining and complimenting China have become the method de jour for indicating that you really get “life in China”. You understand it better than the rest of us.
The ‘complaining’ method is easy enough to deal with (due to its rampant commonness). People start whining about China around a Lazy Susan full of food and drink they could not hope to afford back home and all you need do is either give an empathic nod of agreement or just tune it out.
The ‘I’m above all that’ method is tougher, however. How do you verbally disagree with someone that seems Buddhatastically complacent in their view that it’s all rosie? Just part of the ‘charm’ of living here. It’s like arguing with religion… hopeless no matter how founded your claims are.
The one thing that we can rest easy in knowing is that these people (the happyhappy-joyjoy people, not the religious people ~ though sometimes they come doubly-packaged) most likely don’t have much of a social life. See, complaining (to a reasonable degree) is what binds us of many nations into that all-solidifying term: Foreigner. Without it you’re just a lonely laowai forced to live on the outskirts of society; feeding off the social scraps of ‘Welcome The Newcommers’ or ‘Honour Thy Waiguo Ren’ functions.
Best I can figure, this group has just forgotten their roots. Now in China for some time they’ve started to get a handle on the language, making life considerably easier here. Additionally, like some multicultural mullusk, they’ve start padding up the grittier bits and turning them into pearls.
When most foreigners first arrive, I hazard a guess, they bravely stroll out into their new China Life and try desperately to suck in an “authentic” experience. This, I again gauge, is the root of the complaints. Getting close to a culture you don’t understand, eating “common food” that is littered with bone shards and sand, smashing your way through the public transit system… it’s all bound to chafe.
However, after a while you find the import shops, accept the expense of taxis as a needed luxury, get yourself an apartment that has a (working) elevator and exchange cheap noodle shops for fettuccini primavera with a side of (expat-oven baked) garlic bread.
So, really, what it comes down to is a clash of ideologies between expats. Those that just settled “on” China and those that are finally settling “in” China.
To return to my point, my problem is not with this “getting comfortable”, but rather with The Comfortable taking the stance that it’s all good in the hood, and if you complain about the obvious pain-in-the-assedness of most days here, you should “just go home”.
Being a bit more direct, I’d like to suggest that these folks take their serene smiles and knowing “Once you truly understand Chinese culture it’s not so bad…” phrases and fuck off.
The truth is, life in China is often crass, usually disturbing, almost always annoying, and -more than anything else- interesting. China, defining the term ‘contradiction’, is a place where to complain is not necessarily meant to criticize but rather used as a way of trying to put sense the confusing world you’re faced with here. And, perhaps, if you’re not doing that you’re missing out.