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.


  1. Well done.

    That needed to be said by someone. Hope ya don’t mind but I just wrote a spin-off of sorts.

    Complaining is definitely one of my favorite pastimes. And I’ll be fucked if someone is gonna complain about it.

  2. A good vent might be healthy. And I have no problem with the whining when it’s original or thoughtful. It’s just that it usually isn’t.

    And it is one of the major reasons I don’t have much of an “expat” social life. I find drinking 100 kuai pitchers with socially dysfunctional, crybaby extrapohaters who blame every daily inconvenience on the g’damncommiepinkos to be mind-numbingly boring.

    Most expats I’ve met in China don’t fit that description, but there always seems to be that one in the crowd I end up talking to.

  3. @Rick: No problem.

    @Josh: I agree. The problem being we’re all at different levels of our “China Experience”.. so what is an issue to me is not always the same issue to someone just arrived, or someone here 6 months, or whatever..

    Just read the “Extrapohaters” post, and you’ve coined a great term. It took me a long time to get around that “generalization” from “select” experiences… the only hole in extrapohation, is that generalizations when it comes to China/Chinese is not entirely the same animal as genearlizations elsewhere.

    It doesn’t justify stupid whinging… but it does lend weight to what they’re whinging about being applicable to others and likely to repeat itself.

  4. I gotta say I think the reason many of us came to China whether we are “Buddhas on a communist mountain of shit” or playing the preverbial “monkey at the zoo throwing shit at everything Chinese” is for the same reason and that is you were unhappy or unsatisfied with you life back home.

    I have met a lot of people here that say they do not know what they would be doing if they werent here. They express the same dislike of things back home and wanted more.

    I think people like this are inherently very difficult to please and we will be more critical than the average sheep at home.

    However the longer you live abroad you realize that it’s all fucked, its just different shades of fucked. Some like the communist flavor of fucked, some like the GW flavor, some like the swirl.

    For me pick a day, it’s a different flavor each time.

  5. Hi Sean,

    I totally agree with this:

    “However the longer you live abroad you realize that it’s all fucked, its just different shades of fucked. Some like the communist flavor of fucked, some like the GW flavor, some like the swirl.”

    There are just types of fucked you can deal with more easily than other types, or types that are easier to ignore anyways.

    Ryan: As to those who think everything is good in China, personally I think they are just as crazy as those who have to complain about every stupid little thing that goes wrong during a China day.

    My experience with the “everything is good” guys however is pretty limited, usually I find myself in that position, which is quite crazy, coz I usually am pretty critical about things and I do not suffer from blindness nor colouring things pink that everyone says are black.

    The thing is that i try to see how relative these opinions are and how lucky we “westerners” are. In China, we usually make a decent wage in comparison to the Chinese, we are more free: no family hassling us and scant controls by the government and if we don’t like the place we just pack our things go to another city or leave again for our homecountries, where, if we are a wee bit smart, cash-in on our “China-Experience” and still make more than a decent living.

    Taking all of this into the equasion, I cannot but kind of feel happy throughout my days in China and laugh all my way to the bank. Not out of spite for the Chinese, but out of sheer thankfulness for being born in the “free” west, blessed with half a brain, some determination and some back-up savings that in my homecountry would amount to nothing, but over here get me through the rough patches of the China half-pat life.

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