Today, one of my friends said to me “dude, you seem so bitter lately,” and after a little introspection I realized that he was right – I have been bitter lately. It seems like lots of things have gone wrong all at once, and I’m starting to generalize my dislike for the things that have gone wrong into a dislike for China and vast swathes of her population.

Expats who have been in China for more than a couple years know that the China Funk is a cyclical beast, one that rears its ugly head occasionally and causes you to focus on all the bad things that living in China (or any developing country with a starkly different culture, for that matter) entails. Some people fall into a bitterness rut, though, and never manage to claw their way out, either going home or becoming that foreigner that does his best to school newcomers on the horrors they will soon face in their life on the mainland. Not wanting to become that guy, I’ve been thinking about ways to clobber the China Funk and return to my normal, blissful state.

  1. Reconnect with friends. A good support network is essential for getting through any difficult time, and dealing with China Funk is no different. If the friends are Chinese, perhaps you can grab some advice on how they deal with things (though, odds are, it will be a simple 没办法, which is the secret Chinese weapon for dealing with, but never solving, any possible adversity). If the friends are foreign, invite a bunch of them to hotpot, get sloshed on warm Suntory and Reeb, and commiserate – it does the soul good.
  2. Rediscover nature. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt as isolated from nature as I do living in Shanghai. Even Zhongshan Park, with its abundant greenery, is just too damn full of people to feel much like the great outdoors. Human beings simply weren’t meant to live this way. Plan a nice weekend somewhere green and quiet (for those of you living in the Yangtze River Delta, Moganshan might be a good choice) and get away from the pushing and shoving and honking and spitting for a little while.
  3. Get a good book. If you can’t get away for a while, try holing up for a weekend in your apartment with a good book. Books like The Three Musketeers (fun and easy to read) or Gone with the Wind (not as easy to read, but easy to be absorbed into) can make you forget your troubles for just a few minutes.
  4. Get out of the country. If you have the money and the time, traveling out of China (even for as little as a week) can make you view the country in a whole different light upon your return. My favorite China moment was 24 hours spent in Beijing after a month in the United States, just reabsorbing all the things that I really like about living here.

I think I’m going to try numbers one and three this weekend and see if I can wash this bitterness away. What things work for you when you’re feeling down about the Middle Kingdom?

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About JohnB

John wishes he was one of those hardcore laowai, living in the villages and lacing his speech with naughty Hunanese swear words, but he likes delivery pizza too much to leave Shanghai. He originally hails from Orlando, Florida, and is brought to you by the color orange and the number seven.

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  1. Hey John, welcome to Lost Laowai, and a great initial post. Myself, I generally try for #2 or #4, but end up settling for #1 and number #3… mostly number #1’s sloshing bit… though I’m hard pressed to find any warm beer at the moment (even if all the shops damn coolers are unplugged).

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  3. A great (and cheap!) way to escape the occasional China Funk is to listen to Public Radio on iTunes, which is surprisingly reliable, even with a dodgy Internet connection… and you can’t beat the price. On a grey day — of which there are many, in most Chinese cities — it can be nice to space out and listen to what’s going on in San Diego, Cambridge, or Kenosha.

  4. I agree with Sage. NPR is a life-saver. I never podcasted anything before moving to China. I can’t think of how many otherwise dull evenings I’ve spent relaxing on my couch listening to the latest “Wait Wait, don’t tell me” episode.

  5. Funny, how not living in China for a few years will make one forget the China Funk. I’ve been feeling a yearning to get back there recently, and if it weren’t for my current Job From Heaven, I’d be back there now. Your post suddenly shot me straight back into the times when I felt less than elated in China, and I wish now that I’d had your advice back then!

    Blog on!

    Charlotte x

  6. Oh come on you are missing the pleasure of it all! This anger is what drives me all day, puts energy into my employees, keeps phone calls coming, etc.. You just need to find a way to manage it – that’s the key! Passive people don’t get anywhere in life.

  7. Yeah, but overly aggressive people can be dicks – especially those guys on late-night infomercials. And hey, Gandhi worked the “passive” angle pretty well.

  8. 你是laowai,呵呵,我喜欢你的blog,还有你在中国的生活,

  9. Hey WuSong – glad you like it. Though generally we’re here for other laowai in China – we’re always happy to have some real, in-the-flesh, nationals help us out with the crazy stuff we just can’t wrap our heads around or whatnot.

  10. I can understand you,when i moved to a strange city in my own country i was nervous and may spend long time to accommodate myself to new circumstances.
    If you are bewildered by something strang,fell free to ask,most chinese are very friendly to “laowai” they’ll gland to help you out.
    Confucius said;What a joy it is to have friends coming from afar!

  11. WuSong, by no means do I consider myself an expert – but most of the stuff that laowai bitch about or are confused about are not things that most Chinese can explain easily.

    I agree that many people are quite happy to give the ‘Chinese opinion’ as answers to us laowai – but generally speaking this is not usually the answer we are looking for.

    I think it takes an exceptional Chinese person to be able to understand both halves of the equation and give a well-rounded, and intelligent explanation.

  12. I’m sorry ,i’ve never been abroad and have few opportunity to meet laowai,so there can be some misunderstandings.

    This mybe what we call the “cultureshock”.The difrences of two cultures sometimes really to make obscure or confused.

    I have taught how to help laowai in china ever since junior high school,such as helping laowai finding ways,being a guide for laowai sightseers.But now, i am beginning to realize what laowai relly need.

  13. Can I assume that it takes much more than the vast swathes of China’s population to make you bitter? I don’t know if you know this: some Chinese are bitter too. Though China’s economy is developing tremendously, the recent years have seen a lot of problems. What I am saying here is you don’t need to be a laowai to feel lost and fight that clincycle beast. But the way I see it is besides “mei banfa”, we actually can do something to make a difference (big or small).

  14. Hey Shukei, not sure if that was directed particularly at myself or at this thread in general… but of course Chinese are bitter, who would say they aren’t?

    This blog, or my opinions should never be meant as to represent a replacement for the bitterness that Chinese feel about the problems faced in their country – in fact, that’s likely why they’re under represented on this blog – I’m not Chinese, what would I know about it?

    We actually can do something to make a difference (big or small).


  15. Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
    Our country is in debt until forever, we don’t have jobs, and we live in fear. We have invaded a country and been responsible for thousands of deaths.
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  16. The website link here is the oldie, a freebie until I maxed it out. The new one is

    As far as the China funk effect, dude I am 100% in agreement. I’m doing option 4 for 10 weeks, leaving in 2 weeks for Australia. Fiancee is Chinese, from Anhui…. Gawd knows what the locals really think about our de-facto relationship ? Especially when we are walking down the street chatting happily in fluent English. 99% negative response ? Ahhh, who cares.


  17. Hey Ryan. I found you when I Googled “Chinese funk.” I was originally looking for Chinese music that mimicks the great American funk artists – Sly Stone, Prince, Earthwind and Fire, etc. However, I came upon your blog and wanted to ask you about the Chinese-American expat population. Have you met many like myself who were either born in the West or raised here but who look like the rest of the Chinese population? It’s a weird feeling to be proudly Chinese one minute, but the next minue, having to step back, look at the culture, and say, “What the funk?”

  18. Hey John, several of my best friends here have been in just such circumstances. It’s a situation I don’t envy.

    Us non-Asian expats have few expectations on us in the form of language/culture/etc. But if you’re Chinese in ethnicity but little else, it’ll be an interesting challenge living here.

    Several times I’ve been out with Chinese-Canadian friends who have just arrived and only have basic Mandarin skills and the staff at restaurants ALWAYS turn to them first and they’re forced to just stare in incomprehension while I explain that they don’t speak Chinese.

    It’s awkward for everyone involved.

    As for Chinese funk – let me know if you find it… because… We WaNT THe FuNK, GoTTa HaVe THe FuNK!! 😉

  19. Thanks for your reply Ryan. I haven’t discovered Chinese funk music yet, but I may bring my James Brown and Sheila E CDs if I visit my grandmother in Anhui Province. Now if I could only dance like the Godfather….

    Hope all is going well with you in the Middle Kingdom.

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