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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?