Shitty People Being Shitty to Other Shitty People, But Not Always

It can seem like there are days here where I see nothing but shitty people being shitty to other shitty people. Today I saw some girls shove a blind man out of their way. There’s no shortage of cars cutting off pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars because everyone is in a hurry and thinks their own time and safety is more important than others’. I hate when people park right in the middle of the road or on a sidewalk, completely blocking the flow of traffic for everyone else because someone was too lazy to go find a parking spot while they ran into 7-11. Or how about the famous incident of the little girl getting hit by a car and no one stopping to help her while she died in the street a few years back? Seeing shitty, selfish, greedy behavior like this all the time can really bring a person down.

However, I have managed to find a group of wonderful, wonderful people who are the exact opposite of all this. Volunteering is a pretty new concept in China, a lot of Chinese people don’t even really understand what it means. I’ve been working with a couple of animal rescue organizations and a Trap Neuter Release organization in Shanghai and have had the opportunity to get to know some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met in my life. It’s refreshing to work with them and to be reminded that not every single person in Shanghai is a shit bird who couldn’t care less about the people around them.

These people dedicate so much of themselves to trying to ease the pain and suffering of animals, especially stray animals. They spend countless hours and their own hard earned cash bringing stray animals to the vet and then placing them in homes. I work mostly with the TNR organization and one of the members, a guy named Steven has become a bit of a hero to me. He spends most of his mornings before work at the vet checking on his strays, goes to work and then spends most of his evenings catching stray cats in neighborhoods (mine included) where TNR programs are on-going and then goes home to a home full of dogs and cats that he fosters until they can be placed in permanent homes. You’d never think he was anything special if you just saw him on the street. He’s just a regular guy. Him and a few others have spent months pursuing official NPO status for the TNR organization and just recently got it approved. They’ve designed this amazing plan for not only carrying out TNR, but also dedicating time and resources on educating people on proper pet care and how to prevent the growth of Shanghai’s stray animal population. I’ve learned that many Chinese people have some really interesting and sad misunderstandings about pets and pet care that end poorly for our furry friends. They are trying to educate people against this kind of unscientific, superstitious thinking.

Another unsung hero is Chris Lau, founder of ThinkAdoption who at any one time has about 20 pets in his home. Some of them are his own, most of them are waiting for adoption. I myself have two cats and I feel that they take up a lot of my time (they’re so messy!), I have no idea how people like Chris can hold down full time jobs and then manage to care for so many animals! Especially in a large city like Shanghai where you can’t just put the dogs outside in your yard while you go to work. It takes remarkable dedication and selflessness.

Some people have asked me why I spend so much time and money on trying to help stray animals instead of trying to help people. I have two reasons. 1. The situation of all stray animals was caused by humans – people not being responsible pet owners, releasing them when they become a burden and not de-sexing them. I feel like we owe it to them. 2. People indirectly benefit from taking care of the stray animal problem. How? Well, stray animals can sometimes carry rabies. I saw a news report yesterday that said that 10 people in Beijing died from rabies last year because of stray dogs. Stray cats make a lot of noise at night when they’re in heat, so de-sexing them solves that problem and also helps them to lead longer, healthier lives. I am frequently woken up by the cats in my neighborhood fighting or getting it on. I’ve managed to spay/neuter 5 of them already, but I probably have 10 more to go before we have the problem mostly under control.

If anyone is interested in learning more about these organizations, I recommend you check them out on Weibo or WeChat. Search for ThinkAdoption, PPAR (Paw Pals Animal Rescue) or TNR Action at TNRaction.com.

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Pretty Woman Spitting By Leanna Adams – A Book Review

First – HEY, MY INTERNET WORKS! So I have a couple of old posts that I’m just gonna put right here right now…hope you like them. My work these days frequently brings me to Chengdu where I get to stay in fancy hotels with uncensored internet. I know, I know…you’re very impressed at how fancy I am. Seriously though, I’m pretty fancy, but moving on. I hope this means I can get back to trying to post a little more regularly. Now, on to the book review!

I would have never read this book except that a friend gifted it to me on the Kindle store. I would have lost interest in it immediately upon realizing that the target audience of Leanna’s book is China newbs, which also made it an odd choice of gift from that particular friend who is the embodiment of “bitter expat.”

Oh well, I read it anyway and it would have been awesome for someone who hadn’t yet visited China. Leanna doesn’t try to pretend that her book is full of deep insights into Chinese culture, which in my opinion earns her a lot of credit. She wrote her book after teaching English in Anhui….for one semester. That’s it. She was in Anhui for 4 months and wrote a book about it. I thought it was strange that she even got a publishing deal since every white person who comes to China thinks “I should write a book about this!” We all think our experience is unique enough that the rest of the world should know what we’ve done and seen! The market is flooded with that kind of literature. I think her angle was maybe a bit unique in that she was specifically targeting China newbs without any pretense of being an expert. She even included a packing list at the end of the book! I shouldn’t be so condescending though. There was a time when I would have read that book and really enjoyed it. For that reason, I would recommend her book to people who haven’t yet been to China. I think she does manage to understand China and Chinese culture better in four months than some of the foreigners I know who have been here for years. One aspect of China that she described very well was the warmth of the Chinese people and how they will treat a guest. She describes going home for a long weekend with one of her students to see his hometown and describes the embarrassment of realizing that in spite of being from a poor family, his parents insisted on paying for her room at the nicest hotel in town and bringing her for meals at expensive restaurants. We’ve all been there! Being simultaneously horrified and deeply touched is something anyone coming here should prepare themselves for because it’s inevitable.

Another aspect of Leann’s book that I give her credit for is the way in which she didn’t shy away from discussing some of the things that bothered her about China, but then again, she wasn’t one of the idealistic foreigners who comes here with a head full of visions of gong fu masters and women in qipaos running around serving tea. The title, “Pretty Woman Spitting” is obviously from the chapter where she talks about the constant spitting and how gross it is. Again, not horribly insightful, but still something to prepare yourself for if you’re not used to it. She also discusses to some degree how disrespectful people can be at times about trying to capitalize off of foreigners. The prime example of this that she uses in her book is an experience that I think most of us will never have here (hopefully). *Spoiler alert* An Australian colleague passes away from a brain aneurysm while in Anhui and because of the rapid progression, there was no time to transport to another hospital or go home. She describes the frustration of trying to get the doctors and nursing staff to be straightforward with them about the woman’s condition. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it and a funeral had to be planned. The colleague’s family wanted to take her body out of the country and have a funeral at home, but the local authorities got involved and delayed the process of getting her body out of the country and decided to hold a TELEVISED open casket funeral in the meantime. The school didn’t bother to notify her students, but instead hand picked a few students who would look good on TV. Leanne seemed to suspect that the purpose of this was to get publicity for the school or the town. There could have been a lot of reasons for televising a funeral in spite of the family’s wishes, but either way it doesn’t change the fact that someone capitalized on this horrible event that should have been private.

Ok, I guess when it’s all said and done, I liked the book more than I would like to admit, but maybe because it was also kind of nice to remember what it was like when I first arrived in China when everything was fresh and new and interesting. Perhaps I should say this book is a good read for anyone preparing to make their first trip here or for those of us who have just been here long enough to forget what that first trip was like.

The Chinese Office

I’ve been doing my new job for about 5 months now and I’m mostly getting the hang of it. I have another problem though – Chinese co-workers. Our team is small, only 12 of us, including the boss and a secretary. It’s evenly split between men and women, but I’m the only foreigner. Initially, I didn’t see this as a problem, but now I hate it. Our department has another team in a different city that does the same stuff we do, and the managers are American, as well as most of the team members. Many of them started on my team in Shanghai (before I got here) and ended up begging to move to the other team. I used to think that was weird and assumed it was partly because their Chinese was bad. Now, I’m half way considering asking for a transfer too.

Reason #1: Having a Chinese manager sucks.

Our job requires that we work with a lot of third parties to try and make them do things they don’t want to do. Which means we deal with a lot of conflict, we’re bound to piss people off. This would be fine, except that every time I have an issue with someone (this one asshole in particular) he gets mad and calls my boss because he knows that she will capitulate to him because she wants to avoid conflict and he uses the “we’re Chinese, she’s a foreigner, we’re against her!” card. Even worse, she sometimes does this behind my back without communicating anything to me. How am I supposed to convince someone to do something when they know all they have to do is call my boss and it’ll be resolved? It’s impossible. The American managers on the other team all know better. When a third party calls them to complain about one of their subordinates, they either won’t engage or they tell the third party what they were told to say by their subordinate in order to back them up. I’ve tried talking to my boss about this and she always says she’ll change her approach to my face, but then doesn’t…in order to avoid conflict, I’m sure.

Reason #2: My co-workers exclude me from everything.

They have a WeChat group that I’m not part of, they go out together on weekends and don’t invite me, many of them have not accepted my WeChat friend request. We just had our annual dinner and they all went and got a table with 11 chairs…guess who wasn’t asked to sit with them? You know what? Fine. None of that would bother me because it’s not like I want to go to KTV anyway. Except for one thing. Several of them have gone to my boss to complain about me saying that I won’t take part in group activities and that I’m difficult to talk to. The best part is that my boss attends these group activities that I’m not invited to, hears the feedback, but then never thinks “maybe we should actually invite Whitey too.” How does she not make the connection to the fact that no one invites me, hence I have no chance to participate? Here’s the weird thing…it’s only the women who complain about me. I get along quite well with my male co-workers because they actually try to talk to me. I have a lot more in common with them than I do with the women. The women on my team are mostly what I would call airheads. They’re nice enough (except for when they’re gossiping about me…we’ll get to that), but they only talk about what they bought recently, what they’re going to buy next, their diets, and make-up. Not even kidding. I have nothing to add to any of that. “Oh you’re on a diet?! But you’re so skinny!” That’s all I got. I’ve tried to join in on their conversations, but I always get the feeling that I am not welcome so I give up pretty quickly. I have self-respect, so why would I sit there and try desperately to join a stupid conversation about things I don’t care about with people who don’t want to talk to me?

Reason #3: THE GOSSIP OMFG THE GOSSIP!

So did you know that I’m sleeping with one of my married co-workers? No? Me neither! I found out on Friday. I wonder how long this has been going on…my husband would be so mad if he knew…

One of my male co-workers and I get along really, really, really well. We’ll call him Bob. Bob is the only one of them who has made a genuine effort to get to know me and not make assumptions about what I’m about. We actually meet up occasionally in our down time just to chat. He’s aware of all the struggles I’m having and he does his best to try and make me feel better about it. I’m sure he sticks up for me when the others are saying unfair things. So of course, we’re banging. Because we’re all 5 years old and therefore we know it’s impossible for a man and a woman to have a relationship that isn’t about sex. *eye roll* This is another thing that my co-workers have complained to my boss about, the fact that I am sleeping with Bob. Funny how the complaints were only directed at me though, as if were it true, Bob would have no blame in the situation. But of course, I am a slutty white girl, so what else would I be doing with a man. Bob is being really cool about all of this. He found out about the rumors before I did, because they all approached him and asked what the deal was, but refused to hear his explanation. When he told me what happened, I was pretty sure the next thing he was going to say would be “I’m sorry, we can’t be friends anymore.” Instead, he came to see me in person and tell me not to worry about what others think and that time will prove them wrong. He’s made no effort to hide our friendship from anyone because we both know we’re not doing anything wrong. I think that if I didn’t have his support, I might just quit. At the very least, I would definitely be asking for a transfer to the other team immediately.

My boss told me I need to try harder to make my co-workers like me more. The thing is, I feel like they’re predisposed to not liking me no matter what I do. I don’t feel inclined to bend over backwards or to be someone I’m not to make people like me, especially when they’ve made no effort whatsoever. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with each of them, especially when I first started and they were helping me learn how to do the job. I really thought we were all getting along great. I never felt like there were awkward silences or anything like that…I’m admittedly bad at small talk, but I did what my husband always says to do – just ask them a lot of questions about themselves. I know way more about them than they know about me, I’m sure of that. Bob says that most Chinese and probably my co-workers just feel uncomfortable around foreigners, like they can’t be themselves. I can understand that because I feel that way around many Chinese too. If they just left me out of everything, but didn’t complain about me, I would be fine with that. I’m just going to start bringing food to the team meetings. Maybe I’ll take a cue from “The Help” and shit in a chocolate pie for them.

Anyway, I have this next week off to relax, so I plan on catching up on some posts that I’ve been planning. I hope everyone has a happy Spring Festival!

The Red Carpet Treatment

I finally started my new job and I’ve been crazy busy for the last few weeks. I spend most of my time in smaller Chinese cities touring facilities and carrying out inspections of security programs at said facilities. For some of these facilities, a foreigner showing up is a big deal. I’ve observed some really interesting stuff the last couple of weeks that has lead to no small amount of embarrassment for me. Let me explain.

First of all, it’s important to understand that I am not high up in the company. I have a team of really fantastic Chinese co-workers who are all doing the same job as me, but they are more experienced at it, as I have just started. I have a background in what I’m doing, but I am new to the company and to their way of doing things, so I rely heavily on my co-workers for coaching and advice. Also, I am the only foreigner on our team. Well, the only non-Asian foreigner. However, in spite of being the same “rank” as my co-workers and far less experienced, I get treated very, very differently when we’re doing site visits. For example, at one point last weekend we had to go through a metal detector screening using hand held metal detectors. My Chinese co-workers went first, no big deal, but when it was my turn, I was asked to “wait a second” and they literally pulled out a red carpet for me to stand on while they did the screening. HUMILIATING. Later (this happened at multiple sites), when it came time to order lunch for me and my team, the facility staff ordered regular old cheap Chinese take out for my colleagues, but ordered something special for me…expensive pizza from Papa John’s. That was also humiliating and actually a huge pain in the ass because they’d already ordered a ton of Chinese food (that was thrown away) that looked fine and I was starving, but they made me wait an extra 90 minutes for the pizza because they didn’t want to give Chinese food to a “foreign guest.” Part of that was obviously their pre-conceived idea that a foreigner can not eat Chinese food or use chopsticks (it was mentioned). I am also starting to suspect that Chinese people think their own cuisine is disgusting (just kidding…). I don’t even eat pizza because it makes me sick! But them going out of their way to order special food for me left me with no option but to eat it because I felt guilty, but it also forced me into a situation where I was proving their point of “see? foreigners love pizza and hate chinese food!” Also, I got super sick from the pizza. Additionally, I don’t like having this divide between me and my co-workers. I’m sure they understand that I didn’t ask for special treatment, but I have to wonder if over time there would be any resentment caused by me constantly being given better treatment than them for the same exact job.

Ok, so I get that Chinese people just really want to be good hosts and make sure I’m taken care of. I get that. On one level it’s quite touching, but mostly it’s just super embarrassing. Nothing makes me happier than when Chinese people just treat me like everyone else. There was this restaurant that I used to go to and when I went in, they’d throw a menu at me and an order pad and say “write your own order down!” Just like they did to every Chinese person who went in there. I didn’t get babied, I wasn’t coddled and they even made fun of how ugly my characters were. I loved it. (My characters are so ugly.)

Another thing that kept happening is something that ALL foreigners have experienced. You open your mouth and say “ni hao” or “xie xie” and the world stops. Every Chinese person in the room is falling over themselves complimenting your AMAZING Mandarin. Even if that’s all you know. At times, the encouragement can be nice, but it can also reach a point where it’s just kind of insulting, even though I KNOW that’s not the intent. Knowing that Chinese people are just trying to be nice when they say things like this hasn’t really kept me from being annoyed by it. I think I finally came up with a comparison that explains why this makes me so uncomfortable: Let’s say you have a small child who goes to kindergarten and then comes home one day and tells you that they have a new teacher at school who teaches Chinese. Your kid then says “ni hao, xie xie, ni hao ma” whatever. Your kid is 5 years old, so you get really excited and you say “Wow! GOOD JOB! You’re so smart!” blah blah whatever people say to little kids who learn something. You’re excited that your kid picked it up so quickly. If we take that same scenario and your kid is an adult who comes home from work or college or whatever and says the same thing, your reaction is probably going to be not so enthusiastic, maybe like “that’s great, keep it up!” And you’ll go on with your day. In fact, you might even wonder if there’s something wrong with your child. Basically, my point is that we have different standards of success for small children and adults. When it comes to foreigners and Mandarin, we all get the 5 year old’s standard of success, which is somewhat insulting. I mean, we all sound like 5 year olds at some point in the learning process, but that doesn’t mean we actually only have the intellectual capability of a 5 year old (in most cases). I think one of the reasons why non-Asian foreigners have such a hard time learning Chinese is because of this. Chinese people won’t raise the bar on us and start expecting more. They don’t tell us when we’ve said something wrong because “awww, she’s trying, that’s cute” and some foreigners I suspect, believe the compliments and don’t realize that Chinese people are just being nice and maybe don’t push themselves as much as they would if Chinese people were less forgiving about it. How many of you have been told “Your Chinese is better than mine!” by a Chinese person? Come on! Who’s going to believe that? I’d almost think they were making fun of me except that most Chinese are simply too nice to do that. Again, even though I know it’s not the intent, I still can’t help but feel a little insulted when a Chinese person freaks out over me saying one word in Chinese. To me, it implies a combination of “we didn’t think you were smart enough to learn this language and we didn’t expect you to respect our culture enough to learn the language.” I think they owe it to themselves to expect that foreigners who come here long term bother to learn the language at least a little.

A Furry Friend in Need!

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My new neighborhood is full of stray cats, which breaks my heart. I love animals, but especially cats. I hate to see any living thing suffering, particularly animals who have so little say in what happens to them. I recently discovered that Shanghai has a TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) program and I have volunteered to help organize events and capture stray cats to be brought in for spaying/neutering, before returning them where we found them. Some people may think that returning them defies logic. Why not adopt them or put them to sleep? Because cats are territorial and if you remove them from an area, then more will just move in and with extra resources and territory, instincts will kick in and tell them to reproduce. Keeping spayed and neutered strays in their original territory prevents the growth of the stray population in more than one way.

I’ve been feeding a litter of kittens I found for the last two weeks and they seemed to be pretty healthy (except for conjunctivitis, which I am treating), with the exception of one, small black kitten. She is the smallest of the group and seemed mostly ok, but I made sure to give her extra food and keep the other kitties from stealing it from her. It wasn’t enough. She began leaving the safety of the bushes where they live and wandering around listlessly in the lane, where she was vulnerable to cars, mopeds and pedestrians staring at their phones instead of where they are going. When a stray begins approaching people like that, it’s typically a cry for help. They know they’re in trouble and asking for help the only way they know how. I ignored it and thought she would get better on her own. I came home from the gym one night and found her laying on the sidewalk, pulling herself around in circles with her front legs, unable to move her hind legs. I put her into a box and brought her into my house. I wrapped her with towels and turned on the heat to stop her shivering and fed her. I began looking online to see if I could find a veterinarian that took emergency calls, and of course, no one answered their phones. I finally remembered my contact at the TNR program who helped me find a vet that would see her so late (it was about 9:30pm when I found her, after 11 before I made it to the clinic, which was a million miles away). When I finally got there, he was really kind and patient. I think he took good care of her, but he really didn’t think she would make it through the night. She did make it through the night, and seemed to be a lot better the next day. She had blood in her urine and still couldn’t walk or go to the bathroom by herself. Today she had no blood in her urine, but still, no walking or relieving herself without someone pushing on her belly to get it out. The vet took some x rays and couldn’t find any spinal damage or other abnormalities, so he thinks she has nerve damage near her hips. The good news is that she has feeling in her toes and he could see her muscles moving when she was trying to poop, even if nothing was coming out. He said that with the right kind of care, it’s possible that she could regain use of her legs and bowels, but that will mean having a person available to help her go to the bathroom a couple times a day and providing physical therapy like treatment to help her nerves regenerate. She has a shot, but not without the right kind of person to help her. I wish like hell I could be that person because I have a hard time believing that someone else would give her the right attention, but also because I blame myself for not taking her to a vet sooner. Starting next week I’m going to be on business trips until December, so I just can’t do it. I really hope that some of you can help me spread the word or even volunteer to help this poor little kitty. She doesn’t have fleas or any contagious diseases (I had her tested) and the conjunctivitis of her eyes is getting better every day and will completely heal without any blindness.

A Bit of a Touchy Subject

I have something serious I want to discuss, but before I do that, I want to mention that I added another Chinese language learning resource on my Chinese learning page. It’s the Chinese Grammar Wiki, which maybe everyone else already knew about, but I just discovered and I love it. I’ve been reviewing the basics and re-solidifying my foundation in basic grammar.

Ok, so the thing I want to talk about today is sexual harassment, specifically in China. Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, lots of things change very quickly in China and I think that the nature of sexual harassment is one of those things. During my first time in China from 2003 through 2005, sexual harassment happened, but it wasn’t a regular thing that happened every day the way it seems to be now.

Just to be clear, I am not one of those overly sensitive types who thinks that any guy who says anything or looks at me is sexually harassing me. Like most women, I have way too much experience with the real thing and am very clear on what sexual harassment is. I’ve been sexually harassed in almost every country I’ve visited, so this isn’t anything unique to the Chinese either. I know the difference between a Chinese man looking at me because I’m a person who just happens to be in his field of view and people are naturally interested in one another, or a person who’s maybe just looking to see what I’m wearing, or a person who is simply curious or surprised to see a foreigner. I know what that kind of staring or looking is, I know what it feels like. What I’m talking about is the long, up and down gaze that rests too long on the breasts or butt, sometimes accompanied by a lecherous smirk and/or unnecessary commentary. Some men have gone so far as to touch me without permission, follow me, or even just straight up ask for sex. Just a couple days ago, I ventured outside of central Shanghai and was followed down the street by a man who was commenting on how pretty I am and how big my breasts are, while trying to make me look at him. I went into a subway because I knew there would be security guards down there and he followed me until I passed through the gate (I guess I wasn’t worth the 3 kuai ticket) and he stood outside watching me until I couldn’t see him any longer. It made me nervous and I felt very unsafe. We’ve all seen those videos of horrible things happening to people in China where no one helps other than to record the incident on their phone. What if that guy had decided to attack me right in the subway? Would anyone have helped me? I don’t know, but the fact that I even have to wonder if anyone would help me certainly doesn’t make me feel better about those situations.

I was talking about this with some friends the other day and all of my western female friends had similar stories. Our male friends were incredulous, even a little suspicious that we were exaggerating or somehow misunderstanding the situations. Their reaction, to be honest was a little hurtful. I’ve asked a number of female Chinese friends about these situations and they’ve all said the same thing – that nothing of the sort has ever happened to them, that they’ve never heard of it happening to any of their Chinese friends, and that they didn’t think most Chinese men would behave that way to a Chinese woman. There are probably several reasons for that. So why us Western ladies then? Why do we have to put up with harassment all the time? I’ll tell you why I think it is. We’re probably all thinking the same thing by now, which is that Westerners have a reputation for being “more open” than Chinese people. Western people have sex all the time with whoever they want without any social or emotional consequences. We’re all pretty slutty. How do we know this? From movies and TV, of course! If it happened in Sex and the City, it has to be real, right??

(Sidebar – Many English teachers in China encourage their students to watch American TV and movies to “learn about the culture.” This is a great idea, but only if the student has the ability to think critically about what they’re seeing and interpret it. For example, many Chinese people have the mistaken idea that life in America is like the Die Hard series, everyone has guns, we’re all running around shooting everyone and blowing everything up. Combine that with Sex and the City and we’re doing all of that in Christian Louboutin stilettos. The real take away from American TV and movies is that yes, we’re more open to the idea of seeing violence and sex on screen, but really we just love a good explosion and watching ridiculous high rollers living it up in NYC because most of us will never do that. It’s fantasy!)

However, in spite of the unfair conclusions drawn from American media about how slutty I am, I think there is at least one more culprit. In 2003, it was very fashionable for any and all companies to use white people in their commercials and advertisements. It didn’t matter what the product was, white models were required. There were white people in ads for cars, clothing, restaurants, all varieties of products. Now, I think that many Chinese brands have shifted towards using Chinese models because of pride in their product, pride in their country and pride in Chinese beauty. Obviously, I think this is great. I think it sucks that the whole world seems to be leaning towards one standard of beauty – white, tall, slender, blonde, etc that nearly no one in the world can attain aside from those with Northern European heritage. Anyway, so now that more and more Chinese brands are using Chinese models, more foreign brands have even started to as well. I think that fewer and fewer Chinese are willing to accept the message that “white people like it, so should you!” However, the ads that almost exclusively still use white women and not Asian women are ads that are related to anything of a sexual nature…lingerie or condoms, for example. I was in a store the other day and I noticed that the posters and displays around the store used Asian models, except for the lingerie department where the ads featured white women. I saw a commercial on TV recently that struck me as odd from the beginning, but I couldn’t say why. It showed a white couple in their house, she was making dinner and he was reading the paper (very 1950s, I know) and they sat down to eat, but suddenly, the woman ripped her clothes off (at this point the commercial no longer seemed weird), jumped on the man who then lead her into the bedroom. The commercial turned out to be an ad for Jizbon condoms. What seemed weird was seeing a white woman portrayed as a wholesome housewife, but it quit feeling weird when she was being portrayed the way I was used to seeing white women in China. (Of course, women are also objectified and sexualized in American ads too, but we objectify ALL women, not just white women, which of course, doesn’t make it ok.)

I realized that I had somehow subconsciously become used to seeing white women portrayed only in a very sexual light. If that way of thinking could be unknowingly taken on by me, someone who had only really been subjected to these differences for two years, then how does that affect the attitudes of Chinese people, specifically men towards white women? I’m going to guess that perhaps that subconscious relating of white women and sexuality is much stronger. You know what? I think that really sucks. Not just because now I get to walk around being treated like nothing but a one dimensional sexual being (by some people, not the majority, but enough to make me uncomfortable on a fairly regular basis), but also because these ads criminalize sexuality and sexual behavior. They label it as something “foreign,” “not for Chinese” and thereby take away the right of Chinese women to be overtly sexual if they chose to be without being unfairly labeled in the same way that I am. I believe that a person’s sexuality is theirs and theirs alone to decide when to turn it off and on and how they want to embody it or display it. They should get to do this without judgement and without preconceived notions about how sexual they are or aren’t, or how sexual they should be.

I suppose I live in a fantasy land because as of yet, I don’t know of a single country where this is reality.

Apartment Hunting

The last time I had to hunt for an apartment in China was in 2004 in the city of Kunming. That experience didn’t leave me with a good impression of the process. I remember walking into real estate offices and asking them what kind of fees they charged and having the answers vary wildly. There was no city wide standard and you had to bargain with them. The same went for rent and trying to get your landlord to cover utilities, as well as bargaining over how many months you had to pay in advance. Some landlords would try to make you pay a year’s rent up front, which was a problem because A. What student has that kind of cash laying around? and B. The real estate agencies wouldn’t step in if the landlord decided three months later that they wanted their place back and wouldn’t refund your rent. I knew a couple of people who had this happen to them. One guy had spent a ton of money to remodel/decorate a gutted apartment that he rented for cheap and once the landlord saw how nice it was, he kicked my friend out of the apartment so he could move in himself. Basically, the whole process completely lacked transparency and we all know that foreigners are highly unlikely to come out on top in a situation that requires bargaining.

Even though that was 10 years ago and occurred in a “backwards” city, I couldn’t help but drag my feet on starting the hunt, especially because my company was paying for 6 weeks in a serviced apartment. However, living in a hotel got old quickly and I decided to stop putting off the inevitable. My friends had all told me how terrible the apartments in Shanghai are, either they’re way over priced or really shitty. Many of them had spent a month or more before finding a place they liked. I called an agent that a friend of a friend had recommended. I was prepared for the worst after hearing the stories my other friends told of dealing with agents who tried to get them into apartments that cost twice their budget or agents who were simply stupid. I met up with the agent, who had prepared a list of four places to check out initially. They weren’t bad, but not great. One of them was on the first floor (i.e. noisy) and another one had a landlord that I knew would be trouble. After looking at these places, I went back to the agent’s office and he talked to me about their fees, which were exactly what I’d heard from other people and I was able to look at apartment listings right on his computer that showed how much rent the landlords were asking. It was far more straightforward this time around and I felt like I wasn’t getting ripped off because I’m a foreigner. We looked at a few more places and not being overly impressed with any of them, I asked him to call me if anything else came up and I headed to a different neighborhood to look around. I made the mistake of going to a small, privately owned agency (not a chain). The agent showed me several shit holes and was really pushy about trying to get me to agree on the spot to take one of them. I used the excuse that I was going to take pictures of the places to show my husband and see what he thought. I had no intention of renting anything from this guy. However, he proceeded to call me several times a day for the next few days until I finally answered and he proceeded to yell at me for not renting from him. I just said “嗯嗯,知道了,嗯,挂了啊” and then I hung up and didn’t answer his calls anymore. I didn’t care because the first agent managed to find me a great place later that evening! He found me an awesome little place in one of Shanghai’s traditional style homes, the 石库门. It’s within my budget, recently remodeled, only 200m to a subway stop with easy access to my office and the airport for business trips. There are also a ton of restaurants nearby, which is necessary because I don’t cook.

Finding an apartment was so much easier this time around. Of course, part of it was that I got lucky, but a large part of it is that things have changed so much. Well, actually it’s hard to compare Kunming and Shanghai. I haven’t been back to Kunming in a long time, so I’m not sure if the apartment hunting process has improved to this level yet. However, this experience made me realize that I need to be careful about letting my earlier experiences from over 10 years ago impact my opinions and attitudes now if I don’t have any current experience to back it up. China is funny in that some things change so fast, so much, but other things don’t and seem like they never will.

How to be a Winner at Chinese Ikea

One of the things on my “40 Before 40” list was going to an Ikea store in China. I’ve heard all about the madness that occurs, nongmin gong sleeping in the beds, nai nais showing up and chilling in a living room to chat all day, etc. It sounded really weird and like it would be one of those bizarre experiences that could only happen here. For comparison’s sake, I went to an Ikea in the US earlier this summer. I’d never been to one before, but I found the experience truly rage inducing. The way they have the store set up so you have to walk through EVERYTHING and then you have to find a way to remember what you wanted so that you can go on an expedition through the MASSIVE warehouse to find it. God help you if you forget where you parked. So the store itself isn’t my cup of tea, but what about the people in it? I didn’t see anyone sleeping in a display bed or people relaxing in living room displays as if they lived there. However, I did notice that literally no parent in the store even tried to control their kids. Anyone under the age of 15 was running around like they were in a giant play room, which I guess means they felt at home, which I guess means Ikea achieved their objective with their cozy little displays. I don’t know, but it pissed me off. My experience in American Ikea made me more scared than curious about going to Chinese Ikea. I thought that if a handful (relatively speaking) of Americans acting like assholes in a store could make it so painful to be there, then what happens when you take that handful and multiply it times 1000? That and the fact that it’s still really hot and humid here, so I figured an Ikea filled to the brim with smelly people would make it that much awesomer. I was scared to go. Because I don’t have a death wish, I knew I would not be going to Ikea on a weekend. I made a friend agree to go with me and I had wanted to go in the afternoon, thinking maybe it wouldn’t be so crowded with people at work, but my friend has a job. She was’t able to get off work and meet me at Ikea until 9pm. As it turns out, that, my friends is the secret. There were about 50 people in the entire store, most of them employees and the rest were mostly foreigners who clearly were in on the secret of how to avoid a shit show at Chinese Ikea. It was amazing. The walk ways were empty, we were able to rush right through the displays (pro tip- I’d looked online and already knew exactly what I wanted to buy) and went straight to the warehouse to get the things I needed. I am now the proud owner of a memory foam mattress top and life is good. I kind of feel like I cheated though. I’m sure I’ll have to go back eventually and karma will get me back.

On a completely unrelated subject…

I went sky diving last week. This is huge. You don’t understand how terrified I am of heights. Those ridiculous videos popping up lately of people climbing skyscrapers in Shanghai make me want to throw up. I don’t even like walking on bridges. I’d had it on my “40 Before 40” list, but not really in all seriousness. I kind of thought maybe I’d come up with something better and replace it, but things don’t always work out how we think.

This all came about when I suggested to my husband that we do something “exciting” for our anniversary.  I should have been more explicit because what I meant was a trip to Peru or a long weekend in New York City. Instead he booked us two tandem jumps in Colorado. I freaked out and then he did this coddling thing where he tells me “you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, I’m sorry…I wasn’t trying to make you do something you didn’t want to.” I hate being coddled or treated like a baby (I’m sure he knew what he was doing), so naturally I had to go through with it.

I put it out of my mind until we were actually suiting up at the dive center. I thought there’d be some formalities or a class or something, but no. This place was very chill and the only instructions we received were brief as we were getting dressed and waiting for the truck to bring us to the plane. I was sure I would screw it up and send myself and my jump master plummeting to our deaths. However, it turns out that he’s a lot more competent than that and we landed safely. It wasn’t even that horrifying except that I was the last one out of the plane and as he shoved me up to the door, the plane started to turn so we had to sit there for about a minute while the plane completed it’s turn and leveled out. During this time, I had the unnecessary chance to stare out the door at the ground for way too long while I waited for him to shove me out, which is exactly what he did. The free fall portion only lasted for about a minute and then he pulled the parachute. Free fall was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, but we were so far up that it didn’t seem like the ground was rushing at us. It was just surreal. After the parachute was out and the wind wasn’t so loud,  it was so peaceful and beautiful, just floating to the ground. I was actually kind of disappointed when it was over. I really hadn’t thought I would enjoy it as much as I did, much less want to do it again. My poor husband on the other hand, got really nauseous from the free fall and had a headache for the rest of the day. If I go again, I’ll have to find someone else to accompany me.

It did occur to me while we were drifting down that I would never go sky diving in China. Primarily for two reasons. The first is safety. I wouldn’t trust that safety would be the primary concern or that the jump masters would necessarily be well trained for any and all emergencies. Or that the pilot wouldn’t swing back around and hit us. The second reason is because of how tightly controlled their air space is by the military. The PLAAF might catch wind that a foreigner was sky diving and they’d think I was a spy trying to get into some facility. They’d probably send a fighter escort to make sure I landed somewhere safe, but they’d probably hit me too. Basically, I don’t see myself coming out of that experience alive. Besides, how much fun would sky diving be in all that smog anyway? I doubt that sky diving would be super popular in China.

My “China Thing”

Summer is over and I have my work visa in hand. I’ll be heading back to Shanghai next week and I’m actually pretty happy about it, primarily for three reasons.

1. I’m bored out of my mind

I live in a small town, far from everything in the US. It’s incredibly hot here and there are sandstorms almost every day, limiting the time one can spend outside. The last friend I had in this town moved away last week, leaving me with my cat and my husband, both of whom are sick of me. My husband is at work 14+ hrs a day anyway, so entertaining me is a huge burden on my poor kitty. I’ve kept myself busy reading, studying Chinese, working out, and listening to courses on iTunes university. I’m ready to go do something and feel useful again.

2. My back hurts!

I have a back injury and now a hamstring injury (thanks a lot, pole dancing instructor) that I haven’t been able to find any solution to other than traditional Chinese massage. I’ve tried physical therapy, chiropractors, western style oily gross rub-down massage (there aren’t any other options such as deep tissue in this crappy town), medicine and acupuncture. At best, those methods offer temporary relief, but most of them are really expensive. They just can’t compete with 60 RMB blind massage. I haven’t had one since I came home and I’m walking like one of those 400 yr old nai nais that spent her whole life carrying heavy buckets of water on a pole across her shoulders.

3. I feel like a weirdo in America.

You know when people ask you about what you’ve been doing in China and you try to explain and about 30 seconds into it, they get that glazed look in their eyes? Yeah, that’s basically every conversation I’ve had since I’ve come home. I blame my husband. He makes me go to parties and stuff (ugh, people) and he introduces me to people by saying “This is my wife, she just finished a master’s degree in Chinese!” I know he’s trying to help and he’s proud of me, but it just doesn’t go well. WHY CAN’T I JUST STAY HOME WITH THE CAT?!?! I simply try to avoid the topic now. People ask me what I do and I say something like “I’m in between jobs right now” and then ask them what they do. Everyone would rather talk about themselves anyway, right? The few people who try to seriously understand whatever it is that I do, can’t really make heads or tails of it because they don’t know anything about China other than what’s in the news and we all know that’s not exactly putting China in the best light. They can’t (won’t?) understand why I would go there, much less keep going back. I hear questions like “But isn’t the food really unsafe? What do you eat there?” or “How do you breath with all that smog?!” These are valid questions, but even though these issues aren’t the end of the world for me, it’s hard to make people understand why I keep going back. The other reaction I often get is even worse than the usual indifference/confusion – and that is when people think I’m just showing off. I get that mostly from people I went to high school with. Most of my former high school classmates are still at home (small town, population less than 10,000), have a bunch of kids, make minimum wage and/or are on meth. When you run into a person like that and they ask you what you’re doing with your life, it’s pretty damn hard not to sound like you’re bragging. However, I feel like they shouldn’t ask that question of the former Honor Society president and women’s cross country team captain (I know, I know, I was hot shit) and expect to get an answer that’s going to make them feel better about themselves.

At the end of the day, my “China thing” (as it’s often referred to) is none of anyone’s damn business and it really has nothing to do with anyone else, but I just hate never knowing how to deal with these conversations. I like the fact that I don’t have to have this conversation in China with other expats. There’s an unspoken understanding and you rarely get asked about it, much less judged for it. My Chinese friends and my expat friends have more context for understanding my life, which makes it easier for me. I don’t have to go into minute details to make myself understood and I can speak Chinglish. I guess I’m just lazy. No, that’s not all it is…I don’t like feeling like I don’t belong and in a lot of ways, I don’t belong in America anymore. Maybe it would be easier if I was staying here for a few years, but I’m not ready to find out.