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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Identity Crisis in the 'Real' China    

By Garreth Humphris
2667 Views | 3 Comments | 6/12/2011 12:28:16 AM

Source ChinaSmack - ChengDu Zoo 'escaped tiger' training exercise June 2011

I've been reading Bren's blogs recently about identity and inclusion/exclusion to 'groups' based on origin, self-critique and social status and I realize that I too am recently experiencing an identity-crisis of sorts!!!

I don't mean that it in the proportions that Bren describes - because each person's experience is uniquely theirs... but for me, a significant enough change to cause a few ripples on my pond!

I have recently sold my business, a bar. Now many would say this is a good thing since I can get more sleep, be more sociable outside of the bar, have more time to learn Chinese, focus on other business, take a holiday, stop worrying about staff, etc, etc, etc...

But at the moment, I'm a little bit lost!!! You see, I liked being a bar owner - even just for 'bragging rights'...if I told people in this town what I did, I'd say "I own a bar on Shi Quan Jie' and that sort of meant something.

What did it mean? Well, I was either 'really cool' or 'really bad'!!! This street has had a reputation for many years as the 'Bar Street' of Suzhou where only bad people and foreigners would hang out!!! So owning a bar in this (apparent) pit of depravity made you an instant shocking standout! Sure other foreigners operate businesses on this street, so I am not unique in this regard by any means, but for guaranteed 'thought provoking' in my other 'jobs', such as a packed English Language classroom of bored Engineers and flirty housewives, this information had people polarized!

Wow, a bar! he's a playboy, a gangster, a 'bad dude'.

Of course, I'm not this...I spent most of my time sipping green tea, chatting to business people and travelers as they had a quiet beer, or sat outside my bar finding out about life from the beggar-children, the street vendors and the lonely working girls in the street - but the 'status' the establishment gave you with unknowing individuals was impressive. You become like some mysterious Satyr, counting money as the souls go to the fiery pit. You are a wolf, a devil, almost 'Alpha Male' status!

In my student's minds it was a great juxtaposition - mild-mannered school teacher by day, hedonistic purveyor of smut by night! It just reinforced the stereotype many traditional Chinese have of foreigners, but it was even more extreme - I plied these people with the alcohol that made them the fiery demons and lecherous louts that all foreigners are in China (at first glance, anyway).

For many Chinese, foreigners are the epitome of El Bosco's triptych or Dante's Inferno. A hopeless horde of wanton invaders! "Here for a good time, not a long time" is the battle cry!

Anyway, all this thinking of loss and consequence made me put a couple of ideas together - namely the attraction to foreigners by Chinese women?

There must be some acceptance of this foreign-devil 'picture', since it is still quite ingrained within traditional business, community and family life. In fact, unless a Chinese person specifically works with, or provides business to, a foreigner, then contact between the people is minimal.

So, I assume that there must be some idea that a woman, by pursuing a foreign partner, is strong enough/compelled enough to sooth the raging beast within him.

For a traditional woman to display a potential partner in her hometown, to her friends, her community, her peers and indeed, her detractors; and open herself and family to derision and ridicule is indeed a very large step! To be standing against tradition, the force of the family opinion, a potentially lower 'social status' upon failure is indeed a high price to pay for advertised unrequited love.

A few cynical friends (sic) of mine would point to the 'financial gain' of such a union - and while this may be a factor (or more to the point, life stability in Chinese terms, rather than pure monetary gain), there is still so much more to lose as a traditional woman.

As a foreigner, do not take this step too lightly - if you are invited to her 'family', you are not going to look at where she comes from, going to a wedding of her school friend, saying hello to her auntie and sipping tea with her cousin! You are being judged, but even more so, so is she!

Sometimes too, the backlash can be too much to bear for the lady and she will not be able to carry through with her plan - this is usually severing of the relationship quite quickly and coldly...

If you are traveling to China to meet in a lady's hometown and relying on her to assist you, have a 'backup plan' in which you can recover. If she does get 'cold-feet' at the meeting or decides upon first impressions that she cannot 'fight for you' with her family then you might be left stranded.

So this is the key point - if you are coming to China to specifically meet a lady, you need to be aware of the social implications for this lady - her potential loss of identity and status. I would even broach the idea of your first meeting even being in a nearby town rather than her hometown so you can assess each other without the harsh light of family being upon her - but allow it to be planned because the hasty departure of a lady from her town in an 'uncharacteristic fashion' also raises eyebrows and suspicions.

As an example, I have been to smaller cities where the local police chief has known of my arrival within 5 minutes of getting off the bus, via the gossip grapevine - so, as a stranger, you cannot easily 'slip-in' and 'slip out' of a city unnoticed.

Now, getting back to my personal dilemma. As with everything in China, the 'playboy' status is only fleeting. Upon telling a hushed audience of my raconteuring ways, the mystic would immediately be broken by some person in the room asking 'If I come to your bar, would you give me a discount?'

The idea of saving money can overcome the fear of the cloven-footed horde - Welcome to the real China!!!

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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(Showing 1 to 3 of 3) 1
#2011-06-12 19:38:49 by thedragonb1 @thedragonb1

WHAT?!!! You sold my bar?!!! DAMN, I was looking so forward to coming to Sozhou! Aiyaaaaah, what am I going to do for my future, now? I'm so poor! So sad!!! Now I'm stuck to moving to Guangzhou again for retirement! THANKS A LOT, Garreth!!!! :)

Hmm, but some frown upon such a business owner huh? I don't think I would want to be considered a criminally minded foreigner in China. So... maybe it's for the best! Cheers to moving out and going forward in life. Now you can tell them you are a respective business man and a teacher!

#2011-06-15 05:25:51 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

Like Bren I am a little bummed about your selling the bar. But I wish you well in your new endeavors. But you offer a cautionary tale about one of the possible pitfalls in coming over to meet a Chinese woman. As such this column goes along with David's recent blog about difficutly in communication with Chinese women. I think they combine to provide those on this website with a realistic picture of what they are going to encounter. One of the great things about this site is you get the unvarnished truth.

#2011-06-16 06:58:26 by thedragonb1 @thedragonb1

Daaag, I really wanted to visit the bar too!!! I had Suzhou in my plans too.. You just couldn't wait until October to sell, could 'ya?!!

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