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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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Perils Of China: This Expat Life    

By Garreth Humphris
3354 Views | 12 Comments | 5/30/2013 3:46:01 PM

I read a few months ago in some comments on a website about someone describing their expat lifestyle and the ’stages of understanding’ that people go through in the adjustment to another culture. I found it interesting because, of course, as someone who has lived in China for quite a while, I have experienced all of them too! And if you are seriously going to try to make a life with an overseas partner , you will probably experience them yourself or indirectly force your partner into them by virtue of relocation into a foreign clime!

These stages were fairly simply described, so I'll put some personal experience on the bones.

1) excitement
Wow, a new place has new challenges, new sights and sounds (and stinky doufu smells), new places to explore and customs to work out! Maybe it is language, food, people, work or culture...all virgin territory to a newcomer! And it is pretty good! There is a lot to absorb and to file, filter and collate about a new place! From the small wonders of the neighbours KTV singing to surprise at finding your favourite chocolate biscuits in a Chinese convenience store there are small mercies!

2) anger
Ah, culture shock! It starts with frustration at minor things...people spitting on your feet, people driving at you at high speed on pedestrian walkways, the inability to communicate a simple request to someone, the sudden desire to consume 'home food' in the middle of the country in the middle of the night...constant pointing and speaking about you, feeling like everyone is trying to cheat you! All these feelings rise up at different times and you have to carefully maintain decorum (or lock yourself in your home with the curtains drawn and familiar shows on the TV for the day) and not crack! Yes, I know I have a big belly but when someone tells you this for the 300th time in a morning, it is a huge effort to smile benignly and pretend that it is the most original comment in the world and that the person is infinitely observant! Oh, and to thank them when the cackle and suggest exercise.

3) acceptance
This is China! Can't change, won't change! Your impact is actually fairly insignificant...affecting the few spheres around you for the 5 minutes you are watching and after that everyone goes back to the same old way of doing it!
You have to decide if you will gripe, complain and moan about everything you find ridiculous, incongruent, absurd and unbelievable or whether you will just sheepishly shrug your shoulders and get on with life.

4) in-decision
What is best? Return home or stay another year? Strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats! All combine on a regular basis to test your mettle and willpower. Gaseous Pollution? Pigs in Rivers? Flying Flu? Plastic Milk? Glowing Pork? Chemical bodies? ... How much is too much? When will the love affair end?
These are the dilemmas that creep into the dreams - my Chinese friends travel to my home country and cannot believe why you stay in theirs! They want to move too!
Wife, family, kids, education, health, old-age, Visas and taxes...

Of course, I think these stages equally apply to any changes in our life, be that relocation to another country or city, changes in relationship or some other situations where we potentially give-up some security to start something new and unknown.

What stage am I in now? China, not much I can do about it! Must be stage 3! Will be back to Stage 1 soon!

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2013-05-30 22:28:15 by scarli @scarli

if you understand Chinese, maybe you can read the articles about Overseas Chinese life. they are all puzzled why they stay abroad ,are dilemmas for return ....the same as you ...many challeges, many need to learn 、to adjust themself....yes,when someone goes to a new country, he must adapt himself to new condition.

so ,if you want to remove or relocate,,,ok. look youself just as a new baby.....

#2013-05-31 00:07:25 by panda2009 @panda2009

Expat life often turns into a test of survival skills. The so-called "Expat" is just that you move from your tired of place to others tired of.

#2013-05-31 23:57:34 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

I think all of us who have been her a while can agree that there is definitely something to this notion of stages. I might put indecision before acceptance. And also I think "diarhea" should be a separate stage. But it's also the case, as you site in your own situation, that the process is not linear but one we keep cycling through. Heck, I've had all those sensations in one day, though I am definitely at indecision right now. Or am I? In any case, when you get back to stage 1, let me know how you did it? And if she has a sister, give me her number.

#2013-06-01 09:07:00 by quicksilverrider @quicksilverrider

@ Garreth Humphris hey garreth you're right a lot of us think along your same lines a lot of people want you to think otherwise but you got it right btw are those theo glasses you wear thats also why you're smart? thxs for the subject material you have to be guarded or it could all have a wrong ending always be thinking you don't know these people professing their love for you or the motives even if your heart says one thing you are not the other brain

#2013-06-01 10:53:16 by papaya1972 @papaya1972

Guess most will arrive at the 3rd stage after a few years relocated to a new place/a new country.

The reality nowhere is perfect just the same as no one is perfect.

But we all have read about or have learnt from own life experience that with places and people, though we know so many defects about them we still love them.

#2013-06-01 15:33:20 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@woaizhongguo, Maybe you have the true answer here! Commitment to a culture through a 'love' connection!

I think that you can always return to wonderment if you take a 'different' perspective...that being X is not better or worse, just different! I believe that the roller coaster ride is healthy but we need to remember that it is moving from stage to stage and not getting quagmired in just one!

Im pretty sure that there are enough things to learn anywhere if you are willing to do that! Suspend our status quo and just unlearn and relearn!

#2013-06-01 15:34:38 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@papaya1972 - I agree with you 100% that for anyone moving to any country the same phases will occur, and frankly I think it takes longer in China than in most countries for Expats to get to stage 2. And as you say after several years everyone will reach Stage 3.

@Garreth - I personally think I was excited for at least 3 to 4 years, and then angry for about the next 2 or 3 years on certain occasions, like every time another driver tried to run me over in a crosswalk when I had the walk light. This anger wasn't with me all the time, as I said, but just when certain events occurred (Chinese banking comes to mind :-). But nonetheless it was wearing on my soul and certainly made it hard to keep loving China.

I hit stage 3 after about year 6 or so, and that was a weight off my shoulders. Once I understood that in this country I am just the proverbial speck of dust it became much easier to lose the anger and get back most of the love, although now it became more like the love of a dear friend than the passionate love of beautiful woman.

The indecision comes then, for me, not because I don't love China, but because I have come to realize I'll never really belong to China. I don't think China will ever allow me to completely belong, but will always hold me at arms length. That may change for foreigners someday, but not likely in my lifetime.

Just the same, if it isn't exactly home, it's a great place to visit for a decade or two.

#2013-06-01 15:42:30 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@quicksilverrider
I wear glasses because I am blind! Not smart!
The closest anyone has got to calling me smart is smart-arse!


I think the 'stages' apply to most things....maybe slightly different names or slightly different outcomes but similar feelings. The key is which one we choose to dwell on the most and how that affects others around us!

#2013-06-02 15:37:05 by mary0624 @mary0624

"This is China! Can't change, won't change! "
No, it is not true. As a Chinese, I am sure China is changing clearly. To be more patient, enjoy what you like here, accept what you dislike but cannot change if you still want to stay in China. Thinking about why you stay here, then you will feel it easier for you.

#2013-06-03 21:18:34 by sandy339 @sandy339

You are at stage 3 and will be back to Stage 1 soon? it seems you should be in next stage, but I can sense you give your commitment to our culture through a 'love' connection! so congradulations Garreth,so happy for you!

"The key is which one we choose to dwell on the most and how that affects others around us! " good point!


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