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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 - Grumpy Expat Syndrome    

By Garreth Humphris
4246 Views | 18 Comments | 3/21/2014 2:11:18 PM

The weather in Suzhou was unnaturally warm today and because of the rain yesterday, the sky was actually a greyish blue rather than it's typical yellow haze! My morning coffee was the first on my balcony for the year, luxuriating in the warmth. It quickly takes me back to my most recent 'trip', just a few weeks ago - out of China and into Northern Thailand...



I am sitting in the shaded garden of Wat Chedi Luang Woawihan in ChiangMai, Northern Thailand. A little change from my usual surrounds in SuZhou, JiangSu, China.



As I am sitting here quietly I glance up every now and then to the small signs hanging on the trees reminding us of mindfulness, prosperity in heartfelt expression and awareness in peace.



A gong sounding through the trees signals the start of prayer session and a group of young monks makes their way from the living quarters to the main temple, dressed in their bright orange robes. Their quiet speaking to each other seems to bring a cool breeze through the garden.



In this environment it is easy to push the noise of the aircraft flying overhead and the snarl of the motorcycles on the road outside to another part of your mind. A tourist kneels to take a photograph, the iPhone prayer position - holding the phone at arms length to capture a selfie with the senior meditating monks in the backdrop - no doubt a cool picture to post on Facebook - he looks tall, lanky and German, a wild tossle of beach blondes hair and size 13 army surplus boots - he bound off over a low hedge toward another Kodak moment in front of a temple - a second of a action captured to trophy to his friends but of course, these buildings and traditions are just remnants of an ancient kingdom of Lanna.



In the history of Asia, modern-day borders are often removed from the history of the people living in the area. Migration, kingdoms, city states, natural disasters, wars and conquests have all shaped the environment and the people.



Lanna King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning "new city") in 1296 on top of an older city of the Lawa people called Wiang Nopburi. It was called 'new city' because Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna kingdom.



The city was surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall, because it often battled with Burma as well as the armies of the Mongol Empire (after they took over parts of Yunnan, China) and Thai Lü kingdom of Chiang Hung in 1293.



With the decline of the Lanna Kingdom, the city lost importance and was occupied by the Burmese in 1556.



Chiang Mai became part of Siam in 1775 by an agreement with Chao (City ruler) Kavila, after the Thai King Taksin helped drive out the Burmese. Because of the Burmese counterattacks, Chiang Mai was abandoned between 1776 and 1791 and Lampang then served as the capital of what remained of Lanna. The monuments and temples date back into these times.



Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (called "wat" in Thai). The most famous is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. You climb a hill, Doi Suthep, to get there. It was built around 1383.



In the city, Wat Chiang Man, dates from the 13th century. King Mengrai lived here during the construction of the city. This temple has two important Buddha figures, the marble Phra Sila and the crystal Phra Satang Man.



Other wats (Wat Phra Singh (1345) and Wat Chedi Luang 1401) in the city show Lanna architecture, arts and culture and unusual Wat Umong is a forest and cave wat  that has a statue of Buddha after his fasting to reach enlightenment.



Christianity came a little later -  "First Church" was founded in 1868 by missionaries from Laos. And Muslim traders have been travelling to north Thailand for many centuries. The city has mosques identified with Chin Haw Muslims (Chinese) and of Bengali, Pathan and Malay descent. There are Two gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) and a Hindu temple. As you can see, the influence of many others in this northern region of Thailand has been great over the millennias, and I doubt this rather rude selfie by the leaping tourist means little to the lives the temple walls have witnessed!



Back to the Buddhist Temple ... Another gong, and a twinkling bell.  I am breathing in the air and breathing the light morning air. Around me, a monk comes to bless a new car - he gently taps the interior and exterior with a soft straw broom, sprinkles water on the bonnet, toots the horn and recites some prayers. The vehicle and it's occupants are blessed and protected from danger.



A group of school children walk to the Temple school, blue and white uniforms pristinely pressed and a slow laconic swaying walk of South East Asia evident. They carry a few books and walk with a smile...



The morning prayers of the monks in the temple rise and fall in the background, the birds in the garden meet the challenge. The beauty of the buildings with their layered red roofs and olden inlaid carvings make a shining display in the morning sunlight.



I can't help but compare the situation to my recent location - don't get me wrong! I am not bring critical of China or the Chinese...just that a change of environment is also a change of perspective, both internal and external!



One thing you notice is the politeness of the people in Thailand, even in the bigger cities - they acknowledge your existence.  People riding motorbikes smile at you as they pass, people in shops welcome you, people ask, say please and thank you and like to talk with you. They anticipate your needs - bringing utensils with food, condiments and napkins with them! Small things, probably more in line with my culture and upbringing that I appreciate when I have spent a few years without these pleasantries.



In general, I have found Chinese people tend to be much more direct in dealing with you, to the point of ignoring you! You have nothing to offer me so I don't care if you are there or not! In China you have to be yelling, screaming and complaining to get service - the noise level is too loud - you have to shout to be heard! In Chinese family relationships people seldom say please and thank you to each other - I am trying to teach my friends' teenage daughter to be polite in English and she just doesn't understand why you bother with these niceties! Horse for courses - cultural differences and traditions are essential flavours in the human species...if everybody looked, behaved and acted the same there would be little need to travel and explore!



Almost on cue, my reflective scene is broken by a group of Chinese tourists stomping through the garden... They are laughing loudly, smoking and spitting like many Chinese on holiday (and at home) do - I am not being critical of this but am always amazed at how tourists can be so disrespectful of other cultures manners and decorum. I guess I am guilty of the same thing, but I at least try to observe and adapt a little!



Gone immediately from the garden is the gentle breeze, the tweeting of the birds and the peacefulness in my heart! 



One guy comes toward me, shouting to his friends in Chinese... 'Look at this guy, so fat!' He stands in front of me a few feet away, staring, with his hands on his hips and his mouth open.

I ask him in my best putonghua... 'Older Brother, which area of China do you come from?'



He is aghast, 'You speak Chinese?', he asks.



'A little', I reply, 'I live in China!'



After screaming to his party of his amazing find, and they all mill around chattering about how fat I am and how unhealthy it is... he eventually answers my question as he tosses his cigarette butt onto the ground and let's out a hacking cough and associated phlegm bundle - I won't tell you the city because I don't want to start WWIII!



I felt somewhat aggrieved by this confrontation in the temple garden. It is 'naturally' Chinese and I go through the same situation many times in a day in China, but it is somewhat out of place here! I realise that it might be that I have been in a China for too long in one stretch, that my pent-up anxiety managed to be released when I was in this situation - I could have ignored him and he would have eventually wandered off back to his group. I look up again and notice a sign - I hadn't seen it before but it's clarity and insightfulness seems to make me think some divine force had entered the garden and made me take notice...'Clean, Clear, Calm are the attributes of a noble person'... A lesson to take with me to China!



Suddenly, I feel a slight pain in my heart - In the early evening, I will board a plane of Chinese people (I chose to fly the budget airline company reserved for tour-groups and cheapskates like me!) and return to a cold, wet and probably smoggy city. I will not feel the warmth of the sun, smell the clean air or luxuriate in the internet freedom or be warmed by the smiles of the Thai people for a while. I will be back to the brashness and directness of Chinese, the expressionless 'on the bus faces' and the indifference except to make a cuttingly truthful comment, but, I have to remind myself, that I chose to live there - once more back into the fray!



So, given SuZhou's strangely warm weather this week, maybe the happy monk blessing cars bought some good luck to me! Maybe a small drop of holy water made it's way to me and will bless my future travels. Hopeful thinking, anyway!


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(Showing 1 to 10 of 18) 1 2 More...
#2014-03-21 14:19:31 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

China, no matter where you reside in it, and no matter how much you love it, can wear you down and make you want to run away and hide from it on occasion. Any expat who's been here a while will tell you, a trip to Thailand once in a while can save your soul. Gareth does a great job of revealing some of the reasons why here.

#2014-03-22 10:36:15 by Barry1 @Barry1

@aussieghump

Thanks for the entertaining insights into aspects of your trip to ChiangMai, Gareth.

It reminded me of an associate of mine who holidayed in Phuket for two or three weeks and upon his return, said "I'd like to retire there!"

And of course our good friend @twilightsmith has chosen to live in the region as well. So obviously Thailand must possess a natural charm and character that many find appealing - and no, I'd not referring to the apparent abundance of ladyboys there as hilariously described by @paulfox1

On the downside, news reports recently have shown considerable dissent in Bangkok where demonstrators have for months been trying to topple Ms. Yingluck. But that's a whole other story. Let's not contaminate your lovely reminiscences with disturbing politics such as this.

Interestingly, in the early 1990s Wat Chedi Luang was reconstructed, financed primarily by Japan. However the result was somewhat controversial, as some claimed the new elements resembled Central Thai style, not traditional Lanna style.

For the 600th anniversary of the chedi in 1995, a copy of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade was placed there. This was in deference to the fact that the original buddha that'd been installed had collapsed due to an earthquake in 1551. The place certainly is steeped in very long and colourful history!

You said,

"I have found Chinese people tend to be much more direct in dealing with you, to the point of ignoring you..... you have to be yelling, screaming and complaining to get service - the noise level is too loud.... a group of Chinese tourists stomping through the garden..... I am....always amazed at how tourists can be so disrespectful of other cultures manners and decorum"

Well spoken, Gareth. It in fact makes me a little guilty about my past travelling through different areas. I'll certainly be more mindful in the future of the customs and traditions in whatever place I'm in. I have a bad habit for example, of taking video camera shots of everything around me, regardless of whether there's a "No cameras permitted!" sign there or not! Yet if I don't take these shots, in a few weeks all the clear memories will be gone of the place? So what to do here - obey the signs or sneak in a few camera shots (without using any form of bright camera flash, that over time may lead to UV damage)?

On my last China trip, I remember I was approaching the entry to a temple in Suzhou somewhere, holding up my video camera when to my fright an elderly Chinese lady at the entrance started screaming and gesticulating wildly to me to put away my camera. I did so, but then simply walked around the interior of the place with the camera held low and pointing sideways, whilst it was still running. I managed to still get some good shots of an enormous gold plated Buddha.

The point of my story though is this loud, aggressive Chinese lady reminded me very much of the "yelling and screaming" you ruefully mentioned that so often occurs in China. As a foreigner, why couldn't this lady - an ambassador for her country, after all - have simply approached me and politely motioned to me to please put away my video camera?

You also said,

"One guy comes toward me, shouting to his friends in Chinese... 'Look at this guy, so fat!' He stands in front of me a few feet away, staring, with his hands on his hips and his mouth open.... After screaming to his party of his amazing find, and they all mill around chattering about how fat I am and how unhealthy it is"

I can hardly believe the rudeness of this, Gareth. How can people be so blatantly unkind? Surely a tour group of Westerners wouldn't have made you suffer through this gratuitous indignity as did these Chinese? If so, does this mean that Chinese culture - as magnificent in many respects that it is - is on average, nevertheless more uncouth than that of the West? Especially when you mentioned the lack of "niceties" within many Chinese family groups.

"I felt somewhat aggrieved by this confrontation in the temple garden. It is 'naturally' Chinese and I go through the same situation many times in a day in China"

If this is the case, Gareth - I feel very disappointed. How can people be so downright rude? Have they ever heard of the "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" message?

In conclusion, it's very interesting to learn that based on your experience, Thai people are on average, more polite and deferential than Chinese. Speaking generally, as of course, there'll always be some rude Thai as well as some exceedingly polite Chinese.

It seems that indeed, I need to take a trip to Thailand to check this out for myself. Thanks Gareth. :)

#2014-03-23 15:16:42 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@Barry1

Rudeness is in the eye of the beholder - as this article is about!

Certainly Chinese people tend to be direct - bruisingly so. Often they seem to 'state the obvious' and are always making suggestions on how to improve things...but you have to ask, do they actually do it to be 'rude'... This implies that they know it is impolite and just keep doing it, not bothering the impact they may have!

One thing I have noticed is that Chinese people tend to chastise rather than complement their children...and invariable focus on the 'negative' rather than improvement in behaviour or attitude. Case in point - a few years ago, I coached my friends' son in English for an upcoming exam... He was mid-level at best, averaging around 70% in the class for the year. Over 4 weeks I helped him on techniques to help him stop making silly errors, taught him some ways to remember words and phrases better, went over the exam topics with him and gave him confidence and enthusiasm...when his score came back at 98% both he and I were really happy at his improvement but, his parents both told him the were deeply disappointed he didn't get 100% and the teacher accused him of cheating!

Many Chinese people might blame 'lack of education' or 'people coming from that place do that (hence the reference about the city and WWIII)' but a significant part of the population seems to think and act this way!

Maybe it isn't rude, (and sometimes I feel that it is), but the way I cope with it daily is to ignore it most times! I just identify it as being 'Chineseness' and shouldn't be offended by someone just commenting about what they see, or are wishing me better luck at a long and happy life. The reason why it was so irksome this time because my guard was down a little!

As you point out - 'maybe they are just doing what was done to them'...food for thought as we assess our situation in a foreign locale!

#2014-03-24 16:09:57 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

@aussieghump
@Barry1

I too have been the subject of a 'Hey, look at this fat guy' kind of comment in China. Believe me, the LAST thing that a Chinese person expects is that a WESTERNER can understand what they say!

Generally speaking, Chinese people are far too polite and by that I mean it is extremely doubtful that they would make such a comment if they KNEW that it could be understood and are therefore not likely to say it to another Chinese

Gareth did not elaborate too much but I would guess that the person who made that comment felt like a complete idiot and was totally embarrassed when he discovered that Gareth understood him

In my case, I simply looked at the guy and said (in Chinese) "Who are you calling fat?...... you prick!"
OK, so not as polite as Gareth, but the guy was totally shocked and sloped off with his tail between his legs - serves him right !

Strange really, that whenever we begin to learn a new language or whenever we holiday in a foreign country, its always the swear-words that we want to learn first - lol

#2014-03-24 22:28:51 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

@aussieghump

You are correct. The Chinese 'way' seems to be that no matter how 'good' you are, you can always be 'better'

I always joke that if a Chinese man became the president of the USA then his parents and peers would always ask 'Where now? - How can you make yourself better?" - NO matter how 'good' you are, it seems that it is not 'good enough' in the eyes of their parents

Case in point is the 98% score - good enough for most, but instead of praising that student, they chastise for not reaching 100%

I remember when I was a kid at school - if I got a 'bad report' then my father would scream and shout that I was not giving enough effort

Now, (especially in the UK and USA), it seems that if a child gets a 'bad report' from school then the parents blame the teacher (or teaching skills) rather than blame the child

It's all wrong (in my opinion) - kids should be praised for being successful and should be ENCOURAGED to do better - not simply chastised for not doing well-enough in the eyes of their parents and as such made to feel like some kind of 'failure'

Sadly, this seems to be the 'Chinese Way' and being 'good' is not always seen as being good ENOUGH!

#2014-03-24 23:10:48 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@paulfox1

Interesting you get to the point of my story - is being rude, aggressive or offensive (using serious language in Chinese) actually 'teaching' the perpetrator about their 'initial rudeness' or does it in fact enforce a stereotype that 'foreigners are loud, aggressive and abusive when all I did was say hello and a common greeting'!

Another China-expat 'lifer' I know likes to refer to it as an 'Arthur Calwell moment'...

#2014-03-24 23:47:43 by Chicano @Chicano

A little long but nice read, xie xie.

Do tell me name of cheap air travel.
I'll be returning to my beloved China in April/2014 for yet another long stay.

From Texas, USA
Victor A, an ancient submariner, DBF (Diesel Boats Forever)

#2014-03-25 11:57:39 by Barry1 @Barry1

@aussieghump
@paulfox1

"One guy comes toward me, shouting to his friends in Chinese... 'Look at this guy, so fat"

"I too have been the subject of a 'Hey, look at this fat guy' kind of comment"

Thanks for your interesting comments, Gareth and Paul.

I was born lucky, in that both my parents were slim, so I've managed to stay this way. Body size is just a matter of luck half the time, depending on one's genetic makeup. Had my parents been plump, no doubt I'd be like this now as well.

In any case, a story here a few months ago created some interest. Australia's federal Treasurer, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, last year had stomach lap band surgery. Mr Hockey hailed it as a success, saying it's easier now for him to stay at a good weight than ever before.

I believe that one of Australia's richest men - James Packer - also has had this surgery performed on himself.

So for all those good folks out there interested in what appears to be an easy way to lose weight, feel free to check out the following websites. If it's good enough for celebrities such as Joe Hockey and James Packer, both of whom no doubt would've investigated the procedure closely, then it seems to be an effective technique.

http://www.medicinenet.com/lap_band_surgery_gastric_banding/article.htm

http://www.webmd.com/diet/weight-loss-surgery/lap-band-surgery

#2014-03-25 17:09:31 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@Chicano

Spring Airlines out of Shanghai have cheap flights throughout Asia. They are 'ok' service, semi-comfortable seating (but they don't recline) but you must remember to take some drink or snacks on board.

Many Chinese take a 'thermos' that the staff will fill with water - you can order meals from them but they are the microwave variety and pricey

#2014-03-25 17:33:41 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@Barry1
Glad to see someone by their own admission has never been overweight thinks drastic and dangerously invasive operations are an 'easy way to lose weight'!

But, you've got to ask would you contemplate brain surgery to become more intelligent? Or open-heart surgery to find love?

Wow, some celebrity (Come Barry, which planet are you from that says Joe Hockey is celebrity?) says it is the best thing since sliced bread....well, we all must get some of that then!!!

Remember, the Packer family have people who will give their left kidney to help them...maybe he just got a 6-pack stomach transplant from his personal trainer!

I understand you are trying to be helpful, but this type of stuff really shouldn't be considered lightly or seen to be an instant panacea!

Going into surgery is quite dangerous and playing with the gastrointestinal system is fraught with complications... it is not an easy or 'quick' way to lose weight - if you research Lap-band surgery you will see that it requires dramatic changes in lifestyle and diet for a lifetime...and somewhere around 8% of them require removal and more surgery due to infection, slippage and absorption into the stomach wall.

If it is good enough for celebrities...you just have to buy it!

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