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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: 'In China...!'    

By Garreth Humphris
5771 Views | 20 Comments | 6/26/2014 3:37:35 PM

Grumpy Thai Girl - Khun

I have just passed a milestone in my life - I realised last week that I have lived one third of my life in China! Quite a shock really! To think that I have spent that amount of time in one place - and that place is so different from my home!


It is also a little disappointing too - having spent such a long time in one place and one community and not assimilated very best I have a rudimentary grasp of language - I find that I understand a lot of what is said to me (in context) but I don't have much insight to add to the conversation. 


To be fair, it is quite difficult to speak to Chinese as an outsider - there is a sort of snobbishness in Chinese speaking that is related to culture, history and experience - a ’Chinese ideal’ that is difficult to crack! I don't mean this in a rude way - it is just that many Chinese people do not have much of a world-view and they do not easily entertain that there might be alternatives in the world that are different to their own. There is only black and white, very little grey!


Yes, I know there are reasons for this - wayward or challenging thinking was dangerous a few years ago (and still is in many situations) and there are many taboo subjects! There are truths that cannot be questioned, situations that cannot be changed, opinions that cannot be fought and ’face’ that cannot be lost. Any deeper assessment of Chineseness is met with hostility as if it is a criticism rather than an exploration and there is a reverting to ’This is China, so that is how it is!' circumstance rather than Western logic and reasoning!


In general, Chinese people don't make it too easy to understand them. Sure, they are friendly and happy for you to speak a few words of their language...but the deeper mysteries of the culture and traditions are almost unexplainable. Like learning the characters - it is a matter of memorising forms and functions, rules and regulations and applying them to life rather than understanding the intention or logic of the task. There just ’is’ and there is no comfort or change attributable to ’why’!


Of course, the real situation is that I am reverting to a ’tradition’ that I know and rely on - that is, my education, family situation and experience has taught be that ’logic and reason’ is the appropriate response to crisis and confrontation and that blind faith is not. I am culturally-programmed to allow for some leeway in situation - to be happy with ’gray’.


Culture is more ingrained than understanding - when the chips are down, culture and 'relying on the known' in thought, word and deed is more likely to occur, no matter how assimilated you may be on the surface.
In the protection of self-interest, we are more likely to refer to 'effective actions' in the past. These are usually culturally-based. Of course, experience comes into play - but tradition/cultural norms is the biggest indicators of behaviours and actions.


So living somewhere for a long time is no pre-requisite to becoming localised! Especially if the culture is significantly different to yours...I have lived a quarter of my life in China! And I am still very much Australian in my thinking! 


To be able to accommodate 'Chinese thinking' in a stressful situation it must be an active choice on my behalf! In fact it is a hyper-active choice that goes against all my logic and gut-feeling. I have to fight my curious nature and try to restrict my thinking to a 'it can only be this way’ scenario. It is a lesson in ’thinking inside the box’ rather than being expansive and encompassing and extending. There is no ’possibility’, just what ’can and cannot be done’. The gap between family, society, acceptable behaviour and oblivion is small and seemingly inflexible - and if you want to live in China or with a Chinese person, you have to understand this fact! But more than understand it, you have to embrace it in your thinking!


The precursor to the lesson is the phrase ’In China, ...'. If you hear this you are being told one of the ’restrictions to comply to’. And in fact, it is a warning that you have actually crossed the line and there is no compromise! You cannot negotiate back from this point! It is ’the truth’ of the situation and no amount of negotiation or diplomacy will budge it! The person is no longer open to discussion or compromise - the stone is set in concrete. You will be met with either a stony wall of silence and a sullen scowl, or a mass walkout that will take a few hours to clear and an understanding that this topic will never be spoken about again!


So this is really the dilemma that many foreigners face in China - the conflict between expansive possibility and traditional conformity. It is very difficult area to cover because your partner and their family will be viewing the situation from a completely different viewpoint than yours! You cannot even see the barriers that they do - it is all smoke and mirrors!

It is also the dilemma Chinese people face when leaving the country - a world of possibility is daunting and difficult - with no anchor point of culture or tradition, your boat is drifting in a vast ocean! It is difficult to embrace for it’s expansive possibility when the strongest impulse is to huddle in the bilge with your possessions clutched tightly to your chest!


Now, some people might view this as an indictment on cross-cultural dating, but it is not intended in that way...what I am trying to do is highlight a major difference in outlook of individuals within their society and the types of thinking that might be needed to gain consensus, even if it is only for a few minutes!


So for people contemplating coming to China to live and marry, the message is clear... “It’s China way...or the highway!”

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2014-06-27 01:03:39 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

Another great column, I recall the first time I heard the phrase "In China." It was in the context of a discussioon of one of our Socrates Cafe and the topic was responsiblity. Someone said, the difference between China and America is that if someone falls in a store in America it is the store's fault but IN CHINA, if someone falls in the store, it is the person's fault. As you said, no discussion, no explanation, no dialogue. This is simply the way things are in China. Although I only have four years' experience I long ago lost count of the time I have haeard that phrase, and as you say, there is a point at which one must realize logic and reason simply do not apply

#2014-06-27 01:14:22 by panda2009 @panda2009


















#2014-06-27 06:31:37 by anonymous10671 @anonymous10671

Great article and fairly spot on! I have found that most Chinese people I have met in my own country are this way, fortunately that China way or the highway does not work here

Most of the Chinese women I have chatted with here have same thought process, once you let them know there is another way to look at things they open up quite quickly to western way of doing things or should I more accurately say "a blended way of doing things". This alone is a huge step in cultural understanding and the ability to open one mind and adapt.

I personally feel this is a big step for Chinese women to get out from under the stifling situation they face, to open their wings and soar!!

Keep up the good writing, I have learned so much from you brother!

#2014-06-27 16:12:50 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@anonymous10671, while agree with you that some people might want to ´get out from under the stifling situation they face´, we have to be careful that this is in fact the case - to you it is ´stifling´ and to them it is ´normal´.

Same situation, subjective viewpoint based on culture and experience. You know the alternatives so therefore the situation to you is intolerable - but when the other options seem so far away from the reality, they are hard for someone to reach for, much less attain.

I think that ´on the surface´people are happy to entertain the ideas - especially if ´on the surface' has some benefits that both cultures believe (money, less work, beautiful clothes and travel, good food). But deeper down, where the relationship is formed and evolved, I am not so sure that both partners do not revert back to their own cultural standards and expectations without conscious adjustment of thought.

#2014-06-28 00:01:06 by panda2009 @panda2009

Thanks for your explain of the phrase IN CHINA. I did misunderstand the key word of this blog. So" The precursor to the lesson is the phrase ’In China, ...'." should be translated in Chinese:"本课的先行词是惯用语‘中国国情‘...’’I got it.

#2014-06-28 00:18:31 by panda2009 @panda2009

"fortunately that China way or the highway does not work here"
Your words "China way or highway" here helps me understand the meaning in this blog, “It’s China way...or the highway!” should be translated in Chinese:"这就是中国方式...或者说是主流!"

#2014-06-28 08:44:02 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Thanks Panda, for the late night translation!

#2014-06-28 18:20:45 by weiming @weiming

A good article, I spent some time to read, although I can't totally agree with your point of view, but it's very apropos, similarly this applies to all people, not only Chinese.

#2014-06-29 15:05:53 by panda2009 @panda2009

Your many articles are summative studies, so many ladies feel hard to understand. I tried to translate your this blog, the job ever more challenging and difficult.

"smoke and mirrors", I found the best Chinese phrases of four-character after I attached my translation which is:"雾里看花".

#2014-06-29 19:14:37 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Yes Panda, it is true that the style of writing is cryptic because of the content and the viewpoint I am taking! In these types of articles, I tend to write from a 'visiting foreigner' viewpoint (using that language, logic and prose) rather than a good communicative style that is easy to translate!
Sorry for this, but it is challenging practise for you to convert the exact meaning of the phrases into Chinese prose and idiom! Woaizhongguo does a pretty good correction! Just remember it needs to be a literal translation of phrases and meanings rather than an exact word-for-word one! Good luck

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