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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 - The Next Big Thing    

By Garreth Humphris
2979 Views | 7 Comments | 9/19/2013 5:09:24 PM

One of the most difficult things about China is just when you think you have had enough of it's obnoxiousness and inconsistencies, it somehow sucks you back in with it's sheer potential - the next big idea.

Every year, I seem to battle with my conscience and better judgement about whether to pick up all my shattered parts of business and just 'go home'. Most people in the world who do business would argue that it is not easy, but if you couple the incongruent facts that your customers mostly don't speak the same language as you and have a totally different business culture as you, then many people would argue that doing a small business in China as a foreigner is a pretty dumb exercise - and I would agree with them but...There is one thing about China that is pretty hard to beat and that is the extreme optimism of the people - everyone is actively doing every possible activity to propel themselves forward, to make a better life for themselves and their families. Everyone! And that is pretty exciting! And invigorating!

However this 'rush to modernisation' also has some pretty negative points about it as well - not least the eroding of traditional 'norms' and the establishing of new methods and acceptable practises.

One criticism levelled today (and there seems to be enough evidence to fit) is the society in general is not overly altruistic to individuals and it might appear that many people's motives are mainly self-interest. Whether this is a new idea, or whether we are just finding out more about it in the Internet age, it is hard to quantify. I doubt if it is new, because traditionally Chinese have dealt first and foremost with family, then friends then friends of friends. It just seems that the extremes are more and more extended!

Happily though, I am also finding a more refreshing viewpoint coming forward in the younger people that is more co-operative and fairness-driven. And that is reassuring because in context, self-preservation would seem to be the best strategy for most young people - At the moment in China, there is an increasing level of under-employment of younger people. Some 7 million of them have just entered the workforce from leaving university and the race is on for them to secure jobs and careers as quickly as they can so they can reach the first prerequisite of dating - a house!

This is a huge call, most starting salaries are around 3500-6000RMB per month and a modest house in any of the big cities is at least 1Million RMB and rising!

The house is important because it is linked to the citizen status of the inhabitants - the schooling opportunities for children, access to city services and other local benefits hinge on the person being resident in the city and owning property. As well as the 'net worth' of the person in the eyes of a potential spouse (or, to be very direct about it, usually the parents of the spouse!). And like a raging torrent of salmon swimming up river to spawn, so to are the young males of China swimming up-river against each other to get to the housing grounds.

And competition is insanely intense - my friend was bemoaning the fact that she had to purchase a house for her 5-year-old son so that he would own property when he was ready to marry! Geez, tough call! He hasn't even started school but he has a mortgage!

And what of the new residents in China - The question for me is, as a foreign male living in China, how long can I trade on my 'potential' before I have to 'become Chinese' in my thinking and purchase the trappings of Chinese desire - those being the 8C's of matrimony...cash, creditcard, condominium, car, certificate, career, connections and finally, to keep the grandparents happy, child!

It was so much easier last generation... watch, bicycle and sewing machine was enough to keep the potential in-laws off your back!

And herein lies the rub! I can be somewhat insular from the rigours of Chinese daily existence by not needing to explore the areas of basic household configurations, family politics or saving lots of money for a rainy (or sick) day! My background and my laissez-fare attitude can keep me quickly skating over the surface - but marriage and commitment firmly drops one into the realities of a Chinese life in China!

I will become more Chinese - I will be rooted to a country, a city, a system, a tradition, a family, a diaspora...one that I cannot easily extract myself from without extreme pain either to myself, my partner or my partner's family.

My identity will be smothered by the realities of Chinese life, but I will never be Chinese - I will look, smell and think differently from my family and neighbours! But i will live amongst them in a sort of pseudo-Chinatown world - I will be able to enjoy jiaozi with chopsticks but will never inherently understand 5000 years of Chinese cultural heritage. I will begrudgingly understand that it is my obligation in marrying the daughter to provide food and lodgings to her parents but will never understand why the eldest son can be a complete clown but still control the family assets and mindset. I won't be able to understand why walking 5 km to save the 3RMB bus fee makes economic or rational sense or how Chinese people cannot seem to equate time with money - I will accept that it is a 'universal truth' of living in China but can I really become Chinese-thinking?

As a young man growing up, I used to be able to belt out songs from a famous album by Meatloaf - and as he so famously sings - "I would do anything for love...but I won't do that!". With that sentiment in mind, I wonder what my new anthem for the future may be!

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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(Showing 1 to 7 of 7) 1
#2013-09-19 22:53:32 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

One of the "traditional norms" that seems to be ending is the obligation that children feel towards their parents. There was just an article in the Washington Post about how old people in the villages are being abandoned by their children. This is the one moral advantage i thought China could claim and now that seems to be gradually slipping away. I am not sure if all the optimism of the younger generation is enough to compensate for this.

#2013-09-21 13:25:00 by aussieghump @aussieghump

I read the article too...it was interesting in that they went to a fairly impoverished area of China and found this - there is ´complaints´from the old people but no real indication of the rest of the family situation and whether the children are the demons they were made out to be!

Interesting the article gives some background suggesting that this ´breakdown´is not necessarily new in China - that earlier policies from 30-40 years ago started the withdrawal of the ´family power circle´ in favour of ´cult of the father figure´... I suggest that this ideology has weakened in China a lot recently (nobody likes father much) and is probably swinging back to the more family-centred form (look after family, look after self).
Certainly my personal experience is that most Chinese I know have very strong links to family and filial piety is a very high importance. Young and old!

#2013-09-21 20:05:59 by melcyan @melcyan

What percentage of Chinese understand 5000 years of Chinese history? What percentage of young people understand the last 100 years of Chinese history? My experience is limited but for the young people I have met the world started with the computer.

#2013-09-23 21:58:06 by anonymous7403 @anonymous7403

Is justified ! Agree !

#2013-09-24 23:20:11 by 99moonriver @99moonriver

You have made a great writhing, I totally understand why you feel oppressive about those contradiction which comes from ideal life and reality in China, and I agree with u on most of your views.

I just comment about a little detail which u might have already known.:)

In fact, it was NOT so easy last generation... Yes, you r right, watch, bicycle and sewing machine was enough to keep the potential in-laws off your back, but 40 years ago, watch or bike were really luxuries in China! One bicycle might cost a man one or two year's income at that time, and even if a man had already saved enough money, it still could be very difficult for him buying a watch, because at that time, everything were controlled by goverment, even if cloth, shoes, food, Chinese common people needed to get a cloth ticket, or shoes ticket at first, n then they could have the right to buy those daily materials. So, if a young man had a bike and watch in China 40 years ago, yes, he was really a rich man, and no doubt he could become the most popular guy in "marriage market" at that time.:))))))))))))

Hard to believe, right? But that was what it was.

My point is that whatever young people nowadays or last generation, or even hundreds years ago, in China, marriage stuff always is one of the heaviest pressure for most of Chinese people. It seems have been changing a little bit now, but the social system and the culture value wouldn't be so easy to be changed. I think, it has been being a big machine working on in its own way for thousands of years, how could it be changed in a few hundreds of years?

As foreign males living in China, I guess that might be a easier way balancing their ideal dreams and reality life, stopping fighting with this big machine, or hopping it could change.:)) ----------- Usually, most of the Chinese people deal with their contradiction in this way ----------Low down expection, and then get used to it.:))

Good wishes for u and your family.:))

#2013-10-01 20:29:43 by RobertB @RobertB

Gareth, How good. maybe it will be in order if I say I that I originally come from Poland and so much about China reminds me of that country.
In fact, you gave a funny example, as when I was working for what used to be then IBM, later Lenovo (see--China is everywhere) in Scotland I used to walk to work, thinking that for one i am saving some cash, for two I am having some exercise.
5000 years of history or as Michael Cremo would put it, very long history as we have only 5000 years recorded.. is one thing.
Yet maybe because the Chinese had such a violent history in way.
Think about it.
Everybody lived their lives the way they were used to for long time.
Then Qin or was it Qing state within maybe 50 years invades and subjugates everyone.
Emperor destroys all walls and weapons, unifies writing and starts building one wall. Extreme rigor reigns supreme.
Then he dies and two so called peasants just because of rain, start revolt that overthrows regime that probably makes European regimes or even American (yes, I want to pull your leg) look like kindergarten run by spinster.
The whole dynasty is overthrown and then new one starts with clean slate. Literally as apparently nearly all previous laws are repudiated.
You know, one of them meant that if you were 5 minutes late, you had to be beheaded, just to make other people aware that they have to be on time or time will be behind them.
You know... Then fast forward and XIX century really awful for the Chinese and of'course XX century with all the turmoil of wars and revolutions.
So, what I could make out of that?
We can always survive no matter what and that makes it fun.
Things to be good not necessarily have to make sense.
Also, if you look at theme of a kung fu movie I watched once -- someone shows a needle and then says, that it was made from large iron bar, achieved through constant polishing by hand of'course. Or, alternatively, you play a Western computer game and then your stats improve by 2% and you are happy, although you have to reach at least 300k points while now you have 5000.
I hope that then, buying a house that now costs only mere 1 mln RMB, which is really little in comparison to say 12 mln RMB,
At the same time someone tells you, let us have babies, lots of babies, like 8 or 10, then.. you know you live life on Earth.
Also, being rich is really about status that is largely imaginary.
I mean, there are lots of poor people who have cars and computers.
There are quite well to do people who have none of that.
I mean a rich man in some areas of Earth if has a cow is very rich.
I do not know how these things will be solved. At the end, when you get it solved this way or another is time to die.
I am laughing now as this is ridiculous sometimes and is not limited to China. China is special because of her population, focus and so on.
Also, the matter of loyalty and brutal betrayal just because it is the most logical thing to do.
Let us say someone is together with someone else.
Then, they may choose to be together even if it gets really hard, also because it is easier when people support each other.
On the other hand, when is the best moment to abandon the sinking ship?
When you can make the most of it, so save your possessions, life and possibly some extras. Like even looking good.
Yet, that does not mean someone might now feel abandoned.
There are many people who go through great hardships just because they think they have to, in order to progress in society.
Even if they have virtually no chance.
I mean, maybe you want to become President of China. You have to defeat 1.4 bln contestants. In US you only have to defeat 260 mln or so.
Granted, you mostly do not compete with more than 99% of population.
Like when you are applying for any job you know that due to age, geography and nature of the job most people are not your threat.
Yet those who are, even if there is just one, maybe enough to snatch it away from you.. Then all your dreams to date are done. That is the meaning of yuanfen. Powerful concept when you know, that there is only one Bill Gates. And no matter what, Bruce Lee will be remembered as the one. Even if scores of other stars.. You get my point?
I am in this situation as I have survived many strange situations and at the same time I feel that I have no chance, despite having great chances to do what I want to do. So, I have to use my mind and spirit to imagine and to accept that reality is such that I can do all and still be happy.
That I am allowed to do it and I can do it.
For most part we deny ourselves most of good stuff just because we have double edged weapons called imagination, intelligence, choice and and thinking that what we think is true and right and we have to follow that.
Imagination is dangerous and it can be in three states:
positive, negative or neutral. Negative is necessary to be able to think, but one has to be careful not to draw it into reality.
Positive is dangerous as may overestimate the reality and cause us to act inappropriately to the current situation. Neutral is ok, just does not change anything.
We get entangled in our own thoughts.
In reality there are people out there, that have tremendous successes in particular moments .. The trick is to connect those dots.. So, they will start making sense.
Actually I am writing for myself, I am trying to put my mind in order.
Later I need to continue..my life.. I am alive just I need to make it more smooth and more to the point, where I feel comfortable.
Now I know I need to go to China but I do not know where and what next.
I always like reading the "perils" of China as this is the most important thing. What can be bad? So, be ready for it. If you can , if not, who cares.
Although I would rather care and not accept it into my reality.
Let us accept good things and not bad things. Just inside us. And smile.

#2013-10-14 08:51:50 by Barry1 @Barry1

Hello Garreth.

You mentioned,

"As a young man growing up, I used to be able to belt out songs from a famous album by Meatloaf - and as he so famously sings - "I would do anything for love...but I won't do that!". With that sentiment in mind, I wonder what my new anthem for the future may be!"


With the purest of intentions, may I meekly suggest your next anthem may be the acclaimed 1993 Bon Jovi song, "Bed of Nails":

"I wanna lay you down in a bed of roses
For tonight I'll sleep on a bed of nails...."

So is living in China akin to sleeping on a beautiful bed of scented flowers?

Or is it more akin to sleeping on a chaffing carpet of needles or pins?

I'll leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide this for yourself.

Blessings to all.


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