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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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TIC - This is China    

By Garreth Humphris
2217 Views | 5 Comments | 12/21/2011 1:08:15 AM

Wish it were true!

I am sitting in a very cramped airplane seat on my way back to the Middle Kingdom wondering what i was really going back to - i had spent a few days in Singapore with a group of friends who are of “Chinese Origin” but not Chinese in nature - to be fair, they are younger and have many opportunities to travel, they have educational experiences that most people would kill for (living and studying in international universities) and I found myself constantly upholding the case for China and Chinese People in our discussions. One even accused me of being “wu mao” (this is a popular idea on the Chinese internet that there are netizens who try to sway public opinion toward the government by posting “good reports” on blogs and discussion boards - each “good posting” is said to attract a 5 cent (Wu mao) “public harmony” reward - so people can become rich posting nice things about government, officials and policies).

In general they lamented the poor public image that China and Chinese seemed to present to the world - of fast pace but lack of care and quality (Wenzhou rail incident), the lack of public decorum when travelling (littering, spitting, speaking loudly in public places), a poor image of humanity and regard for other people (YueYue incident), lack of respect for laws and public safety (offloading planes while in transit, rushing doorways and pushing in queues) and an insatiable desire and inane “smugness” to accumulate luxury items to show off to their friends amongst other things.

Also high in their agenda was being ’linked’ to that group by ethnic origin, but not feeling the same about it since they were Singaporean/Australian, Singaporean and Hong-Kongese.

For each one of these criticisms, I was able to give similarly disturbing examples from other countries that they could relate to - equally as overwhelming for it’s lack of humanity or care or morals. But in each of these situations they put it down to some “crazy” person who did the crime, an individual, but the events in China were viewed as “socially reflective” in that it was somehow an indication of “Chinese Character flaws” rather than a few “individual” disgruntled/uncaring/crazy people doing bad things.

This is an interesting concept, because I think it links in closely with the origins of the differences between some of the relationship issues we might have as ’foreigners’ in China.

What I mean is, these young people, by their experiences living in Singapore and Hong Kong and subsequent excursions had fundamentally changed against their origins - and I wondered why? And if the current generation of mainland Chinese (the Post 90’s generation) were doing similar things?

In general, we (Westerners) look upon ourselves as “individuals” in the ideas of my house, my car, my family. It is quite small and contained - my responsibility is to myself, my wife and children and beyond that, I help out where I can... my parents need assistance, of course I am there!; my brother wants a new car, hey, that is his problem!

Of course, this will vary a little in families, but you can match the concept fairly closely to most foreigners.

And why is that? I think because we are able to - of course every country is slightly different and there are always exception, but in general, most Westerners have not “needed” to share food, housing or work-load to survive for a few generations. Our human capital is measured against bank loans and salaries, our education has been broad enough to allow us jobs or to study further at any time in our life, our systems of health care allow a basic support of life, our laws offer some protection to all, and we believe will be administered fairly and impartially - these are all basic elements of Westerners lives that we take for granted.

But I'm not sure general Chinese people are yet at a point to have this reassurance. What we often forget, as we live in the mega-cities of the Chinese Eastern Seaboard is that these are really only a 15-year aberration on the social map of China. And you don't have to go back too far in many people’s memory (if they will actually talk about it) in China to know a different picture.

I remember one time I was joking and complaining with friends about the Chinese habit of “rushing” doorways - that is, any elevator, bus or train doorway is immediately attacked by people trying to get in - before people had alighted the vessel (too much time in Singapore - using “alight” to say “get off”-la) ...logic is, you let the people out first and you can get more people in! Simple stuff - but now the ’Chinese characteristic’.

One Chinese friend who was with us said “when I was at school, if you were polite and waited in line, you missed out on milk!”.

For me, this was quite profound - when I was at school nobody every missed out on milk - there was always enough for every student to have their share! What she was saying was essentially Chinese are taught from an early age that you have to struggle/fight to get what you want, and you can't be worrying about other people too much.

Later the same friend told me whenever she got milk or an apple at school she would hide it and take it home so her brother could have it, she didn't even drink it or eat it.

I am fairly certain that many mainland Chinese over 30 years of age can recite similar stories - and unfortunately, many Chinese people still have these harsh daily decisions to make.

Traditionally wealth has meant power - but more importantly, it has meant things like being able to get medical assistance for sickly children, so money is a security that was life-changing. Similarly, when things were available, you made sure you got your fair share, your “iron rice bowl” worth, to continue feeding family and this is why belonging to families, giving resources to family members and not being able to “hold out” on family requests is so poignant and pointed.

I often tell my students that they are in the top 10% of Chinese in the country - because they are able to study at a college or university, have choice in the jobs they take, have the opportunity to travel away from their hometown in pursuit of career and a better life. Many don't believe me - “I only earn XXX rmb per month, how can I be that rich?”.

But they are...by virtue of being young, educated and not wondering about where their next meal is coming from - lest their next iPhone or Benz.

So I guess I am for taking a more sympathetic view of the “gold-digger” put downs ,the “greedy Chinese” argument and the “uncaring community” diatribe - yes, these people/situations do exist to a small extent in China. But for the most part, the community and the culture just wants it’s children to do better than itself - like every community everywhere in the world.

Hope when I land the immigration goes smoothly, my bag is neatly going around the carousel and I can “alight the building” without being body-searched or inadvertently being spat upon (as grandma clears her throat on the ground) in the ’greeting melee’ around the exit door - otherwise I might have a less-balanced viewpoint!

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(Showing 1 to 5 of 5) 1
#2011-12-21 08:56:54 by anonymous3027 @anonymous3027

On the topic of negative aspects of China, I am surprised you didn't mention the overwhelming pollution problem...which is off-the-chart in most major cities with the "particulate matter" reducing lifespans by 5-6 years and causing the deaths of 700,000 people annually.

#2011-12-21 23:50:02 by Bluefoxcoffee @Bluefoxcoffee

Wow...the other side of China...negative, but truth...
I guess that we lost our traditional culture for a long time (since 50s last century). Without the traditional cultures, beliefs or religions, that means no soul, we just empty bodies. Watch out...dead man walking...:)

#2011-12-22 09:24:46 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Yes, anonymous...we did talk about many things, pollution included.
It is true that many cities in China have this 'problem' but it is also not one that gives a place a 'bad wrap' internationally (except the recent Beijing vs US Consulate 'particle readings' stouch).
It was not my aim to be negative about China too much- the examples that came to mind were ones that most mainlanders also acknowledge as 'issues' in their community.
But yes, point taken, pollution in many areas of China is extremely bad for the inhabitants and will get urgent action soon (based on the 'public outcry' of Beijing's recent weeks) as officials readjust their positions and policies.

#2011-12-23 01:35:48 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Gareth, I'm not sure if it's just the different part of the country I spent most of my years in (the Guangdong area), but most of the Expats I met used the letters WTC (Welcome to China) to express the identical feeling you've used TIC to convey, but in the end it was the same combination of a sort of cynical, overwhelmed, mentally exhausted but mostly good humoured sneer that was being expressed when the phrase was used. My sense is that you're using TIC with the same vague combination of emotions or thoughts.

Along those same lines the Chinese netizens are adopting a sort of catch-all phrase to cover roughly the same sort of exasperation with the endless occurrences of weird things that can happen here that seem almost unbelievable they are so ludicrous, such as dozens of children being killed when their "school bus" (an open truck with seats for 7 students in the back but with over 60 students crammed in standing room only style) rolls over, and then the same thing happening again 2 weeks later. The phrase being wearily tossed around by the netizens, translated by my wife and webguy, is "Anything can happen in China". Sometimes for clarity, the usually implied part is added to complete the thought: "It couldn't possibly happen anywhere, but it can happen in China".

I'm hearing it more and more.

But frankly, I'm hearing similar sighs of exasperation on the internet just as frequently from American netizens and European netizens who are finding their own situations to be increasingly perverse and unfathomable. WTC (TIC), WTA (TIA) or WTE (TIE) - it's everywhere and it's wearing us all down these days.

#2011-12-23 09:13:10 by aussieghump @aussieghump

The original expression is from white settlers in Africa (TIA) from about 50 years ago...again, used to describe the exasperating moments of an interesting and enjoyable place! I was not trying to 'belittle' China in any way by the article - just to express some of the combined apprehension and awe that I feel every time I re-enter the country. That dichotomy of feelings is always there for me, I can't 'love' the place wholeheartedly without shedding a silent tear every now and then! But interestingly, I do end up defending China more than berating it. This may be part if the process of 'adopting' the place you live...getting your feelings aligned to it's rthymns, ebbs and flows.

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