Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Seven Signs That You May Be A China Noob

With every year since China's reform and opening started in 1978 more and more foreign visitors have made the trip to experience the mysteries of the middle kingdom. Unfortunately, some new and inexperienced travellers seem to be in a mighty hurry to make total idiots of themselves. Fortunately for the FOARP, his days as a China newbie are buried back in the prehistory of The Time Before Blogs, but others are putting themselves at risk of severe future embarrassment should their noobish blog posts ever come to light. Here's the seven top symptoms of this Sinological syndrome so that you can be forewarned and forearmed:

1) Insisting on using 汉字 ("Chinese words") in every 句话 ("sentence") in a lame effort to show what a 中国通 ("China hand") you are.

Verdict:

You might as well just tattoo "傻屄" on your head.

2) Ever getting at all involved in what the term 'laowai' means.

Verdict:

If you argue either that the term is purely racist under all circumstances or that it is a sign of respect then you, my friend, are a laowiseass. The first can be countered by simply pointing out that plenty of wives married to white boys refer to their spouses as laowai, the second by even a second's worth of thinking - is "meiguolao" a respectful term for Americans?

3) Writing articles whose main premise is that China is not Wyomissing Hills, Pennsylvania.

Verdict:

Congratulations on being able to read a map. When people either lay into or overly praise China based solely on criteria which have nothing to do with conditions there you have to think that such articles have much more to do with where the writer came from than about where they are.

4) Writing commentary which basically boils down to "OMG! Chinese girls are so hot/girly/feminine/easy/whatever"

Verdict:

Our expat sisters are happily immune to this one, but unfortunately their much more numerous expat brethren are not. Once again, this seems to be much more about where the writer is coming from than about China.

5) Referring wisely to the concept of Guanxi.

Verdict:

Write "'Guanxi' = connections" ten times and get lost. This kind of commentary is strictly for noobs, everyone else knows that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

6) Making general statements about the Chinese people and culture.

Verdict:

There are very few generally true statements starting with the words "All foreigners are . . . ", and only marginally more which begin with the words "All Chinese people are . . . .". This doesn't stop people making them, but it should stop you from repeating either the excessively condemnatory language you hear in some quarters or the excessively laudatory language you hear in others. Here's a tip: before you write such a thing (e.g. "Chinese people are very conservative/modest/arrogant etc.") just stop and ask yourself whether a 20 minute walk through the average Chinese neighbourhood wouldn't turn up something directly contradicting that statement.

7) Compiling lists of things you like/don't like

Verdict:

Ooops!

6 comments:

kapooka baby said...

Ha! Great post, hilarious, and I hope I haven't made too many transgressions.

The only one I slightly disagree with is with 6. I've always sort of believed you can make generalisations - I mean aren't most opinions about anything generalisations?

And I think in context of China, you can actually makes statements like "All foreigners ..." or at least "The vast majority of foreigners ..." because here, we are made to be such a distinctly different group to the locals.

Of course one should be careful when making these generalisations, that you've thought it through, and put it in gentle terms, prefaced it with "in my experience..." or "as far as I can tell...".

And I think it's OK for China noobs to be documenting their initial experiences - even if they turn out to be incorrect or unsophisticated. That's the greatest thing about blogs - they're an ongoing journey of discovery/ learning, with which you take your readers - and in which more experienced peeps (such as yourselves) can help enlighten said noobs via. the comments section :)

justrecently said...

I think we had sex but in truth I can't remember.
That's bitter.

Angela said...

Hey, thanks for the comment and correction; I had actually realized my error with the Republic of China chronology after the fact and was too lazy to go back and correct. (So much for maintaining my own credibility...).

How did you come across my site, out of curiosity? (In case you didn't make the connection I'm the ting bu dong diaries author. I used to use blogspot but as I'm sure you know it's blocked in China. Curiosity got the best of me and I broke down to and used a real spotty proxy server to check out your site.)

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I think I've violated a few of these, sometimes several in one go, "所有的中国人don't trust us laowai, unlike back home Mississauga, where we love all foreigners."
But I'm reluctant to give up harping upon 'guanxi'. After about a year and a half I'm still coming to grips to the depths that guanxi penetrate the business culture. 'Connections' doesn't encompass all that is involved. If a rolodex = guanxi, a lot of us would be in guanxi heaven, but probably not having as much fun as doing what it takes to really develop guanxi.

FOARP said...

"所有的中国人don't trust us laowai, unlike back home Mississauga, where we love all foreigners."

Not true. All Chinese people welcome foreigners with the traditional cry of "HELLO 老外" (which translates as "hello often out"). Chinese society is bound together through the power of something they call Guanxi (pronounced go-an-see), which is totally different to the way people help out old acquaintances in Greenville, North Carolina. All of this was explained to me by my girlfriend Shi Ti Ling, who I met within ten minutes of getting off the plane.

Wukailong said...

You get extra points in this game if you

1) Pronounce "guanxi" as "guānxì," stressing the second syllable
2) Refer to yourself as "We in the Western world" or "us Westerners"
3) Constantly compare the great differences in Chinese and Western culture. Top players also describe why it's impossible to ever understand the Chinese.