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How China has changed me

Popularity 18Viewed 5219 times 2014-4-24 17:16 |System category:Life| China, change, life

Noone has bathed in the same river a second time since ancient Greece (everything was allowed back then) and it’s not only water bodies that are in a constant change in our times. We are changing sometimes without being aware of it, sometimes deliberately in order to keep up with the current. Depending on many variables, China can be a top contributor your change like it is to many others around me. It certainly has had a huge role in mine, and therefore I decided to share my personal observations about how my time here has affected me.

This does create a tragedy in the sense of our “mission” to represent people from our countries or –even worse- all foreigners in general, but well, we all respond to external stimuli and change in one way or another. Here are the clues I caught about myself.

1. The way I dress (no, still NO Hello Kitty or over-sized accessories)

Anming’s blog post made me think about this actually, I noticed that I started dressing a lot more colourful in China. In the comments section she was criticized for dictating her sense of fashion on Chinese people, to which I think she replied very well. There is a difference between “fashion sense” and an adult woman wearing a tiara in an irrelevant setting. (No, I’m not that woman)

My social scientist-take on this is that… in Asian societies it is “normal and acceptable” for women to be childish, whereas in Western societies (and many non-Western ones) it would be interpreted as stupidity and irresponsibility. In my opinion it roots from a deep-set gender inequality where men assume the “adult” role whereas women need to be taken care of/be tolerated in their pink fluffy childish worlds.

What I noticed in myself is something different, is something men and women embrace alike in East Asia: Colours. In Korea I saw middle-aged men wearing silvery-shiny shoes for example. In China I see aunties in orange skirts, red high heels, florescent pink nail polish and light green jackets and yes, sometimes all together in one outfit. In my country especially elderly people avoid wearing bright colours, as if they take some of the dignity age has brought to them. And young people avoid these colours, or wearing all of them at the same time in order not to look like 'attention whores'. The thing is here noone pays attention to the colours you wear or judges you because of it, which is GREAT.

In short, I learnt how to wear bright or contrasting colours and still look like an adult.
In my country, if you're over the age 10 you can't wear something like this and still expect to be respected by other adult members of the society. You need to choose between this skirt or people taking you seriously.


2. I talk to strangers

Apathy is the mortal epidemic or our age, because we are just paranoiacs. Scared of things, places and people we don’t know, we choose to shut ourselves to the outer world in an attempt to be safe. I never replied to strangers trying to talk to me on the street or at restaurants, and did my best not to start a conversation with them (unless really necessary). But in China sometimes people walk up to you and ask where you’re from, what you do, if you speak Chinese or if you like the city. There is curiosity rather than bad intentions.


3. I smile to myself, and to strangers!

Sometimes people (especially little children) don’t have the courage to talk to you, so they just look. I smile back. Very often I notice a smile stuck to my face when I leave home, which never happened back home or any Western country I lived in. I smile and laugh a lot when with people, but I would never randomly flash a smile to a stranger upon eye contact, especially to someone of the opposite sex. I don’t know if it’s normal in China or if people assume all foreigners must be friendly and smile-y to everyone around them, but people usually smile back and men don’t seem to take it as an invitation.


4. I sometimes sing/hum to myself!

I find it quite interesting that I never had such a relaxed confidence in my home country. But here I see Chinese people singing to themselves very often, and noone thinks they’re crazy. I got used to it, and started doing the same rather unconsciously.

5. I notice people with big or “high” noses

I never had the concept that someone’s nose could be “high”. People with big or long noses are made fun of in my country, and they feel embarrassed, ugly and… all the names they are called because of their noses. I hadn’t noticed how Asians noses differed either, I just didn’t pay special attention to people’s noses. As long as they had a nose, how it looked didn’t bother me. Some Asians I saw had very wide noses, but I only noticed it because of having played Sims (and there were some set “Asian” faces with high cheek bones, high eye brows and wide nose) But recently upon seeing a “foreigner” I immediately start thinking how popular or cool he or she must be because of the height of their nose. Or if the tip is pointy. Or if they have a long nose.


6. Self consciousness has turned into confidence

I know black folks experience this more extremely, but I get watched a lot too. It’s sometimes because people are trying to decide if I’m a foreigner or not. It feels like as if I’m a well-known criminal, and that people are trying to catch me red handed. (Sounds like I’m a psychopat, I know!) And sometimes people are over-conscious about my existence as a foreigner, sometimes just the opposite. For example, when waiting in lines, very often people just by pass me and start queueing in front of me instead of behind, there are times I simply get ignored when I ask questions as well, even though I don’t have a distinctive accent. (My proof: People think I’m a child on the phone and ask my age instead of asking if I’m a foreigner. Once a Taobao seller told me “Your Chinese isn’t that well, right” and I felt offended, since I don’t know how to reject her politely in any language in a situation so ridiculous. Anyways!)


And at the bank, where I have been to many times in my 2.5 years here, I know what questions they ask when I want to change money. OK I don’t change money that often, but within this week I changed money 3 times. The 4th time, there was someone I hadn’t seen before, and asked me questions I didn’t expect. My reaction was not because I’m a foreigner or have low Chinese skills, but because I was asked unexpected questions such as “You just want to change this one note?” like 20 seconds after I gave him the money as if making fun of me for being so poor. Or “Do you want to get cash?” even though I had told him I want RMB. Also, instead of asking me where I am from he studied my passport and residence permits for a considerable amount of time, until I noticed it and guessed he must be looking for a clue about the Chinese name of my country and told him. He wasn’t acting natural because of his being “over-aware” of a foreigner customer.

 

I thought if it was last year, these experiences would leave me frustrated. But now I just sigh (when people jump the queue because I’m a foreigner) or stare in a puzzled way when asked if I want to receive cash. I noticed I am more confident with my Chinese skills and have stronger resilience!


What changes have YOU noticed in yourself after having been to China?

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (36 comments)

Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-4-24 20:00
I find London more expensive when I visit than I did when I was living there!
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-24 20:21
ColinSpeakman: I find London more expensive when I visit than I did when I was living there!
I can totally understand what you mean! I was in London for 4 months. But London IS an expensive place indeed!!!
Reply Report KIyer 2014-4-25 09:29
so true, No.4 on your list. humming and singing to oneself was a normal way of living growing up. My mother did this often. So long as one does not disturb others this is really good. But western people seem to find it weird, even if one is one's own soundproof cubicle or room.  
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-25 10:21
My changes have almost been the same with you, minus talking to people, I feel recently I have become more introverted, Like, I have my friends now, that will do. Probably not a good way to go through life, but it must just be a reaction to the new environment or something
Reply Report laoren1234 2014-4-25 10:34
Talk to strangers - I do that more often now, but sometimes I wonder if it is due to old age.
Smile to strangers - Same as above, especially to little kids.
Letting people cut in front of you while queuing up - I have learned to shorten my sense of personal space. To compensate I carry mints with me just in case I have to line up somewhere. This way if I breath down someone's neck he would at least get a blast of minty air.
Reply Report jiewei798 2014-4-25 21:18
I agree with your assessment that the reason women act/dress childish is because of the deep-set gender inequality. Working at an university, I meet a lot of women getting their masters who do not want to get a PhD because no man will want them for being so "adult."
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-25 22:23
jiewei798: I agree with your assessment that the reason women act/dress childish is because of the deep-set gender inequality. Working at an university, I meet a ...
Thanks!

I mentioned the same thing about women doing/not doing Phds here: http://blog.chinadaily.com.cn/blog-1348685-15564.html At first I had found it weird, but I know I don't even feel surprised when I hear it.
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-25 22:26
laoren1234: Talk to strangers - I do that more often now, but sometimes I wonder if it is due to old age.
Smile to strangers - Same as above, especially to little ...
Talking to strangers, maybe because of loneliness. People feel lonelier as they age because the society pushes people aside after using our energy, and ignores that elder people have time and experience to be more productive. People cut from their "natural" setting may feel the same loneliness as well, since they are "outsider"s even though they can enrich and contribute to the lives of "insiders"...
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-25 22:28
seanboyce88: My changes have almost been the same with you, minus talking to people, I feel recently I have become more introverted, Like, I have my friends now, t ...
I feel like it comes and goes. I went through a period of being more introverted and shy as well, and can't know if it's going to come back again :) Maybe yours can go away as you get used to your life here and make more friends.
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-25 22:30
KIyer: so true, No.4 on your list. humming and singing to oneself was a normal way of living growing up. My mother did this often. So long as one does not di ...
It's so interesting that such a relaxed, happy thing (singing and humming) which harms nobody is seen as madness or a problem! I used to feel the same way but here I sometimes even slowed my pace to listen to people who sing well  
Reply Report claudeckenni 2014-4-25 23:58
China changed me. In a good way and in a bad way. In a bad way, for example, when I first came to China, whenever Im going to ride a bus, I will let women, kids, and elders to enter before me. Now, after 2 years in China, HELL NO. I hate the fact that Chinese NEVER queue. In all those years, I learned to push like Chinese and be the first to enter the bus, hahaha.
Reply Report juliuy 2014-4-26 01:48
In China I became less aggressive and less protective in some ways. In general I feel more secure when communicating with Chinese people than with people from other countries. I learned how to be less sad for no reason, and more joyous about the life even if there is nothing objectively allowing you to be joyous. The same as you learned to talk with strangers or start a conversation with virtually anybody in a street, if I need or wish. Walk into a street full of cars knowing that they will slow down or stop.
Reply Report juliuy 2014-4-26 01:51
claudeckenni: China changed me. In a good way and in a bad way. In a bad way, for example, when I first came to China, whenever Im going to ride a bus, I will let w ...
I still let other people to enter before me to a crowded bus. And recently I noticed that in many places, especially in Nanjing, Chinese do queue a lot. I didn't start pushing Chinese, and I don't see many cases where they would do that. I don't deny your experience, but that is what I see on a daily basis. I noticed that if I keep doing things my way that also has a positive effect on others.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-4-26 07:46
jiewei798: I agree with your assessment that the reason women act/dress childish is because of the deep-set gender inequality. Working at an university, I meet a ...
i think the issue here is solely that of the woman. She needs to make a personal choice and accept responsibility. Firstly, I dont believe that all men are put off by a PhD, but they have an inalienable right to be so. Women should not attempt to control men to the such an extent that they use the possibility of a mate they want to marry being put off by their higher education. Let the woman try harder to win over a man then after having a PhD... This is the worst kind of self rationalisation... If a woman wants to be respected as an individual, such weak, nonsensical logic will not work. A woman who wants to do a PhD had better have better logical thinking than the women you mention! Note: I am not assuming you are one such woman...
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-26 14:43
KIyer: i think the issue here is solely that of the woman. She needs to make a personal choice and accept responsibility. Firstly, I dont believe that all me ...
"She needs to make personal choice and accept responsibility" => This is a hard thing to do when you grow up in an environment never allowing it. There are "natural" things and no questioning according to many people.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-4-26 14:46
Maierwei: "She needs to make personal choice and accept responsibility" => This is a hard thing to do when you grow up in an environment never allowin ...
yes, somethings are hard. somethings are hard for the women and some for the men. We need to deal with them and make the hard choices or effort. That is what adulthood is all about. If one wants freedom and respect,  these are the responsibilities that go along with them.
Reply Report BoMiller 2014-4-27 09:39
Growing Up is Hard to Do anywhere- Choosing another country to spend early adulthood will make permanent changes in life decision choices not always realized until middle aged. The changes you make which are in contrast to the environment you just left can be positive or negative. You came to China for a particular reason and subconsciously were aware changes were going to happen. It could have been any country other than the one you just left.

All the changes you speak of could and would occur in most any country in the world--compared to the one you just left. Fashion-manners-habits, personal or social, viewpoint on life. All these are maturing traits not restricted to a nation. These changes would have happened in Any change of environment be it rural to urban or country to country.

It is always a good thing one has the ability and opportunity to travel abroad for lengthy periods of time but most importantly--the ability to realize change in yourself when it is occurring. This way you have more control over the change it attitude, habits and adjustments to your surroundings. :)
Reply Report Dr_mona 2014-4-27 17:43
i have seen some of these changes in myself too, like wearing more colourful dresses, smiling more and talking to strangers...
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-27 19:57
BoMiller: Growing Up is Hard to Do anywhere- Choosing another country to spend early adulthood will make permanent changes in life decision choices not always r ...
I agree! However there is also that East Asians dress a lot more colourful than most people in Western countries, and my city in China is the safest place I've ever been to. So the elements that trigger my change are very unique to China, in my opinion.

I'm not saying everyone would go through the same things in China, but in many countries singing to oneself or smiling at others can be frowned upon. I'm not restricting it to a nation, just saying that China triggered these cahnges in me, and maybe will trigger different ones in other people!
Reply Report BoMiller 2014-4-28 12:40
This is gratifying news.  Just FYI the French have set world pace ( in the early 20's after WWl  the late 40's WWll  the 70's after VN) on more than on occasion for world fashion and use of colours. Africa, India, Mongoliia, Tibet, Central and South America, Caribbean nations have always endured their clothing with high contrast colours. My point is colour in fashion has been around for centuries--even  body painting.
The important fact is you have found this for yourself and it is liberating. I am sure you will find new ways to express yourself with this adjustment.
Regarding China street fashion--it has to go through the ugly stage first--before it can be refined. There are no role models just as the 60's in the West had no role models but it was an artist's knowledge of the colour spectrum that educated the world outside  of fashion for the Rich.
There is only one political colour--black or grey. It is the easiest and simplest colour to produce. Mix the three primary colours together and you have black--or negative colour--meaning it is --without-- hue. Add water and you have grey. It is that simple. :)

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Maierwei

Whenever I get lost I look super-confident. Whenever I feel so scary, boring and ordinary people tell me I\'m so nice, interesting and friendly.

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