For a day that started out with the stress of dealing with bureaucracy at the Kunming customs bureau (note to self: do not have encounters with government officials first thing in the morning), today has turned out really well. I don’t feel like going on about it too much, but I had a really interesting day at work learning about our malaria project, a good dinner of shrimp dumpling noodle soup (鲜下云吞面) and a nice little walk around my neighborhood.
I’m not sure if this is phase 1 of culture shock or what (that would be the “honeymoon” phase in which everything is exciting, the future looks promising, etc. – if you’re a believer in these cultural assessments). I feel like the fact that I’ve spent time in China before means that I shouldn’t have to go through so much culture shock, but I will keep you updated on whether or not phase 2 happens (that would be the phase in which you get upset with everything being difficult, criticize everything around you, and are generally a pain in the ass to hang out with).
But let’s say I’m in a honeymoon phase. As part of that, I wanted to talk about a little thing I like a lot in China: sharing! I’m not sure if this is further divided into actual sharing and “treating”, but let’s say it is. Here are a couple of examples:
Sharing: someone comes back to the office having bought a bag of strawberries. Before sitting back down at their desk, they go around the office offering them to everyone, and many people will take one.-
Treating: you buy a meal for someone or for a bunch of people (this happens much more casually than in the US), or on a smaller level: you go out for lunch with 4 people and in the middle of it someone gets up and buys everyone a drink.
I was going to talk more about this but as I was thinking about it I decided that I need to investigate it more. But here are some notes for later: I think these customs confuse Westerners. We come to China and we see a lot of people who don’t extend to strangers what we consider basic civilities; people shove you, yell at you, ignore you (or harass you) and attempt to run you over with their vehicles.
But then the second you get to know someone, they’re inviting you over to their house to eat their food and meet their grandmother.
A lot of foreigners assume that it has something to do with all Chinese people having an indelible core of communism, or having no sense of individualism – neither of which is true, but both of which have shades of relevance to these customs.
In truth, I think the fact that an increasing number of people in China have more money makes this easier – even when you’re not getting paid very much by Western standards, treating someone to a 70-cent lunch (as I’ve had for the past couple days) isn’t that much of a hardship. And as a side note, people aren’t always thrilled to be sharing, but they do it anyway – someone once told me that if you’re going to buy a bag of fruit, you should never buy oranges because after you’re done sharing you won’t have any left for yourself!
Anyway I’m going to think more about this and report back later, but I will say that these kindnesses – extended to me numerous times even in my few days here – go a long way toward making me feel comfortable and happy.
I’m going to go do a little dance around my living room now!