“All that glitters ain’t gold”
Oxymoron, «two words used together that have, or seem to have, opposite meanings»; this is the definition given by the Cambridge Dictionary.
Why have I chosen this word to define my relationship with China? Well, because what I have with China is a love-hate kinda relation. Let’s go back to when it all started…
I was 18 years old, it was time to take a decision about my future, or at least about my major (that is the first step towards the future, isn’t it?!): I studied languages at school and I wanted to work in the hospitality to open my own hotel in future – I was addicted to Gilmore Girls and I wanted to professionally be like Lorelai, who opened her Dragonfly Inn with Sookie – but I did not want to just study Tourism management because I could possibly “lose” my languages so I chose to save them but add also a new one which was not too common: Spanish and Chinese – language and literature – with English as 3rd language (this is why my French is not as good as the other three).
As you know if you read my previous post (if not, you can always do it later), during the 3rd year course I studied in China for three months which is not enough at all to become fluent, so I told myself that after the degree I would spend some more time in China to speak the language. That “some more time” was originally six months: in 2014 I applied for a temporary job in the hospitality in China through an English agency; that was my first real contact with China – not that “Beijing 2011” was not real but you know, my first experience abroad, multicultural environment… I did not really spend time to get to know Chinese people and culture, but my second stay in the “Middle Kingdom” was completely different.
March 1st, 2014: I took a flight to Putian, Fujian province.
I knew nothing about this city, nothing about the province (now I know that in the Fujian province you can eat very yummy seafood and that Xiamen city is really worth a visit to enjoy some beach); what I just knew was that I would have worked as Guest Relation Officer in a hotel with all Chinese but… surprise! Once landed I found out not only that my luggage was missing, but also that I was going to have other two foreign colleagues: Federica from Italy and Sara from Spain. I was so happy that for a moment I forgot I lost my luggage because when you move to a country with such different culture and habits and language, sometimes it’s important to have someone “like you” around you.
The first impact with Putian was great! Federica and Sara took me to a club the very first night even though I only had the clothes I was wearing… The second day I got my luggage delivered at the hotel and the third day I started working.
I won’t lie, all that glitters ain’t gold; for example the job was not that great: at the beginning it was just standing in the lobby greeting the guests, because you have to know that in the Chinese mentality being served by a foreigner is cool (more if you live in a small center), so everything this foreigner does is interesting to them but sometimes also funny and you have to get used to it: they will laugh at you when you try to get the right tone of the word you wanna say (note: Mandarin Chinese has four tones that can literally change the meaning of the words); they will make fun of you when you are doing your job; they will stare at you in the streets, subway, buses, restaurants; they will take photos of you and if you are lucky they will first ask permission to do that…
It’s all fine till you’re in a good mood but if it is a bad day maybe because you woke up with the crooked moon, is not that fine anymore and you start not loving too much those eyes on you, those “hello!” from people you never met before, those “外国人!” while they point their finger at you… oh right, 外国人(wàiguorén) means “foreigner”. Basically the love you feel for the population and its culture becomes a sort of hate for those habits they have, that you still cannot get used to.
Here’s my love-hate kinda relation, here’s my oxymoron.
I have to say that there are many habits in this culture that result unusual to western people, such as the noisy spits and burps, those men that start showing their belly because when the weather turns hot the t-shirt makes them feel even hotter, the fact that children wear trousers opened there (yes…right there) to easily pee or poo on the street or in the bin…
Even if not everybody does the things listed, we could name all this as “folklore” and we have to accept it because this is who they are and, being us guests in their country, we need to respect all of it – but probably I wouldn’t recommend “when in Rome do like Romans do”.
My experience in Putian was very important for many reasons: first of all it was there where “I studied Chinese” turned into “I speak Chinese”; second, I was living in a small city (considered the dimensions of China and its cities) and working in a Chinese environment so I learned a lot about the people, their amazing culture, their food… it was such a satisfying experience that I asked the same English agency for a second employment and after six month I moved to Xiqiao, Guangdong province.
Gosh… I left after two weeks! That hotel was in the middle of nowhere, in the pre-opening (no guests) and everybody at work spoke Cantonese (which for me is like Japanese: I don’t understand a word) knowing that I did not.
My parents still remember the video I sent them of the way from the hotel to the dormitory at night: few kilometers walking in a countryside path with no lights while next to me cars were speeding up on the road… Not ideal.
I moved back to the Fujian province but this time in Shishi city, even smaller than Putian – no train station either. I stayed there one year, I was the only foreigner in the hotel staff and in the city maybe there were five foreigners in total (including me). I used to hang out with Chinese, this means clubs, restaurants and, top of the most, KTV!
For those who don’t know, the KTV is a karaoke where you and your friends have your own room with microphones and screen for the lyrics: you can sing out loud without no need of being shy; in these kind of KTV you can shop your own snacks and drinks at the market that is usually next to the reception. I LOVE KTV! If you are an amateur singer (or professional), you should really experience this karaoke when in China; I love singing and Chinese KTVs helped me not to be shy anymore because Chinese people don’t care too much if they can or cannot sing… they sing (isn’t this some sort of freedom?!).
In Shishi I was not only a GRO but also an English teacher to the employees (note: most of the times Chinese people think that being you a foreigner, you speak good English), for example I had to correct their English exams; I taught them Christmas songs and invented choreography for the “Christmas Lighting Show”, event during which I also had to be interpreter for the General Manager’s speech. This is the magic of China: this country never stops surprising and challenging you; I think my personality changed a lot thanks to my living experience in China: I became more open-minded, I learned to adapt myself to different customs and to accept what is different; I put my feet in places I never thought I could get in and I learned that my life cannot be in one place only.
After having enjoyed China for one and half year, I decided to look for a job in Europe considering also that my Chinese was quite good already; I didn’t find the job of my life (not even in the moment I am writing this post) and after two years my love for China took me back but this time to a bigger city: Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Totally different experience!
I found a job from home and on September 29th, 2017 I flew back to China. Not enough words to explain all the feelings and experiences I lived in Nanjing! I met and hung out with people from all over the world – literally; my dream of organizing events became reality; I saw my first snow!
Still not happy about my career, I applied to an online master to study marketing and improve my professional profile; I could also tick few places on my bucket list and I was planning to travel even more than I already did but… corona virus happened.
February 2020: I temporary went back home to avoid the virus and in March Italy announced the lockdown because of the same virus.
What did I do during the lockdown, waiting for China to open the borders again? If you are curious, stay tuned and read Forced Holidays.
Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page…
I’ll read ya!