I’ve been to a good number of countries in the last 5 years of my life. None of them have been particularly “hot” touristy destinations, nor have they been known for their luxury or development. I have dealt with less than comfortable living conditions and standards in my travels. I’m used to the highs and lows of travel and rolling with the punches. I’ve dealt with culture shock, learned how to deal with cross-cultural (mis)communication first-hand, and have also taken countless classes on the anthropology, communication, etc. I mean, I have a freaking degree in Intercultural Studies, for goodness sake. Due to the classes I took and the experiences I have had, I knew the official terms of the different communication styles and what type of culture I was getting into by moving to China. I knew that coming from a Western and “direct” culture, where we mean what we say and say what we mean, that it would be a challenge to deal with an “indirect” culture like China, where they focus on how things are being said, rather than on what is being said.
Overall, I feel like I am pretty adaptable, patient, humble, and understanding of cultural differences and the like. I came here with pretty realistic expectations and was prepared for the challenges that I knew I would ultimately be faced with.
That being said, I have never been quite as frustrated with a country or travel experience as I have been in China over the last two weeks. It’s one thing to theoretically understand the differences between direct and indirect cultures and it is an entirely different thing to experience it firsthand. No amount of rationalizing or explaining will make it any less frustrating, especially when experiencing it in a professional setting.
For the last two weeks, it has been a constant stream of issues, many of which wouldn’t have even been a big deal and could have easily been cleared up if they had only told us certain things up front. Instead, it feels like a new thing comes up everyday.
For starters, we have not been able to cook a proper meal for the last few weeks we have been here. Our apartment has a gas stove, but it hasn’t actually been connected to the gas line at all in the time since we’ve been here. Apparently, they told CJ (our Australian roommate) there was no way they could hook up our stove to the gas and that we would have to make due with the hot-plate That’s what we’ve been doing for the last few weeks. However, our sketchy little hot-plate is impossible to moderate and it takes our food from completely raw to incinerated in less that two minutes. After talking to our supervisor last week, and learning that she lives in our same complex and apparently has gas connected to her stove, she said she would talk to “them” (we aren’t even sure who the infamous “them” is at this point) to get it connected.
After another few days, we asked about the status of when our stove-top could be connected and she then told us that because it is only our unit that is having issues they (again, “they” being the faceless powers that be) cannot be bothered to come and connect it until they have more units that need to be dealt with or replaced. “Okay, so when will they come out for the rest of the building?” we asked. “We don’t know. It could be anytime,” was the reply. Soooooo….that basically means anytime between now and never. Awesome.
At this point, in the US we would have a landlord or manager to contact about these issues, but we aren’t even sure if we have one here. Actually, it wouldn’t even get to that point in America because it would be a given that the landlord or manager would make the apartments functional and livable for any new tenants, or else they would lose business. Instead, since we haven’t met the owner of our rental property, we have to rely on the school administration (whom we also haven’t officially met or seen) to get things done. In the meantime we have had to come up with some pretty ingenious (and often ghetto) cooking strategies. Our most recent success was a makeshift double boiler that we made scrambled eggs with.
Additionally, another thing that you would think would have been pertinent information to give us when we
first moved in is that we are apparently on a “water quota.” No, instead they decide to tell us about this water rationing after we had already used up our water and it was shut off. Again, we had been living here for two weeks already (in CJ’s case three weeks) and we heard nothing about this until it was already too late. Luckily, they were able to refill our water today, so we didn’t go too long without it. But it has still been frustrating. I just can’t understand how things even get done around here when nothing is ever addressed up front.
If there are a few things I have learned in the last two weeks it’s that no matter how much patience you may think you already have, China will ultimately find ways to challenge even the most saint-like of people. And no amount of research or preparation will ever prepare you enough for the messy, pain in the ass reality of living and working abroad. People who try to convince you otherwise are full of CRAP.