“GOSH, this would not happen at home! That is so wrong! Disgusting, how can they live like that! Why can’t they speak English properly!?” These are exclamations I often hear from travellers who have just touched down in China. In fact many times during my 6 months living in China these same things have also slipped out of my mouth. Then at some point it stopped, I stopped being surprised, hell some things I even stopped noticing altogether, it was that moment I realised, HEY maybe I’m turning Chinese!
It all happened quite by accident, I never even saw it coming; I certainly never intended to turn Chinese. There I was living in a small city, the only foreigners for miles, surrounded by Chinese people who didn’t speak much English if any at all. Turning Chinese, it was a matter of survival. I either had to accept the Chinese way of life or go mad and go home. I chose the Chinese way.
So how much can living in a completely different culture change a person? How much has living in China changed me? The proof is in the pudding, or lack there of as pudding is hard to find in China!
Who needs queues!
One thing that I’ve learned to love about the Chinese culture is the ‘I come first’ barge attitude. I know it sounds horrible right! When I first came to China and was pushed around in the Beijing metro, pushed out of lines for the toilets and almost lost an eye thanks to an unruly umbrella I thought gosh these people are just plain rude. But then I realised the efficiency; simply, barging gets you places a lot quicker (if your good at it that is). It was a skill I realised I had to adopt very quickly if I ever wanted to get anywhere in this country. Now I don’t think twice about jumping in that toilet stall possibly elbowing people out of my way in the process.
Why would you ever pay full price!
Bargaining, you either love it or you hate it and in China bargaining is as much a part of the culture as drinking tea and eating a bowl of rice with every meal. For me I’ve always loved the bargaining culture of Asian countries and thought I was pretty good at it, that was until I came to China and realised that all this time I was far to generous by letting myself get ripped off! Now instinctively whenever I buy anything (providing it’s not at the supermarket) I automatically try and bargain. I knew I had really caught the Chinese bargaining bug when I started getting really annoyed at the most miniscule of price differences. I know it sounds stingy but 2 Yuan could pay for a bus ticket!
How do you use a fork again?
When met with a table setting that involves a plate, spoon, knife, fork and chopsticks what do you think I always go for? Well being the wannabe Chinese person I am I always go for the CHOPSTICKS! Recently while on a Chinese river cruise I was determined to not let being surrounded by western foods and cutlery make me less Chinese. So when I saw the knives and forks I was relieved to also see chopsticks. And a good thing too, when I did go to use the knife and fork for one meal I was confused as to what hand what went in. When I finally got it together I was so clumsy I kept dropping the food, it was a ridiculous sight from a western girl! I ended up giving up and going back to using chopsticks, after all why argue with 5000 years of chopstick using history!
Who needs to cross the road cautiously!
Crossing the road, I used to fear it, in fact I was that girl that you would see on the other side of the road, quivering, fear in her eyes after her friends had already managed to cross the road. But no more quivering on the side of the road for this girl, I had to tell that girl to get a grip and run, there’s no time for waiting around in this country! Now crossing the road is a breeze following the 3 Step Chinese road crossing philosophy: Look both ways then quickly dash to the first line on the road, then dash to the next line, lastly sprint the rest of the way while being dodged by unruly scooter drivers and mad cyclists.
Tacky, this is not tacky, it’s normal!
I bet you’ve seen it before in your home country, Chinese tourists walking around taking pictures making that silly peace sign with their fingers. And if you’ve been to China you will also have noticed that they will often do this while wearing tacky, novelty hats. When I first saw this was the moment I realised I was clearly adopted and my true nationality Chinese. Tacky was me to a tee! I now spend my life mirroring all of the great and extremely tacky Chinese photo poses, no hat is too silly, no statue is spared from a hug and no pose is too embarrassing!
There is nothing like walking into a public toilet to be met with the sight of five squatting women. I will admit the first time I walked into a public toilet to be met with the sight of squat toilets with no partitions let alone doors (that’s right they’re not a myth) I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing out of embarrassment or turn around, run and find a McDonald’s. Now days the sight of communal squatters don’t even have me flinching, I walk in, do my business then I’m off on my way. After all when you gotta go you gotta go! The only thing that still catches me by surprise is the number of women who squat away while texting or having phone conversations! I can’t imagine what they would do if their phones fell in! So apparently as I’m not accustom to using my phone on the loo I’m not quite Chinese.
So how Chinese does that make me?
I’m still very much the same Aussie girl as the girl who left Australia for a new life in China 6 months ago. I still have the same interests, I still laugh at the same things and I still like to dance to bad music. But now I don’t mind swapping coffee for milk tea, a fork for chopsticks and hello for Ni Hao. There’s no denying I have changed, I’m a more Chinese version of myself. The longer I live in China, the more people I meet, the more of the language I learn and the more of my own cultural habits I give up, the more Chinese I will become. By taking on board as much of the culture as I can (including being extremely tacky and occasionally rude) I have the amazing opportunity to get a real insights into the lives of the Chinese, making me not only more open minded but also more appreciative of all the great things in my own culture. You never know, in a few years time I may be speaking fluent Chinese walking in the midst of a Chinese Red Hat Brigade tour group. And me, I’ll be proudly wearing that hat, following the yellow flag and enjoying the stories of (censored) history barked at me through a loud speaker!
In addition to being an English teacher, Sasha edits the website and magazine On UR Way Travel.