Wednesday, 3 July 2013

First Impressions

Before coming to China, I imagined it as some sort of other dimension, bearing only a loose resemblance to the world as I knew it. When two days ago I first looked around in Guangzhou - a booming southeast Chinese metropolis – I had to admit that it was pretty much like any other big city, only with even more Chinese people than usual. Then I looked around a second time and realized that it is a completely different dimension indeed…

It seems like, even the Chinese can feel the huge difference between them and everyone else, only, of course, from their point of view – of the many expressions they could opt to use for foreigners, they choose to use the word “alien” in any official context, such as on the entry-card, that every visitor has to fill out upon arrival to the country. Charming. I’ve only been here for two days, so I don’t want to draw a conclusion yet, but so far I never felt like being treated as an alien however, rather like an honourable guest.

But we are different for sure. Our cultures differ so much that even a simple conversation (assuming that they speak English, which they seldom do) is what I imagine a football game for blind people must be like – while interacting we have absolutely no clue whatsoever of where we are headed, and we constantly expect to get hit by something nasty that we failed to see coming. We have no idea what’s rude or interesting to say, or indeed how to greet one another - bow, shake hands or a kiss on the cheek? We just shoot in the dark, and hope for the best. Social norms that we spent our life learning, and rely on a lot more than we think we do, are suddenly not there to save us from being completely awkward when around other people. If a Spanish and a German would try to communicate, they might not understand each other’s words, but they would understand pretty much everything else – gestures, body language etc. Here the mind panics, and like a drowning man to a rotting driftwood, it tries to hold on for dear life to any sign of communication that seems familiar.

Fortunately the Chinese are trying just as hard to comply with my western ways, as I do with theirs. For example a female colleague of mine at lunch, as small talk asked me how old I was – then she blushed immediately and corrected the question to ‘in which year were you born?’ It turned out that it’s rude to ask one’s age, but it’s totally fine to ask their birth date. If the person being asked is more on the elderly side, then they usually ask his zodiac sign, which in China only repeats every 12 years, thus allowing for a pretty confident guess regarding his age. Another colleague’s icebreaker question was inquiring whether the price of goat was going up or down in my country – not something I would have asked for the first time (or ever), but that’s what I love about diversity – as long as I can be surprised at least every day, I will be a happy man!

China is, of course, gigantic in every way - so in this couple of months I don’t even stand a chance to get to know more than just a tiny fraction of it. Guangzhou - formerly known as Canton, now known as my city of residence - is a tropical metropolis with roughly 16 million people, 35-40Co heat and humidity off the charts. Along with Hong-Kong and Macau (which are both pretty close) it played a central role in the Opium Wars, but it has been a busy international port ever since the western merchants set sail to the mystical orient, and was already the flourishing capital of the surrounding province in 220BC. Even now it’s swarming with people from every cast and creed, especially Arabs and Africans (I regret to say, but every black person I’ve seen so far here, was pushing dope). On the corner of my street there’s a Irish pub bar, with latin music and all sorts of people.

Being quite far for from the communist regime’s headquarters, Beijing, the atmosphere in Guangzhou is pretty laid back, and it took me some time to remember, that ,in fact, I’m in a country that’s ruled by an iron fisted dictatorship. As such the Chinese government is not such a huge fan of free speech, as you can imagine - so it set up the ‘Great Firewall’, which pretty much bans half the Internet in China, especially the networking sites like facebook, and the blogging networks, like blogspot. They even ban youtube, which they replaced by its Chinese version ‘youku’, neatly collecting the revenues that otherwise would have gone to youtube. I can’t help but feel, that behind these bans, along with censorship, there’s a strong commercial incentive as well. For everything they ban, there is a heavily censored Chinese version as well. That suspicion is supported by the fact, that completely legally for 30$ you can connect through an American VPN, and unlock the whole internet. So until I figure out how to do that, I literally have to smuggle my posts home by email, so my girlfriend can post them for me – thanks baby! :) Sadly, the pictures will probably have to wait a little, possibly until after I get back to Europe.

Oh yeah, regarding the articles - as China is so full of weird, heavy-weight surprises, I decided not to wait with certain topics until I can write a 10 page article about them, rather just write down everything as they come up. This way, hopefully, I won’t forget to post you about anything important in this whirlwind of impulses. I admit, I’m a little overwhelmed by this siege of information and new experiences, it’s not easy to neatly organize my thoughts as they are buzzing like a bee hive high on coke. You can expect a cacophony of hectic posts, without a proper stream of subjects or narrative, jumping from one thing to another, but hey – at least you’ll get a little bit of the jist of how things are in good ole’ China!


  1. Nagyon tetszik! Különösen a hogyér' van nálatok a kecske mostanában, mint icebreaker:) A nyelvezetért külön le a kalappal, a kedvenc angol szavam (seldom) rögtön a második bekezdésben, illetve a whirlwind of impulses, egy kifejezés ami pontosan leirja pl az én első pár hetemet, hónapomat Indonéziában - csak nekem nem jutott eszembe...
    Erre subscribe-olni nem lehet?

  2. Örülök, hogy tetszik! Indonézia se lehetett azért egy ingerszegény környezet! :) De de, lehet subscribolni a jobb oldalon lévő facebook like gombbal!