If there is a method behind the madness that is China, I still haven’t found it. Today is New Year’s Eve. This time last year, I was in Beijing ushering in the New Year at a luscious courtyard hotel. I was in awe of the long history of the ancient civilisation that is China. Who would have thought that exactly a year later, I would be living and working here?
Not me, that’s for sure. I never had any great ambitions to come to China – and now that I am here, I find myself wondering what the hell I’m doing here. It’s only been two months and I’m already beginning to question my sanity.
Err…just what the hell was I thinking?
After spending four years in Saturnian methodical Japan where there is a rule and ritual for everything; China feels like a jungle where anything goes and nothing makes sense. If there is a rule, feel free to disregard it and go around it. If you get caught, just deny it vehemently even though there’s lots of evidence to suggest otherwise. If someone says no, feel free to persuade them till they say yes. Pushiness will get you everywhere. No doesn’t actually mean no, it is simply the beginning of a negotiation. And if someone gives you an instruction to do something, expect things to change suddenly and drastically for no real reason at all.
The past two weeks have been chaotic, infuriating and simply maddening. I don’t even know how to begin describing how mind-bogglingly frustrating and shocking it has been to be surrounded by people who are so deeply dishonest about just about everything.
Cutting corners. Shortcuts. Lies, lies and more lies. Some people are willing to say and do just about anything to get their way. Earlier this year, a Chinese friend of mine told me, “This is how China is. If you try and do things the ‘right way’ you will lose out.”
It’s one thing when someone tells you something. Another thing when you experience it for yourself.
The selfishness, disregard, and ‘me-first’ attitude is… just bloody over the top ridiculous. The pushing. The shoving. The impatience. The impertinence. I find myself rolling my eyes, glaring at people and being unusually short-tempered.
But this is China and this is the way it is.
I don’t consider myself naive. But still, I’m not sure I have it in me to compromise my integrity over and over and over again. It just isn’t how I was raised.
I opened a door the other day and the handle came off. I saw chunks of a building just randomly drop to the group. Too many things in China are jiade. Fake. Rip off. A knock off the real thing.
To think I once thought these things only happened in cartoons.
Unlike Beijing, which captivated me instantly with its old culture and long history; I haven’t warmed to Zhejiang Province at all. It isn’t a bad place, per se. After all, it is the money province: one of the richest areas in China. But as the cliché saying goes, money isn’t everything. We all know this somewhere deep deep down. But when you see it on such a large scale, it is deeply confronting. There’re people with money everywhere I turn and yet – it hasn’t bought them education or happiness.
Is it worth it, then?
You tell me.
Zhejiang Province is an industrial area populated with factories, businesses and businesspeople that emit copious amounts of smoke. You simply cannot run from the grey fog. Clear skies are rare. Given the poor air quality, I still can’t wrap my head around the number of smokers around here. And they smoke wherever they like. But that’s another story for another day. Anyhow, I’m not sure if this is the right town for me. There just isn’t enough heart or soul to keep me happy – even though materially I lack nothing.
Unlike some other areas in China, I wouldn’t describe the people of Zhejiang Province as a particularly innovative or educated bunch. Most people I’ve met are running highly profitable companies that are in the business of providing daily necessities to people around the world. Ever wondered where your socks, buttons, t-shirts, shoelaces, jackets etc etc etc come from? Yes – it’s probably from around here somewhere. Selling necessities to the world has made Zhejiang rich, rich, rich. People need necessities – and someone needs to provide them.
But for a long time now, I’ve believed that wealth without education is dangerous. People around here have ridiculous amounts of money – and they have absolutely no idea what to do with it.
So what do they do?
They spend it. They waste it. They squander it. Being here, it is hard to imagine the long history of an ancient civilisation that led to modern China. After all, Zhejiang is the ‘new money’ province. The wealth that suddenly emerged after a long period of economic hardship. But coming from a business background myself, I know that it is one thing to set up shop and make money; another thing altogether to build a legacy that endures the tests of time.
Unlike Japan, which had an unmistakable Saturnian streak; China is Venusian, through and through. The pervasive materialism. The obsession with body image. The unnecessary decadence and subsequent wastage. Unlike the Japanese who are austere and minimalist; the Chinese are indulgent and opulent.
Well – for the next couple of days, I’ll be in Xi’an – enjoying the old Chinese civilisation in the modern era.
Till next time – Happy New Year.
And remember, you never know where the wind can blow you.