As I sat inside one torrential Guangzhou afternoon pickling my brain in American TV series mulch (courtesy of the DVD man on the corner), a wave of panic washed over me. Here I was 2 years into my time in China and I felt like I was losing myself in a sea of nothingness. I had lost my bearings. I wanted to go home. All the things that had defined me in my life back home, friends, job, environment, had now either been removed or just changed beyond recognition. After a series of dead end jobs, I was now what is referred to in the expatriate community as a "Trailing Spouse". It sounded suspiciously like something stuck to your shoe as you stepped outside a public toilet.
I should probably give some background as to how I got to this point. This is a story about packing up and moving abroad, about leaving behind jobs, friends & family, all things familiar, and starting anew in a weird and wonderful place.
The prospect was exciting. 10 years spent in a cold wet London now heading into gloomy recession and I was off (with The Other Half "TOH") with great expectations to exotic new pastures in booming China. The world felt like my oyster; I would accomplish great things, meet amazing inspiring people and become a more interesting and broad minded person. But who was I kidding. Life, in her infinite wisdom, was ready to give me one of her brutal lessons.
This is an introduction to my life as a "grown-up" expat in Guangzhou, China. I say "grown-up" because I should point out that this isn't the first time I've done this. In fact, my parents were also globe trotters and I spent much of my childhood (apart from the time spent at boarding school) trotting after them at holiday time.
At this point, I am also going to stop using the word expat, for two reasons. Firstly, on one cringeworthy occasion at school, we had to stand up and tell the rest of the class something interesting about ourselves. I stood up and in my not so confident 13 year old voice declared that my parents were "Expats" which made me an "Expat" too. The rest of the class sniggered, I sat down confused. What was so funny about living abroad? It was only pointed out to me later that what everyone had understood was not "Expat" but "Expert"…
Secondly, expat rhymes with lots of negative stuff - fat, rat, spat, and a couple of rude words which I suppose I can't include in an article, so best avoided (answers on a postcard). Instead, I have to think of an alternative descriptive noun. The following come to mind: "Fish out of water" - too long, "Rolling stone" - too cool, "Foreigner" - too dull, or as the small child on the street calls me with some glee "Gwai Lo" (trans: Ghost Guy) - just a bit creepy. Personally, I like Alien; it makes me feel special.
So what does the average Alien do when he/she/it lands on a new planet? Well you've seen the movies. To jog your memory, here is a taster of a few scenarios.
E.T: A badly planned visit. This alien find himself completely unprepared for his new environment. Matters not helped by the fact that he sticks out like a sore thumb with his weird big head. Makes one unlikely friend. Calls home. Gets sick and is found by his family close to death. Feels better when he gets back to the more familiar environment of a space ship.
Men in Black: The clever aliens in this movie aim to fit in and assimilate, gradually using their superior intelligence to overpower the local "earth" population. In reality, they are just trying to get by on Earth in their ill-fitting human skins. Despite speaking the language and holding down normal jobs, underneath they are still creepy and different. The locals don't want any of it. Get discovered and exterminated. The End.
Superman: By Alien movie standards, Superman nails it. He's helped by the fact that he has some pretty awesome super powers. He integrates well into traditional earthly routines (dutiful son, successful journalist, on/off love interest). Not only that but he endears himself to the majority of locals by regularly saving the earth. The locals love him. Superman enjoys a long and varied experience on Earth, it's uncertain if he will ever leave…
So the question was, what sort of Alien would I make? I will henceforth pick myself up from my slump and make it my self appointed mission to productively use my time to observe and report back on this new and strange planet. In the process, I aim to put together an "Alien User Manual", stuffed with helpful tips, anecdotes and such, to help all the other E.Ts out there to make some sense of it all.
In the meantime, in the word of another notable alien, the mighty Spock, "Live Long and Prosper".
To be continued…
Tags:General Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales
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same here. very irritating. wanted to comment on the Pod Hunting too. Maybe somewhere there is the perfect Chinese apartment - Liberace style, Fur Elise in the lift, water feature in the entrance hall... But perhaps only in those blocks that you were steered away from - reserved for special Chinese residents only
Oct 17, 2013 10:15 Report Abuse
I have tried a number of times to comment on your writing but for some technical reason my comments would not submit!! Writing that evokes a chuckle is well written. I nearly choked on my breakfast when I read the phrase: Think Liberace goes for tea in Versailles!! Immediate pic in my head that screamed ostentatious. Looking forward to reading further adventures. Trying again here.
Oct 17, 2013 07:49 Report Abuse
Hi Bayuvar139. Thanks for reading and for the encouragement! Re your comment, I'm living in Guangzhou where I more commonly hear the Cantonese slang phrase Gwai (or Gwei) Lo (鬼佬;). Mandarin speakers elsewhere might use Lao Wai (老外) which is probably the closest translation for Alien. I haven't heard Lao Gui yet? Does it translate as Old Ghost?
Sep 23, 2013 14:31 Report Abuse