For most westerners, China represents the foreign and the exotic. From its language, to its history, to its way of looking at the world, the Middle Kingdom often stands at the other end of the spectrum of Western ideals. Subsequently, living and working in China can be a transformative experience for people who are open to the change. Today, I'm going to look at some of the broader examples of how China has changed the way I see the world.
Walk down the street at 2am in any Chinese city and you’ll find someone selling noodles. Climb up a mountain and you’ll find an old woman with a fresh fruit stand. Dozens of drivers gather outside transport hubs at all hours attempting to get (outrageous) fares. All of these examples highlight the stellar Chinese work ethic.
If there is a chance to make some extra money in China, someone somewhere will be taking advantage of it. The Chinese work long hours for low pay but are known as excellent savers. While you can find groups who are this hardworking in every country, I’ve always been impressed with the large amount of people I see exhibiting this type of industriousness in China. I've been inspired to overcome my own perceived difficulties and move forward.
I have a Chinese friend who speaks four languages fluently, has a great business sense and a deep knowledge of global history. When I attempted to compliment him, he replied by insisting I am smarter than him. It may surprise you to hear that I am not in fact smarter than him or even close.
My friend’s attempt to boomerang my compliment demonstrates the cultural importance of modesty in Chinese society. This concept of being modest, which is associated with being a good person in China, made me more aware of how my Western sense of achievement and boastfulness may be perceived by others.
China’s epically long history has changed the way I think about culture and time. Where I come from, a 400-year-old house is ancient and a protected historical landmark. In China, however, you can dig up a garden and find a massive 2,000-year-old tomb that people simply forgot about.
Living in China, where every 10 meters you stumble across the ruins of ancient buildings and societies, has helped to emphasize the epic scale of global history to me. Living and working in China has really put my sense of time into perspective.
Many a time when you ask your Chinese friend about their hometown, they will reply that they come from “a small village.” A small village of about 500,000 people, which is the size of a large city in most other countries. The sheer scale of China and its cities has helped put things in perspective for me and made me examine my own values.
When I first began living and working in China I was perturbed by the lack of personal space and people’s tendency to rush onto subways or into elevators without letting others get off first — it seemed counterintuitive. But then I thought about it: if there are hundreds of people behind me who will shove past while I wait, if I don’t move forward I will lose my opportunity.
The sheer size of the population in China changes the game. What would be a breach of etiquette in other countries is simply a survival mechanism here. Acknowledging that has changed the way I see what would otherwise be perceived as selfish behaviour.
One of the most surprising things for many Westerners when they interact with Chinese people is the huge drive they feel to get married and have kids early. In most Western countries, starting a family is a scary and expensive endeavor undertaken almost solely by the parents with little to no help from outside sources. Most younger Westerners are more reluctant to start families early, therefore, opting instead to concentrate on their careers until later in life.
But this is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon in developed countries. In more traditional societies, like China, the whole family, particularly the grandparents, are involved in helping to raise the child. You just have to walk down a street in China to see a grandparent taking care of a toddler while his parents are most likely at work.
This integrated system of familial care makes it arguably easier to raise kids and continue along a career path. While this is beginning to change as China develops, the family support network that many here take for granted has made me think about how Westerners raise kids. Have we really got this one right?
Has living in China changed your world view? Tell us in the comments section below.
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Keywords: living and working in China
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