Anecdotes from China PCVs
General Cross Cultural Issues
My only recurring problems, for which I've not yet found a magic bullet, are these: 1. People asking my salary. 2. People taking my picture without saying a word -- people turning their webcams towards me in the internet cafe, also without a word.
Yesterday, I waited a whole morning for a man to come fix my lock who was supposed to arrive at my front door at 9 am. Instead he arrived at noon. Why get mad, stressed, and impatient over something I cannot control. Instead while waiting, I had a nice breakfast, a 40 minute walk around the playground, a nice hot berry tea, and read a good book.
The absolute hardest thing for me here, other than being away from family and friends and not being able to speak Chinese very well, is not being able to tend to things myself. I have not yet made my peace with having to make all communications through my counterpart, who may or may not understand what I am asking and who probably has no power to do anything about my request.
Diversity and Cross Cultural Issues
Here in China, walking around silent, [because I am Asian American] I am not unique unless I wear an African outfit [from my previous post], then I get stares like back in America when I shaved my head and dyed it pink. Walking around anonymous, part of the crowd I feel a sense of belonging, a sense of community rather than being an outsider. But as soon as I open my mouth, I become a curiosity and a center of attention. I become the outsider.
As a gay volunteer, I worried about how I would be perceived by Chinese nationals, fellow volunteers and Peace Corps staff. Though I am open about my sexuality at home in the States, I knew from the Peace Corps literature that Chinese culture is less tolerant of my lifestyle, so I chose early on to keep this particular bit of information mostly to myself. While I believe this was the correct choice, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that there are resources available to LGBT volunteers in China, and that the volunteers and staff I have trusted with this facet of my identity have been both open and helpful. Also, though I live in a remote area, I have been lucky enough to befriend a local gay HCN who has greatly advanced my awareness of sexuality-related issues in China. I should mention though that the first thing he told me was, “Don't tell your superiors at work; they can fire you for it.” This is true for HCN teachers, and it should be a concern for PCVs. This sometimes feels like a step backward into the closet, but the key for me has been finding just a few trustworthy and open-minded people with whom to confide.
As a transfer, I think my experience in China has had some unique aspects to it, pertinent to my transfer-ness. . . . [In] China, with all the technology and ease of staying in touch with the US, I was actually trying to get back in touch with people from home. So all of my social energy was being poured into my friends and family in the US, as it was the first time I'd really had the option in 2 years. So, of course, I started really really missing all of them! Perhaps this is a pattern of homesickness or transition-stress that a lot of transfers go through.
“How many kids do you have? You're so fat!" was one of the first questions a student asked me. It was understood before I came here that I clearly did not have the physical stature to discretely blend in with the Chinese HCNs, and I also knew it would be called to my attention, as it is not considered rude in most cultures. However, it doesn't mean it makes me any less comfortable to hear from other teachers that I am known as the fat foreign teacher, and, with my further understanding of language, to know what people say as I walk by. Most of the time I just turn my iPod louder or laugh it off, but every person has their breaking point where certain comments just aren't excusable anymore. . . . I remind myself over and over that the only thing I can control is my own reaction, and sometimes its the only thing that helps me keep my cool.