Emails From Chengdu

Hi Lady Lady Baby baby,

China is strange and familiar all at the same time.
People have been asking about if I’ve ‘freaked out’ yet. To give you a bit of racist background, mainland Chinese people are comparatively known to be loud, obnoxious, with no sense of private space, traditionally western ‘politeness’ (an example: there are no lines, there’s just light to medium to heavy jostling by mothers, fathers, men, woman, old men, old women, babies, etc.). Chinese people hawk loogies on the ground, they throw trash on the street because in both restaurants and public, there are hired people sweeping up their garbage.
As I’ve been saying to some snooty (of course western) ex-pats (being Taiwanese has this snooty influence– we are a more Japanese- leaning anal retentive shame-oriented society): since I’ve come with these fears and expectations, it’s been a bit easier than I thought it would be to let go of those visceral reactions of disgust and horror. Also, because I came with those fears in mind, it’s been sort of cathartic to see them and consciously open myself up to recognizing WHY these behaviors are the norm. The perspective of being Chinese in China is pretty different– stability over individuality, and less individualism leads to a different way of seeing ‘privacy’– from bodily functions (babies shitting in crotchless pants on the street) to spitting bones.
Anyway, the more fascinating thing for me is diving into the ex-pat scene. Who are these people? What does China hold for them? Where do they see themselves?
Much like the myths and folklore and projected desires surrounding New York City, living in China holds its own magic for these ex pats. Some still don’t see their privilege, and wield it like a big, inflated penis across the globe. It’s astounding. Johnny (the donut shop owner) told me about this lady who came in — super nice, and very Christian – who openly denounced immigrants as people who steal jobs. This is hard to hear, as ex-pats get paid at least twice as much as a Chinese citizen for any job they can find here.
So: despite being an ocean away, the election provoked a lot of very visceral thoughts and conflicts within me. And I have realized more and more how Americanized I am, and I’m sure I still have a long journey to go…
I’m reminding myself of why I came to China: to not get stuck in the same professional and personal behavioral loops. Funny how making some choices is a perpetual thing, not really a moment of clarity, but a moment of clarity followed by the struggle to remember the clarity I had once felt. Does that make sense?

Hope this finds you well, and I wish I could teleport over there for an afternoon of ice cream and chowder.


PS: I say ‘ex-pats’ like I’m not one. I suppose I’m looking to explore more about what life is like between being an ex-pat of color and a white ex-pat from a Western country.

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