The number one, most difficult, thing for me to adjust to
about living in a different culture is my super friendly nature. I was always
raised to be friendly to everyone. Make eye contact, smile, say hello, be
friendly. I’m that Southern girl that’ll strike up a conversation with the
person behind me in line at the supermarket. I’ll spend 20 minutes in a gas
station because I struck up a conversation with the cashier. It’ll take me an
hour to run an errand that should only take 10 minutes because I have so many
conversations along the way. I love people and I talk to everyone. It served me
well in the restaurant business and made me lots of friends in the States.
That trait of mine does not work to my benefit in all cultures.
You may have trouble adjusting to different foods, a new language, different
fashion, different levels of cleanliness, or any number of other things about
living in a different culture but, for me, I struggle with avoiding eye contact
and not smiling at people. It goes against the very person I am. It goes all
the way to my inner core.
A woman sitting alone here in Benin is obviously just looking
for a man. Why else would she be out alone? But I get depressed when I just sit
around the house all the time and I simply must go out. I take a book or, on
Sundays like today, I take my computer and work on my book. Men will never
leave me alone. I can’t go anywhere without being constantly annoyed. They
follow me around in the store, the follow me down the street, they demand my phone
number several times a day. Give me your number. The most common pick up line I
hear here is “You’re my queen, you’re going to have my babies.” Sometimes they
bother me so much I have to find a security guard and ask him to tell the guy
to leave me alone. I pay $100 a month to work out at a gym when my favorite
form of exercise is walking but I can’t walk here because they won’t stop harassing
That’s when I don’t look at them. If I make eye contact it’s
even worse. The same thing happened in China. Making eye contact with a man is
an invitation. It’s sooooooooo hard for me. My first instinct at all times is
to talk to anyone near me. If someone looks at me I smile and say hello. It’s
who I am. But here, and in China, I have had to break myself of that. I’ve
become colder, more distant, and I don’t like it.
It’s so different here in Benin than it was in China. Life
and especially the idea of beauty is so different from than it is in China. It’s
been a nice boost for my self-esteem. In China I was called fat and ugly
several times a day. I cried a lot. I was once told I was too fat and ugly to
be in public and I should lock myself in my apartment and not come out again
until I lost weight. I once walked into a clothing shop I knew wouldn’t have
anything to fit me but I wanted to look at the cute clothes anyway and the
entire staff accosted me and shoved me out of the store all the while telling
me I was too fat and ugly to be in their store and I was bad for business. The
kids around our apartment complex called me the fat foreigner. I sank into a pit
of depression so deep I was unsure I’d ever be able to climb out. I did join a
gym but the people at the gym were really mean to me and that made me quit going.
I don’t know about you but having the gym trainer call me fat and ugly didn’t
motivate me to work out harder, it motivated me to stay home in bed and eat.
All of their abuse only made me gain weight and cry all the time. It didn’t
have the effect they intended.
Here in Benin it’s different. It’s my normal Sunday afternoon
routine to go out, sit on a restaurant patio, and write. I’m working on a book.
As of the time of this writing I’ve been here an hour. I have a collection of 3
phone numbers from men that wouldn’t leave me alone until I agreed to take
their numbers. It’s always the same: the walk up to my table, loom over me, the
more bold ones pull up a chair and sit down at my table without asking, and say
give me your number. I say no. They say give me your number. I say no. They say
give me your number. I say no. Then they say I’m going to give you my number. I
say I’m not going to call you. They say I’m giving it to you anyway. I say whatever.
They try to talk to me but I ignore them. If I talk I give very short answers
trying to get rid of them. Here’s my nice collection of trash I’ve collected
I’m never going to be happy cooped in up in my house all the
time. I simply must get out. I try
and try to avoid eye contact and not speak to strangers but it’s so difficult
for me. Even when I know if I look at that guy and smile at him he’s going to
think I want to fuck him sometimes it happens instinctually, before I can stop
I must admit being in an environment where I’m not
constantly called fat and ugly has worked wonders for my mental state. I’m
happier than I’ve been in a long time and I’ve lost almost 40 pounds since
moving here. Being called beautiful as many times a day as I was called fat and
ugly in China has does wonders for my health. As I’m typing this I have to keep
my eyes on my screen because there’s a guy sitting across from me that’s
staring at me and every time I glance up for a second he gives me creepy sexy
People ask me all the time what’s the most difficult part of
living in a different country? That’s it for me. Not making eye contact, not
smiling, and not being friendly. It’s hard. In Europe people don’t smile at
each other but when I do they just roll their eyes and mutter something about
Americans under their breath, in China it’s an invitation to call me fat and
ugly, in Benin it’s an invitation to fuck. I don’t think I look forward to
anything more on my yearly visits to America than being able to smile at a
stranger and just have them smile back and keep on keeping on.
Before anyone goes and calls me mean or racist you should understand
that I am ever so aware that the problem is me. I’m living in their country and
in their culture and I’m the one that has to adjust. I’m trying. I really am. An
entire nation of people is not going to change to cater me. I get it. I’m just
writing about my experiences and what it’s like for me to do all the traveling
and living in different cultures that I do. You ask all the time what it’s
like. This. This is what it’s like.
So in 1963 President John Kennedy began the Art in Embassies Program. It is a public-private partnership that promotes cultural diplomacy through US embassies around the world. In 2002 they began an artists abroad program where artists can apply to travel to US embassies around the world and perform or display their art.
This week a jazz band is being hosted by the US embassy here in Cotonou. I posted about it on Facebook and Instagram and have received an amazing amount of hate from it. Everyone says the same thing: pardon me…but…uh…shouldn’t African Americans be playing jazz to represent America in Africa? I responded to a couple people but then had a huge lot of what I can only guess are African American Social Justice Warriors begin attacking me and calling me a racist, a colonizer, and some other extremely not nice things. For the first time I was brought to block several people and report several more. The hatred was pretty intense.
Well…something tells me the application for your band getting to play in a US embassy doesn’t have a check box for race. It’s a damn band. If you want to bring your American racial politics into a world traveling jazz band then let’s talk about what it’s like here.
First off, I’m no colonizer. I’m a wanderluster. Since I was 14 I’ve never lived in the same place more than 4 years. I’ve traveled in 47 of the States and 39 countries, I’ve lived on 3 continents and in 4 countries so far. I have no plans of stopping. After spending 3/4ths of my life in poverty and just a decade ago being sick and homeless on the streets of Atlanta I hit the proverbial jackpot, I have found my calling and it’s traveling and teaching. I’ve never been so happy since the day I was born. While I’m traveling I observe, I study, I write, and I try to do what little good I can for the world. I’m no missionary and I’m sure as hell no white savior. I just want to travel and see the world. I want to learn and I want to do it in the real world. While you’re calling me a racist on Instagram for watching some white guys play music I’m actually living in a foreign country, learning the language and learning the culture. Far more than you’re doing scrolling through the Internet from your cushy chair in Starbucks.
You wanna talk race relations in Africa? You wanna talk about how fucking stupid it is to say bringing 3 white guys here to play jazz music is a problem? You remind me of meat eaters that get grossed out by hunting or slaughter houses. You’ll eat your meat but it has to come in the neatly wrapped plastic packages in the supermarket. You can’t dare be faced with the reality that your dinner was once a living breathing being. Heck, you can’t even eat a fish with the head still on it. You wanna talk reality? Let’s talk.
Benin is the 16th poorest nation on earth. Literacy rates are below 40% for the total population and 20% for women. Slavery is still a very real part of day to day life here. People commonly sell their children for about the equivalent of $60 USD. People on the street approach me with their baby and try to get me to take it. They beg me to take their kid back to America with me. The teen girl that runs the small shack selling food attached to the wall of my house lives in that shack with her 3 year old little girl. There’s no water. They shit and piss by the tree across the street. My gardener almost died a few weeks ago because he didn’t have money to buy some antibiotics and was too ashamed to ask us.
Education here is depressingly abysmal. Last year, for my World Geography class I thought I had done something really awesome. Through a few people I had met I arranged for a local university professor to come lecture my class on life in Africa. This man, this African man, this African university professor, proceeded to tell my students that the white man had to come here to get slaves because white men can’t work in the sun. They needed slaves to work their fields. Then he moved on very casually to the next topic. Here in Benin there is very little understanding of chattel slavery as it was in the US. Because slavery is still common practice today. I was flabbergasted and didn’t really know what to do or say. This is a guest speaker I brought in to lecture my students! A history professor from a local university!!! Telling my students that the white man just had to come here and get slaves because his poor white skin couldn’t take working in the fields. Even members of the elite here are extremely uneducated compared to the average 6th grader in the US. I recently taught a wealthy man with a very respectable job that owns two large homes that plants need sunlight to live. Our American ideals of education simply do not transfer here.
I find myself constantly struggling debating coworkers on their insistence upon calling me ma’am. I don’t like it. They tell me they are raised to respect white people and address them with honor. I explain it’s racist and they say huh? what? I explain if you are supposed to respect me simply because of the color of my skin am I supposed to disrespect you because of the color of yours? Don’t call me ma’am just because I’m white. It’s gross.
I live in a place where people don’t have money to send their children to school or to feed them so they sell them off as slaves. Hundreds of people die in the hospital daily not because their illnesses are all that difficult to treat but because there’s no money. Almost no one I interact with on a daily basis can read or write. I could continue this list all day to explain to you the horrors I see.
Is it sad? Yes. Did I have to struggle with some pretty tough depression when I moved here? Yes. When beggar children ring my bell at home or crowd around me on the street do I still get emotional? Yes. When I go to the pharmacy and the man with the horrific tumors all over his face is there begging me for anything to feed his children do I ask myself wtf is wrong with this world? Yes. But I am in a very REAL situation and very, REALLY, have come to grips that I can’t save the world. I’m not trying to tell anyone how white people do things right and how if they’d just do it my way they’d get out of this poverty. That’s what missionaries like to do. That’s not my place. Not my role, and I have no interest in being that person. I’m not here to save the world. I’m here to observe, write, and learn and hopefully help a few people along the way.
If you think seeing 3 white dudes playing jazz music is going to have any kind of a negative effect on the minds of the local people then you have no idea what you’re talking about. You are far out of your league and you are part of the problem.
Do you want to help the world? Do you really want to help the world? Become a teacher. Get off your high horse trying to imply I’m a racist for wanting to hear some music.
Last night I finally had an encounter with someone that got me fired up enough to really write. I’ve come here to write several times since arriving in Benin but never gotten around to doing it. I’m back.
There are nice people all over the world and there are assholes all over the world. I find them both everywhere I go. This post is not a commentary on Benin culture. I’ve been here 4 months and so far I have absolutely loved it. This post is commentary on human beings.
In my travels I’ve found that when in a foreign country and not quite speaking the language yet you encounter two types of people and these two people exist in every city, every village, every country worldwide:
Hi! Welcome to my country! How long have you been here? Are you learning the language? Oh yeah? How long have you been studying? How’s it going? Can we speak a little? Wow! You’re really good! I can’t believe you know so much after only studying for x amount of weeks! I’m impressed. Keep it up! If you ever need to know how to say something feel free to ask. I look forward to keeping up with your progress.
May or may not say something in English first. Immediately speaks high level of their language then looks at me and expects me to respond. I say I’m sorry I don’t understand. He/She says I’m speaking your language you should speak mine. I’ll only speak in English but you should answer me in French. I explain I’ve only been studying you’re language for x amount of weeks. I can’t do that. He/She says how dare you come to my country and not learn my language. I tell him/her they are being rude to me and I don’t appreciate it. Then there’s the inevitable insult and statement about how I am disrespecting his/her culture and how rude I am for coming to a foreign country and not learning the language. He/she repeatedly says insulting/condescending things to me and repeatedly tells me that I’m the rude one for pointing out how rude they are being.
The first thing I want to make clear is I do not have any more of an issue with the meat of a dog being eaten than the meat of a pig or a cow. A common argument made about the protests of the Yulin Dog Meat festival is: Where are all the people protesting the eating of cows or pigs or chickens? And I fully appreciate that sentiment. While it is absolutely not part of my culture to eat dog and I have an emotional attachment to them I can appreciate that in some cultures dog is just another livestock animal. I was vegetarian for 15 years
and vegan for 5 of them. I began eating meat again several years ago and I have made my peace with that. If I am willing to eat a pig, a fish, a snake, an insect, or a cow, I should be able to eat a dog.
Also, as I am sure many of you know already, as part of my research I actually attended the Yulin Dog Meat festival 2 years ago. It was the most emotionally challenging thing I have ever put myself through. I blogged about it here but in short I did not see anything I was expecting. I was expecting horrible cruel people torturing sweet puppy dogs to death. What I found was to this day some of the very nicest people I have met in China. Everyone was kind and welcoming to me and after the cruelness of many of the people in the city where I live I was surrounded by the dead carcasses of dogs and the barking and whining of the those awaiting slaughter and yet I still felt more comfortable and more welcomed there than I usually do in Xi’an.
While I was there I did see thousands of dogs. Most of them appeared to be street dogs, dogs raised as livestock, or very old dogs the families had gotten rid of for cash. As depressing as it was I did not see any pure breed pet looking dogs. I also saw hundreds of dogs killed and every single one was done humanely with a slit to the throat. The dogs I saw did not appear to have ever felt the loving touch of a human and they were killed for food much in the same way as goats are. I am sure I have seen all the photos, all the videos, and read all the same articles as you have about the horrors of the Dog Meat Festival. All I can write about is what I saw.
Now on to part two of my research: The Liberation. I have made friends with a very active animal rights activist here in Xi’an. He told me they had stopped a dog truck on its way to the Dog Meat Festival and I said I wanted to see them. I was told there had been about 100 dogs on the truck and most of them had been adopted already. When I arrived there were about 25 left. Some were sweet as if maybe they had been a pet but most were definitely street dogs that would growl, snarl, and snap if you got to close. There was one greyhound.
While there my friend told me there was another truck coming through tonight and asked if I wanted to join them in stopping it. Are you kidding? Of course I did! I was supposed to be attending a going away party that night but I sent her a nice voice message saying I knew there would be loads of people there and no one would really miss me and the dogs were very important to me, love you and see you around! She understood.
So here’s how it went down: Someone from the rescue group has a contact that works on the highway. They pay him if he calls and reports a dog truck is coming through. Then they know how long it takes the truck to get from that point to closer to Xi’an. There were several cars of us and we sat waiting at the highway entrance to catch the truck. It was a highly suspenseful time. The truck knew we were waiting for them and the car we had tailing it kept commenting to say they were taking alternate routes trying to lose us. We would speed down one road then U-turn, turn left or right and speed down another. When we finally knew we were almost to the truck my friend and I got stuck behind traffic on a road with no shoulder so no way to get around. We were flashing our lights and honking our horn and as soon as we could we sped around them. As we turned a corner we came up on a big brawl in the middle of the road and saw one of our guys jump into a big truck, pull a crazy fast U-turn and speed off. We all followed the truck while a small group of people was left on the side of the road, people that had been traveling with the dogs.
We drove to a deserted road, pulled over, and raised the tarp covering the dogs. It was one of the saddest sites I have ever seen. The only thing I thought about was Jews being sent off to concentration camps. There were over 300 dogs crammed into this one truck and many on the bottom had been trampled to death. There were Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, a husky with beautiful blue eyes, and hundreds of others. These were no street dogs and certainly were not dogs raised as livestock. When we closed the tarp back up so we could drive on the dogs screamed, and howled, and cried like nothing I have ever heard before. It has been over a week and I am tearing up right now as I type this. It was like the most horrifying cries from the pits of hell. I felt so sorry for them.
We drove on to the designated stopping place. Everyone contacted everyone they knew to tell them to come out and see the dogs. By now it was almost 1:00 in the morning but about 200 people came out to see the truck. This may seem funny but I was struck by how nicely everyone was dressed. It reminded me of the stories we hear of the first battles of the Civil War when the wealthy would set up seats to watch. The Chinese do like fashion. Women will walk up mountains in dresses and heels and this was no different.
While driving the two hours back to Xi’an I found out we had not only stolen the truck but also kidnapped the “owner” of the dogs. What needed to happen now was he needed to call the police to report his dogs stolen but when the police arrived he needed to tell the policeman he didn’t want the dogs anymore and relinquish ownership to the rescue group. I will leave it up to your imagination as to how they helped change the “owner’s” mind but in the end he did relinquish ownership. After that the truck was driven to a shelter outside of Xi’an where they had agreed to take in the dogs and the guy was given his truck back.
I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was going to do when the police came since…uh…well…I’m kind of a foreign citizen involved in some not exactly legal action therefore risking jail time and deportation but at 2:00 AM when we had no idea if the police were coming in 15 minutes or 15 hours and I was offered a ride home I took it.
The next day I got the location of the shelter and paid a driver to take me out there. It was terribly depressing. There were so many pets. These were clearly stolen house pets. They were sweet precious babies that were used to sleeping on couches under the air conditioning while being loved on. They were definitely not livestock. I was horrified. Many of them clearly were street dogs, many seemed to fit what I saw in Yulin two years ago very old pets that no one wanted to care for anymore so they sold it for meat, but oh my god more than 25% of them were definitely stolen house pets.
The condition of the truck and stolen house pets is what I am fighting against. My baby boy is laying in bed next to me as a write this.
He is not food. I could not kill and eat my dog any easier than I could kill and eat my daughter. He is family. And someone stole other people’s babies, shoved them onto this hellish truck, and sent them all the way across the country to be slaughtered and eaten.
Before anyone asks I have seen trucks transporting cattle and pigs in China. They look just like the trucks in the US do. They don’t shove more than 300 pigs onto one truck and have them so packed in that they are distorted and the ones on bottom are trampled to death. This is a special way of transport just for dogs apparently.
It has been 8 days since then. I have been to the shelter 5 times to help clean the kennel, bathe the dogs, and give them love. Yesterday for the first time some other people came with me. It was very nice to have help. Local Chinese volunteers come out everyday and say they are there to help but just like the night of the heist and hiking up mountains they wear nice clothes and don’t want to get them dirty so they won’t come in the kennel with the dogs. Instead they stand around taking pictures of me working and post them on their We Chat. It infuriates me but on the other hand I remind myself that volunteering and helping others, especially dogs, is not a part of Chinese culture so the mere fact that they are there really does say something. For a short while a group of five locals came in the kennel to help clean. They told me they had adopted a dog on the first day and they wanted to come back and help. I almost cried. It was the first time I had seen any Chinese person other than shelter employees actually come in the kennel and get dirty. Tomorrow a local friend of mine is going to help. I do not mean to have the White Savior Complex and imply the locals that come out don’t care. They really do. Why else would they drive so far to get there? I think they just don’t really know what to expect, they wear their normal nice clothes, and then realize there’s not really anything they can do without ruining them. I hope they’ll all come back next week in their old jeans and help!
The owner of the kennel and the manager really care. The manager of the shelter was so overwhelmed with emotion the first time I met her she cried, the owner is a Buddhist and has Buddhist chants playing at all times on the grounds. Another way they show they care is giving the dogs bones to chew on even though they are dog bones and that is pretty weird from my cultural way of thinking. I wonder if it’s a Buddhist thing? Waste nothing? I really don’t know.
The kennel itself is a mixture of happiness and sadness. Some of the dogs are badly injured and some of them are very ill. They cannot afford medical treatment so the dogs either heal or die. One to five of them die everyday. Some are in such terrible shape that I arrive in the morning and they are dead by the time I leave in the afternoon but euthanasia is strictly against Chinese culture. They think of it as murder. No matter how much the poor thing is suffering they will just leave it there to die instead of putting it out of its misery. But that’s not a thing with just this shelter. That’s China. Omg when my poor baby cat went into kidney failure at the age of 16 and I couldn’t find a vet to help put her out of her misery I just about went crazy.
During the first 2 days almost all of the pure breed dogs were adopted. There is still one German Shepherd puppy with a deformed foot, one ancient Rottweiler, one Mastiff, and one adorable Golden Retriever/Mastiff mix, and one Malamute, other than that it’s almost all mixed breeds. Between adoptions and deaths about half of them are gone now. Many of them are so sweet you’d cry if you came and want to take them all home with you. There are maybe 50 that were clearly street dogs and cower and run away when you get too close. I have fallen in love with a couple of them and it truly breaks my heart that I will have to leave them soon. I only have 22 days left in China.
I have been so miserable here and for the past 6 months I have been counting the days before I get to get the fuck out and now one month before I leave I fall in love and have the greatest reason to stay. The saddest, saddest thing to me is that when I leave there will be no one to give them love. They’ll live the rest of their lives in that kennel and may never feel human touch again. I don’t blame the shelter at all. Oh my god they care, they really care but there are no more than 5 people there and they have 2,000 dogs to take care of. They don’t have time to give the dogs affection. And other foreign volunteers? They’ll lose interest. Please prove me wrong if you’re reading this.
I just got home from my sixth time to go out there and help in nine days. We rescued over 300 dogs. Fifty to sixty of them, basically all the pure breeds, have been adopted, fifty to sixty have died and I see little hope for the rest to ever find homes. About twenty of them are either sick or injured and about thirty of them are wildish street dogs. In the end was it really worth it? I struggle with that. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just depressed. I looked around this afternoon and thought to myself these are the leftovers. These are the ones no one wants. It doesn’t matter how sweet their personalities are they don’t look expensive so they get looked over. Out of over 300 dogs 50 of them found homes and the rest are either dead, sick, injured, or will live the rest of their lives locked in a cage. Is taking a sweet, sweet happy little puppy dog and locking it in a cage with little to no human contact for the rest of its life really better than cooking it up for dinner?
So let’s talk a bit about how rude it is to tell a person they must just have a knack for learning languages and it must be easier for them. I think I can explain it best through a story.
When I first went back to college I had not taken a math class in 17 years. And even 17 years earlier math was not my strongest class. I was put in the bottom level of remedial math and I had to work hard to understand it. For 2 semesters of remedial math and then on to algebra, pre-cal, and stats I spent anywhere from 2-5 hours a day in the math tutoring lab. All the tutors knew me on a first name basis. Shout out to Eddy! Love ya!
Math was so very difficult for me. I cried so much in that tutoring lab they probably all thought I was a basket case. I really, really struggled with it. But I worked and worked and worked to understand it. While my classmates would only show up in the tutoring lab an hour before class on the day of a test I was there almost everyday until they kicked me out at closing time at 10:00 and I went in to school early to study several days a week.
I ended up with an A in all my college math courses but one and in class I could almost always answer the questions because I had studied the stuff so much. All my classmates would get mad at me and say things like “you always know the answers…it’s not fair…. Math is so easy for you” I would laugh at them and explain how many hours I spent in the tutoring lab every week just to understand this stuff and how it in no way was easy for me. They always ignored what I said and just went on saying that it was unfair that they got bad grades because math was hard for them.
I feel the exact same way when people tell me that languages must come easy to me. It’s like this complete dismissal of all the hard work I put into learning a language. It’s hard. I study hard at this stuff. I went to Guatemala and worked 4 hours a day one on one with a tutor for almost 2 whole months to learn Spanish. Let’s break down the numbers: a college 3 credit Spanish course is 45 hours in the classroom per semester. That’s 45 hours with a teacher over 15 weeks. I studied 140 hours in only 7 weeks. That is a fuck ton of work. And it’s hard fucking work. For anyone to say I must just be good with languages is completely disrespecting the work I did. In addition to the tutor I have also listened to over 120 hours of mp3 lessons and done countless hours of studying online.
Shall we even talk about Chinese? It is fucking hard for me. Learning Chinese has been more difficult for me than Organic Chemistry was in college. The first month we lived here I studied Chinese 80 hours with a tutor. For the next six months I studied 8 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 5 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 3 hours a week, and since then I have studied 1.5 hours a week. In less than 3 years I have put in over 500 hours of private one on one tutoring hours. How many credit hours is a college degree? Oh yes: 120. So I have studied Chinese for almost enough hours to have earned an entire 5 university degrees. And you want to tell me languages must be easy for me???? I have made it through books 1, 2, and 3 and I am now 25% through book 4. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone I know only speaks Chinese, no one in any shops speaks any English and I am forced to speak and understand it all day everyday. How dare you say that I must just find languages easy to learn. I must just have a knack for languages. I am “blessed” with a talent for learning languages.
No. I fucking work hard. That’s the answer. I fucking work really, really hard at it. It is not easy and for you to say it is completely disrespects all the work I have put into it.
I am sharing this story because I see people make these mistakes all the time. When an amazing musician performs people will talk about how “blessed” he/she is or how naturally the music comes to them. I assure you that person practices many hours a week. I know musicians that practice 8+ hours a day. That’s why they’re so good.
Sure are there maybe people out there that language actually is easy? Maybe. Are there people that math is easy, or music is easy, or art is easy, or whatever it is they excel at is easy for them? Maybe so but for most of us we have to work really hard to be good at what we do and ignoring our work by assuming it is easy for us is not cool. Everyone that I know that’s really good at something got there through hard work and practice.
Starting in less than a year I’ll be moving to a new country and learning yet another new language. I enjoy the challenge. I like the feeling of overcoming an obstacle and I also know that learning new languages is one of the best things we can do for our brains. But please, oh please, do not tell me that learning languages is hard for you and easy for me. I will be working a full time job in a new country where I know no one, taking extra language courses on the weekends, listening to French mp3s on the way to work and the way home, studying every extra moment I can find in the day to learn the language and be able to communicate with the people around me. I will be working hard. It will not come natural to me and for you to say it does is simply rude.
All my life I have always been told I am the friendliest person anyone has ever met. I smile at people, I talk with strangers, I help people even when it is an inconvenience for me. I go out of my way to make people happy. If I know I can do something to make someone else’s life a little easier I always do it. That’s who I am.
People ask me frequently how/why my Chinese is so good after studying so little and I credit it to my personality. I am super friendly and I speak to pretty much everyone I see. I think this is a main reason that I have many experiences in China that lots of others seem to not have. Also, I have not been working so I did not immediately walk into an English speaking environment and an instant circle of friends. When I moved here I spent my days 100% alone while my husband was at work and my daughter was at school. I did not meet my first English speaker for the first 8 months I was here. I was in a sink or swim situation. I was either going to be depressed and crying at home or fucking go out, learn the language, and make friends. Anyone that knows me knows I would choose option B.
It has not served me well. As of today I give up. I refuse to speak to strangers anymore. I will not go out anymore unless it is with the very few people that I know and trust and if any stranger approaches me I very well may tell them to fuck off. It has taken a long time and a LOT of bad experiences to make me, ME, embittered but I am finally there.
I’m not the super friendly, outgoing, smiley, helpful woman that I was two years ago. I’m just not.
I have experiences here that others seem to not have. I have people not believe me, I have people tell me that China is the safest place in the world for women, I have expat women tell me they have never had such experiences here and you know what? Fucking good for you. I’m happy for you. I can already imagine now all the comments I’m going to get saying nothing like that happens/happened to me in China. I have thoughts on why that is:
Most expats I know live in expat bubbles. They only hang out with other expats and the only Chinese people they know are their co-workers and perhaps their co-workers’ friends. They also speak little to no Chinese so they have no clue what strangers are saying to them most of the time. Their Chinese co-workers speak English and are college educated and they base all Chinese people off them. According to Wikipedia 6% of Chinese people speak English and 17% of Chinese people go to college. So they are basing all Chinese people off the maybe 10-15 people they know from the top, top, top tier of society. Sure, maybe they talk to the parents of the kids they teach. You know, the kids whose school tuition is at least 3 x’s higher than the local minimum wage. That’s like a Chinese person going to America and attending Harvard for one semester then basing all Americans off the friends they made there.
I have far more interactions with local people than any of them do. They are at work all day and I’m out talking to people. I talk to 15-20 people a day or more. I stop and have conversations with security guards, I talk to the cashier at the market, I talk to the person next to me on the subway, I talk to the other people that are out walking their dogs while I am walking mine, I talk to the person at the table next me at the coffee shop, I talk to the person in the elevator, I talk to the taxi driver, I talk to the waiter, I talk to the lady doing the awesomely huge cross-stitch I’ve been watching for a year now that sits on the sidewalk every afternoon working on it, I talk to the lady at the cardboard recycling place across the street, I talk to my neighbors. I freakin’ talk to everyone. And my Chinese is pretty decent these days. I can have conversations with these people I speak with.
I have lived in Xi’an, China for 2 years, 3 months, and 7 days. In that time here are a few the experiences I have had:
While standing at a bus stop with my husband a man walked over and groped my ass.
While reaching in my pockets to find money a motorcycle taxi driver grabbed my breast.
While standing in line for a restroom 3 men tried to drag me into a room. Your guess is as good as mine what they planned to do to me in there.
In an elevator a man grabbed my arm with one hand and my breast with his other while pushing me up against the wall.
A man walked straight up to me on a sidewalk and molested my breasts.
While dancing in a club a woman dropped to her knees and began giving me oral sex through my clothes.
A woman jumped on me and began dry humping me and I had to fight her off me.
A woman grabbed my breasts with both hands and refused to let go.
A taxi driver, while I was handing him money through the bars, grabbed my hand and began kissing it while repeatedly begging me to have sex with him.
I have had 6, yes 6, taxi drivers ask me to go to a hotel and have sex with him during his break.
Is ten enough? Naw… let’s just talk about my past 4 days. Friday night I went to a concert at a very small venue. I was there by myself and I was seated on a couch with some people I did not know. I was my normal friendly self and all of a sudden after about half an hour the guy next to me just takes my hand. I was a bit startled and before I could even react he asked me to go home with him. That’s not even where the story ends. When I refused and he left angry his friends seemed shocked I did not take him up on his offer. They told me he was rich, he could do anything he wanted with women, and I should have gone with him. I told them he picked the wrong woman.
Then today, and remember that was Friday and this is Monday, I was feeling a bit lonely because my husband and daughter are in the US for Christmas and I went to a coffee shop. The guy at the table next to me spoke a little English and was thrilled to practice it. My Chinese is way better than his English so we spoke about 75% Chinese 25% English. He was very pleasant and we had a really nice talk. We spoke for about twenty minutes when I told him I was going to go home. That’s when he said…drum roll please… “I can drive you home and we can fuck.” (In English)
And I haven’t even touched on how many people here so frequently call me fat and ugly since I already blogged about that a few months ago. It hasn’t stopped.
Am I saying that every single Chinese person I meet is an asshole or a disgusting pig? No. I have met some truly wonderful people here. Am I saying that I have met enough assholes and pigs here to make me, ME, an angry bitter woman that does not even want to talk to people anymore? Yes.
Can these things happen to me anywhere in the world, even the US? Yes! They absolutely could but the fact is they have not. This is my own empirical evidence based on my own personal experiences. I have never had such a high rate of such incidents in my life and I have traveled in over 20 countries. I know it’s not a China and only China problem. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is these are some of things that have happened to me while living here. Why do I not write more about all the good times I have here? Because none of the good things need to be changed. If we don’t talk about the bad shit that happens in the world how will it ever get better?
Oh! And here’s the best part. I will have more people call me a racist bitch over this blog entry. I wrote about 12 creepy sexual assaults or comments but if I had to come up with a number I would say I have been either assaulted or been told something sexually crude, called fat and told I eat too much, and/or been called ugly somewhere between 300-350 times. And that’s on the low end. I have lived here 827 days. That means that every 2.2 days here I have been assaulted either physically or verbally. I don’t like it here and I am ready to go. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: maybe I’ll hate the next place too! But I sure am ready to give it a try.
Big advantage of the next place: I will be working too! I get the luxury of English speaking all day and the instant friends.
I am deeply saddened from all the pro-NAFTA posts I have seen from my otherwise well informed, left leaning friends. Please stop it. You are doing exactly what the other folks do. Just because Trump is against something does not mean you should love it. Life is not that simple.
Absolutely everything out of Trump’s mouth is not wrong. While the things that he says that are wrong are so very, very wrong I could never look past them, some of the stuff he says is alright. Like NAFTA was a bad idea and the TPP is too. Don’t want to trust me? Bernie Sanders is against the TPP as well. So were many of you until all of sudden now when Trump says he is against it many of you have back tracked and are saying maybe TPP isn’t so bad. I mean if Trump is against it then I have to love it, right? WRONG.
Let me guess… you don’t really, and I mean REALLY, even know what NAFTA is right? Outside of the North American Free Trade Agreement and possibly a middle school level explanation a teacher gave you years ago. It’s okay. No one can see you reading this, even me, so you only have to admit it to yourself.
Let me tell you a little about NAFTA:
Corn farmers in the US get government subsidies. That means the US government pays them to grow corn. Mexican farmers do not get paid to grow corn. That means that in small, local markets all over Mexico corn that was grown in the United States and shipped on trucks all the way to Mexico is still cheaper than the corn Jose right down the road grew on his farm. So Jose goes broke because if you’re a poor Mexican you buy the cheap corn.
NAFTA took land away from the indigenous people’s of Mexico and sold it to US corporations. People that had been living on the land for hundreds, even thousands, of years all of a sudden found themselves kicked off their homesteads with nowhere to go. Men in suits came with papers saying this land belongs to us now, built fences, and bull dozed homes. What were the people to do? (Look into the Zapatista movement)
US corporations, took the indigenous peoples’ land and built factories on it, told them they could then have jobs paying shit in the factory that was on the land their ancestors had lived on since the beginning, the wages are menial, the products are then shipped back to the US (tariff free) and sold at incredible markup to keep the companies getting ever richer.
When people lose their ancestral homes, or lose their farms due to cheaper US foods coming in they often turn to the only thing they can to keep their families alive: crime. Cartels grow, murders grow, kidnappings grow, theft grows, the gun trade grows and more. These gangs are often formed by families that lost their land and lost their livelihood to NAFTA. Most of the drugs are then shipped to the US to be sold to the very people that took away the only way of life they had ever known. So we, the people of the United States, took what was theirs, called it our own, and now blame them for the crime we created.
Others, the ones that don’t turn to crime, may risk their lives to get to the US. They illegally cross the border, to live in the shadows, bust their asses working long hours and living in shit conditions, under the constant fear of being found out and deported and all the while being harassed by the right just so they can send money home to support the families that they used to support with their farm. Their farm they lost because of NAFTA .
And I haven’t even touched on how NAFTA is responsible for the sad state of Flint, Michigan these days. I haven’t mentioned how over one million US jobs have been lost do to NAFTA. And I won’t. You have Google. Go!
Now the TPP is a plan that will do the same things and have all the same effects but on even more countries. New Balance, as a company, is anti-TransPacific Partnership because of the worldwide negative effects it will have. Donald Trump is also anti TPP. When Matthew LeBretton of New Balance said “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and, frankly, with president-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” he was not speaking of hate, he was speaking of keeping factories in America. On this topic I agree with Trump and I am not ashamed to admit it. I am anti-NAFTA and I am anti-TPP. It has been a complete PR disaster for them and we, the left, should stand behind them and show them our support.
I will still wear my New Balance shoes and I will wear them proudly.
So let’s talk about the presidential election. I was not surprised by the results. I know many of you were and I am fully prepared for all the hate that will come my way for saying this but many people simply don’t see reality. I believe it is human nature but far too many people fall for the False-Consensus Bias. That’s what my husband and I call the Look Left, Look Right Syndrome. If all your friends drink a twelve pack a night that’s what you think is normal. In the same way if all your friends lean one political way that’s what you think is normal. Also, most people swear they are not under the bias of False Consensus and that they are realists. Let me assure you my friends, you are wrong.
Most of the people I am friends with, therefore most of the people that will read this, are from major cities. Most people in cities lean to the left. When is the last time you spent any real time outside of the city? Like more than a day trip to the mountains or perhaps a weekend visit to the in-laws? Before leaving the country 2 years ago I had spent the last 5 years in the most conservative county of one of the most conservative states of America. I spent 5 years surrounded by the people that elected Trump. In fact ¾ of my life has been spent outside of big cities in the US. I have always been the outsider, the one liberal in a sea of red.
Many of my friends are from Atlanta so I will share this picture of the Atlanta voting map taken from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You voted Democrat right? And everyone you know voted Democrat right? So how did this happen? Most likely it is true. I mean look at this map. You live in the city, you have always lived in the city, you spend very little time outside of the city, you’re probably one of those people that after 5 years never once came to one of my monthly parties because it was in the ever-dreaded OTP (Outside The Perimeter), and so the liberal lean you have seems normal to you. But you see where it turns red up there? That’s where I spent my last 5 years in Georgia. ¾ of my life has been in various red areas of our national map!!! I know how they think and I know they are there.
I have been complaining about, and terrified of this growing hate-filled, anti-intellectual, pro-ignorance movement in the US for a long time. When I talk about it or warn about it, as I am often prone to do, I am always met with resistance. I have people tell me I am exaggerating. They tell me I am overreacting. They tell me I am too cynical. They tell me it’s not really that bad, that I should calm down, things are getting better and better. They give me condescending lectures and act like they know better than me. They say things like oh, you just think that way because you’ve had bad experiences. Look! We even have a black man as president! I have warned and warned about this coming and no one listens. Why do they not listen? Because they live in liberal bubbles of the big cities and they think that it is normal for the rest of the country. I saw it coming and I left. Now that the US has elected a hatemongering, racist, sexist, Islamaphobic, pussy-grabbing, reality TV star as our president will I be taken seriously? Probably not. It’s okay. I’m used to it.
Want a feel for what America is like? Get out of your comfort zone. Leave the city and do it often. Choose some random small town and go spend the weekend in it. Eat in greasy spoons. Talk to the locals. You’ll see they are nothing like the people you know in the city. You don’t have to go far. Less than 2 hours from your home and I assure you it’s a different world. If you do that you will begin to understand that the United States of America is not the place you think it is. Well maybe this election made you see that but spending time outside of the city, real time not just the occasional drive through, will make you understand why.
It’s funny. I have recently, very recently, been making some friends I really like here and a jazz bar opened that has live music every Saturday night. My Mandarin is finally to a point where I can make friends with Chinese people that speak no English at all and I can get around town with no trouble. For the first time in 2 years I have actually somewhat been enjoying life here and I have been thinking maybe China isn’t so bad and I might be able to enjoy my last 10 months here.
Nope. All it took was one trip to the vet to be reminded: I HATE IT HERE.
6 days ago I found a puppy on the street. For the first 3 days it seemed like a perfectly healthy puppy. I put him on social media to try and find him a home but then he became ill. At first I thought it was getting used to the dog food but after 2 days of lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting I knew it was serious. I worked in an animal hospital for 2 years and an animal shelter for 5. I am no vet but I know enough to know it was serious.
I know a vet here. I contacted him and told him the story and that I cannot afford treatment for anything serious but I am willing to pay for euthanasia. He said okay bring him in.
When I arrived at the vet clinic the vet that I had already arranged the euthanasia with said omg this puppy is too cute to execute. They tested him and he was positive for Parvo. He said we must treat him. I was like uh… well that cost is on you then. They put loads of pressure on me to pay the full price for treatment and I stood firm. They refused euthanasia no matter what I said. I said okay then. I’m just going to throw him out on the street, get in a taxi, go home, and let him die a slow, miserable death. At first they said okay but when they realized I was serious (between you and me I could never do that) they changed their tune. At that point they agreed that if I would pay the amount the euthanasia would cost they would pay the rest of his treatment.
I have to constantly remind myself that they are so far behind in medicine and they think they are doing best, they simply don’t know any better. I DO NOT in any way believe the vet, or anyone at the clinic, is cruel or that they were only trying to get money out of me. Although several people I have told the story to do believe they were pulling a shakedown. I believe that in their own way they only wanted the best for the puppy and they thought they were doing right. I am under the impression that in China if an animal has a 5% chance of survival and the cost will be astronomical they still insist you try. The only way I think I can survive here another 10 months is believing the best in them.
keep dogs in cupboards as if they are quite literally toys, my dog gets kicked by a random stranger on a regular basis while we are out walking but, by golly, if you take an animal to the vet YOU MUST treat it. Humane euthanasia is not an option. I do not understand.
This is not my first experience with being refused euthanasia. We brought our two cats here from America. One was 16 years old and went into kidney failure. My uncle is a vet in the US and I sent him her blood results. He said it’s over for her. There is no way she will survive this. The best thing to do for her now is to put her down.
But would the vet here listen? No. He REFUSED to put her out of her misery. He insisted we keep trying treatment after treatment. She suffered an additional 2 weeks and we paid an additional 10,000¥ ($1500) before he was finally convinced he was not going to be able to save her and he agreed to euthanize her. Now anyone that knows me knows that I love my animals as much as I love my daughter and I would do anything for them. This was not about money. This was about her quality of life. She WAS NOT going to recover from this and he simply would not do what I was requesting.
And it’s ridiculous because it’s REALLY freakin’ expensive. I mean it’s expensive for me and for them it’s nearly unbelievably expensive. The average Chinese person makes about the same amount of RMB per month as the average American makes in USD so if something here costs 5¥ I can say for them it’s like $5. We spent the equivalent of $10,000 in two weeks to treat a cat that had absolutely zero chance of surviving and today they (a different hospital) wanted more than $2000 to treat a stray puppy.
If someone walks into a clinic in the US with an 8 week old puppy she found on the street that tested positive for Parvo, For the past 2 days was lethargic, had severe diarrhea and vomiting, and hadn’t eaten the vet is going to give the option of euthanasia and would never tell you that you have no choice but to pay $2000 for treatment. Who the fuck has $2000 lying around to save the life of stray puppy? A $50 euthanasia is the kind, humane thing to do.
I do not regret coming to China. I have loved learning Mandarin. I have really enjoyed studying another culture. I have seen some amazing places, and things, and met some absolutely wonderful people but I am ready to move on. Who knows where we’ll be this time next year? Maybe I’ll hate it too! Life is one great learning adventure to me and I love it!
I talk about the kind people I meet in China often. I have made a friend in the countryside that even invited me to his mother’s funeral because he feels so close to me.
There’s a wonderfully kind little old lady that sits in her wheel chair outside the main gate of my apartment complex every afternoon and she always smiles and waves at me when I pass. There is a nice family on the 18th floor of my building that has invited me for dumplings more than once. The first friend I ever made here has been more than kind to me in showing me around town, introducing me to his friends, and being a nonstop help with my Mandarin needs.
I’ve had little old men get up from their seats on the bus and no matter how many times I insist he remain seated he makes me take his seat. The shop owner where I buy my fruits and vegetables always compliments me on my speaking.
There’s a little boy in my complex that always runs up to me and calls me 老师(teacher) even though I’m not his teacher and I teach him at least 2 new words every time I see him. There’s a restaurant owner that every time I go in she puts her grandchild in my arms and seems the happiest woman ever to see the way I hold and play with the baby.
There’s a bar owner that knows my name, knows my drink, and is always happy to laugh and joke with me.
I understand why Chinese people are so kind. They are a collectivist society. The group as a whole is the most important and since we are all a part of the group we all must be kind to each other. If one member of the group falls the group cannot function properly. Being unkind to one is being unkind to the whole. Confucius wrote “Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.” Confucius also said “To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.”
So I’m curious. How many people are going to send me hateful messages for generalizing Chinese people today? I think probably none. No one gets upset when one generalizes in a positive way. Generalizations apparently are only a bad thing if the reader does not like them.
What kind of world are we living in if we can never point out the negatives of life? If we pretend everything is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with the world how will we ever achieve world peace? China is not a perfect place. Nor is the United States or Switzerland or Angola. If we are forced to accept, like, and even respect the very worst of every society in fear of angering others how will we ever change?
I believe that it is our job as humans to make the world a better place for the next generations. How can we make the world better if we don’t admit there’s anything wrong with it? If we have to pretend everything is perfect and we love everything around us at all times?
I can talk about how nice and kind Chinese people are all day long and never have one person call me out on generalizing but oh my god you say something bad about Chinese people and it’s immediately you’re a racist! You’re generalizing! Fuck generalizations! If you don’t like it just leave! We don’t want you anyway.
Sorry people, but generalizations go both ways. If all you want is to read about my positive experiences then you probably don’t want to read my blog because I write about the negative ones too.
This isn’t about me vs. China. This is me vs. the world. Wherever I am living or traveling I write about the good and the bad. I have loads of happy positive things to say about people and places but to leave out the negatives would not be true. For those of you that get angry with me for generalizing about negatives, but not angry with me for generalizing about positives perhaps, just perhaps, the problem lies with you and not me.
I leave with one last quote of Confusius:
“The faults of a superior person are like the sun and the moon. They have their faults, and everyone sees them; they change and everyone looks up to them.”