Stickman Readers' Submissions August 5th, 2014

Is Living in China a Better Proposition? Part 1

I read with interest of the growing disillusionment with living in Thailand and with the perception that a move to China would be more beneficial and alleviate the years of built up tension Thai systems and culture can bring. I hate to dampen your enthusiasm but the grass is not necessarily greener in China.

I have lived in Shanghai for over 4 years now so I am qualified somewhat to highlight some of the challenges of living in China. I am by no means a racist. I have a high degree of tolerance and acceptance of all cultures and I have lived in other Asian cities before, including Bangkok, so I can appreciate the frustrations highlighted by many readers.

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I would like to share with you some Chinese idiosyncrasies that I initially struggled to accept but now have a much better understanding of why the Chinese are the way they are. While I understand Chinese culture it does not mean I accept a lot of what goes on here. But in the end I am a guest in this country so I can either take it or leave it.


Chinese bad manners are legendary. There are many examples on the net and I have experienced them first hand. But if you understand some of the key reasons for bad manners then, believe it or not, it makes sense. Chinese culture is a self-centered one but there are reasons for this.

Firstly, there are 1.3 billion people in China. Shanghai has over 22 million people, approximately the entire population of Australia. Given the urban density, if you don’t push and shove and queue jump then you will get nowhere.

Secondly, and most importantly, Chinese are not aware that their behavior is construed as bad. The rationalization for this is very simple – unless a Chinese person has a personal relationship with another person then there is no need to be polite and courteous. You are not a family member or friend so you don’t matter. While this is hard to accept for foreigners it makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Thirdly, crass behavior has historical roots. If your political leaders have exhibited it and encouraged it then it becomes imbedded as normal behavior over time and will take years of generational change to improve. Enough said on this as I hate politics.


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The smoking culture is my pet hate in China. It appears you can smoke anywhere anytime and disregard any laws or regulations. I am sure in my 4 years here I have passively smoked at least one packet of cigarettes a month. I dine with my Chinese customers often and they light up before during and after dinner without asking if you approve or not. In fact you can smoke in restaurants, bars, hotel reception areas, toilets etc. In the picture below you will see a no smoking sign in the toilet where I work. See if you can spot the error in this picture?

Chinese toilet

It’s quite easy actually. The “No Smoking” should read “smoke here anytime you like and if questioned reply with a derisive sneer”. I have complained many times but apparently I am a stupid foreigner with no appreciation of Chinese culture. All generations are guilty of this and all generations react with equal distain when I point out the sign. More disturbing is the reaction from my colleagues when I share with them these incidents. While they agree that this behavior is bad they would never confront the perpetrators because that would create face loss for the culprits. Yes, like any other Asian culture face is extremely important in China.

The Air That I Breathe

Much has been said of the air quality in China particularly in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Yes it is bad most of the time and yes you can develop medical conditions over time which you may not have encountered back home. My doctor in Shanghai is Australian. He has told me that even a simple cold will take two or three times the normal period to get over, even with antibiotics. In fact if he gets sick he goes back to Australia, God’s country, for a week to recover.

The extent of the problem is evident when you take off and land at the airport in Shanghai. When I arrive in Sydney on my trips back I must be very careful not to expose my lungs to an initial huge intake of clean air. This must be a gradual process as I don’t want my lungs to collapse from being exposed to clean air all at once. Also when I land back in Shanghai I am immediately confronted with the familiar orange haze. This is Shanghai clean air. Surprisingly my lungs are used to it now but I am sure I have shortened my life span by at least 6 months by living here.

I can therefore understand to a certain extent why Chinese spit regularly. All generations and classes do it. Given the bad quality air I also believe it’s better out than in. However, spitting is never done discreetly. The theatrics associated with spitting add to the overall experience. The buildup, the execution and the sense of satisfaction after must be shared with all around you. Apparently everyone appreciates a good spit so why not share it. Also why spit in the gutter or garden when you have footpaths. There everyone can view your work.

Seize the Opportunity

Chinese are opportunists. They will take advantage of any situation if it means they will benefit from it financially or ease any discomfort or stress. There is no consideration for the potential to transfer stress, discomfort and financial loss to others of course. While many people think that there is little or no religion in China they would be wrong. There is one religion that all Chinese adhere to, money. Whether you make it honestly, legally, illegally, morally or immorally it does not matter. The accumulation of wealth is the main purpose for living. The biggest risks are to the environment and food safety. Apparently companies and individuals can release any waste into the air and rivers anytime they like.

This happens with disturbing regularity. Also contaminated or out of date food is also ok to sell. Why dispose of it when you can make money from selling it. If people get sick then you address that issue when it happens. Even the big multinational fast food companies with their high food standards are not immune.

Ok, enough rambling now. I will address my other pet hates, traffic and transport in part 2.

Welcome to China, everyone.

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