China Rage and the China Maybe

China rage is what you call the feeling you get after a day, or string of days, in China during which the country’s customs and culture seem to be actively working against you, nothing goes right, and even your escape to Western convenience is unable to provide you comfort or relief.

I’ve done a good job avoiding this phenomenon, but no matter who you are, days like this are inevitable.

For instance, I get a bit of China rage when something funny happens and I want to text or call a friend back home, and I dig my phone out my phone gleefully and start scrolling through my contacts before I remember that I can’t.

Or when, after a long day at school, where so many students come up to talk to me, touch me, ask me personal questions, and speak to me in broken English that is difficult to understand but even more difficult to respond to, all I want to do is go home in relative peace and not be openly stared at as if I have two heads by everyone who passes me by, especially since half the young people who stare at me have bad dye jobs, cheap be-rhinestoned shoes, and clothes straight out of a Wal*Mart from the mid-90’s, so if anything, I should be staring at them. On China rage days, I return the stares with raised eyebrows, as in, “What? You frontin’?”

Or when a car honks its horn at me three times—three!—even though I got out of the way after the first honk because I am, in point of fact, neither deaf nor stupid. Or when I’m in or near traffic at all (which is all the time, except when I’m actually in my apartment or at my school), be it on a bus or in a taxi or walking along the sidewalk, because it is so incessantly loud, pushy, and aggressive. There’s also a flagrant disregard for anything that would resemble traffic laws in the States. As far as I can tell, there are two rules of the road in China: 1) always look straight ahead, and 2) always honk your horn loudly, more than once, to indicate that you’re a) turning, b) merging, c) about to hit someone, d) about to be hit by someone, e) picking your nose, and f) etc. Everyone goes off-roading to get around construction, and where there are two demarcated lanes of traffic, there will invariably be three vehicles driving abreast on the road.

Or when my roommate and I stood at a bus stop waiting for a bus that never came, even though the bus we wanted stopped at the bus stop going in the opposite direction across the street like three times in the half hour we were waiting. Apparently the 831 was only doing half of its route that day on a busy Monday afternoon!

Or when we hopped on another bus to meet a friend for dinner at 7:30pm and ended up going in the wrong direction, nearly leaving Longgang district so that no taxi drivers wanted to take us back home since they’d have to pass through toll roads. We finally arrived at dinner at 9:00pm. Dinner, it turns out, was at a KFC only a fifteen minute walk from our apartment.

Or when my students finally gather up the nerve to answer a question, but I can’t hear what they said because a) I’m a little hard of hearing and b) I’m in a room with 50-60 people talking under their breath with the AC machines blowing air and the construction workers smashing things on the school plaza below and c) they speak in such an infuriatingly low tone of voice because they are so shy and embarrassed about their speaking skills. As soon as I ask “What did you say?” it’s all over. They think I can’t understand their English, and no matter how many times I say that I can understand their English, I just can’t hear them, they clam up, shake their heads, and sit down. It’s too late, I’ve lost the confidence of the one volunteer I’ve managed to find in the last five minutes of begging, pleading, and cajoling.

Or when I realize that Classes 8-10 are pretty much going to be living up to their reputation as drooling idiots, and if they understand a single word I’m saying, they’re keeping that information to themselves. Tuesdays are going to be hard.

Or when I go to this really delicious little Bubble Tea place that has an English menu but no English speaking employees, which is fine because I’ll just point at the picture menu for what I want and I think, oh, you know, I haven’t had chocolate in about a month; a “rich chocolate bubble shake” sounds absolutely perfect. It’s number nine on the menu above the counter, so I point to it and say “jiu,” which is Chinese for nine, and it should be so simple, right? But the girl looks at me like I’m a complete moron (which I functionally am, since I can’t speak the language), says something I don’t understand, pulls out another menu—in Chinese—and hands it to me. I point again at the ninth item, but this time there aren’t any pictures, only Chinese characters, so I hope it’s the same as the menu above, and I’m frustrated because I SAID JIU AND JIU IS A NUMBER THAT CORRESPONDS TO A DRINK, WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM, so frustrated and ready to just take whatever she wants to give me. And then I accidentally order the large size. I’m feeling dejected and not very hopeful at that point, so when a big ol’ glass of pineapple juice with floating pineapple chunks on top and settling pineapple seeds on the bottom shows up, I take it before they even have to confirm that it’s mine. Of course it’s mine. It looks gross, who else would order it but the bumbling foreigner? To be fair, the juice was sweet and fresh, but after choking on a few seeds and picking a few out of my mouth, I gave up and tossed the drink.  When you want chocolate, pineapple just doesn’t cut it. (The pineapple drink was number 8 on the menu, by the way. Number 8. In Chinese, “ba.” Which sounds nothing like “jiu.”)

Or when I was out for a morning run around the neighborhood with my roommate and we’re doing the usual dash across four lanes of traffic (obeying the pedestrian lights, which, thankfully, are the one part of Chinese traffic that I can almost always trust), dodging bicycle-taxis with giant umbrellas attached to the backseat, girls teetering in high heels, and the constant construction work–well, trying to dodge the construction work. What I think is a shallow puddle of rain water (as it is currently raining) is in fact a hole in the middle of the road that is part of the construction work at the intersection. I step directly into it, trip and fall forward, bang my knee up, cut open my hand, and jump to my feet wishing that a million Chinese people–who were already looking at me because I’m foreign and running in the street when it’s nearly noon–hadn’t just seen me fall. And then I proceed to run home with blood pouring down my leg while people cover their mouths and point as if I am unaware that my leg is trying to fall off. Picking the gravel out of my hand and knee and administering Neosporin was a whole ‘nother story.

But then there are the moments of complete confusion that instead of being inducing China rage, are instead helplessly funny, so all I can do is hold in my laughter until I’m in an appropriate place to let it loose. Like yesterday afternoon, when we went to the “English salon” held by the Longgang police force, who China-maybed the crap out of us—the “China maybe” really deserves its own post, but suffice to say when English-speaking Chinese say “maybe,” they mean “definitely”—by telling Jessica that, “Maybe you will give a speech and sit somewhere else during the ceremony” even though we had just arrived and hadn’t once been told, prior to this, about any speeches, or like when my contact teacher, Rambo says, “Maybe you will be at the school at this time–” yeah, I’m gonna be there.

The English salon commenced with a speech that began, “Learning English is not an easy endeavor. As the saying goes, ‘no pains, no gains,’ ‘no sweat, no sweet.’” As far as I know, there is only one pain and one gain, and the second saying must’ve come from a badly translated website. After the ceremony, we sat in a conference room for two and a half hours until dinner (minus a twenty minute excursion around the Bureau grounds to see their laundry room and barber shop). We got to meet a few other foreigners who are currently living in Longgang, including two Ghanaians, two Indians, and a man from Chicago, IL. Apparently there are about 1,500 foreigners living and working in Longgang, which really surprised me. Of course, with nearly a million people and 844.07 km² (524 square miles), Longgang is plenty big enough for 1,500 foreigners to disappear into the crowd.

Dinner was at a Western/French style restaurant, so of course we had that epitome of French food, spaghetti, with a tomato sauce flavored with what I think was grape jelly, a patty of fried chicken or ground beef to put on TOP of the spaghetti, a fruit and cucumber salad in a mayonnaise dressing, and a side of French fries. The beer, however, was plentiful, the Bureau members were generous and fun, and I gotta say, those French fries hit the spot.

Tomorrow is Teacher’s Day—an actual holiday in China, which should probably be adopted into American culture as well. I’m meeting my colleagues at my school, Ping Gang Zhong Xue, so we can go to dinner together. I was already given two free movie tickets: apparently a standard gift for teachers on this holiday. I missed out, though: my roommate received twenty-four rolls of toilet paper, twelve boxes of Kleenex, a gift certificate to a spa, and a quarter of a watermelon just laid out for her enjoyment at her desk. In addition to the movie tickets.

China rage aside (I compiled all the incidents here for the sake of the post; they are much more rare than would seem), I am healthy, happy, and laughing at everything. Bob Seger’s playing on my iTunes right now, setting the tone for a relaxing couple of hours before bed with my book: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Thinking of home and the people there. Be well!

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2 responses to “China Rage and the China Maybe

  1. My first thoughts were “oh no”, but with finishing your blog I couldn’t help but laugh through the whole thing! We love you Marie and you are always in our thoughts. Hugs and Kisses. Love, Mom and Dad

  2. I was thinking the same thing! I was wondering when we’d start hearing about the frustrating things. But I still can’t help laughing at it all! The Chinese idea of “gifts” and pretty much everything they think is acceptable English just kills me lol. Hope you’re relaxing now and that tomorrow goes well! Love you.

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