6 Months in China

The following is just a snippet to some questions I was asked about my current experience in China:

1. 3 Biggest Differences:
Food, Accessibility and Connection. It’s hard really trying to explain what the biggest differences are but probably how these are “catered” for in China is the real difference.
– For instance what you find on your plate won’t be the familiar potatoes, vegetables and all sorts of marinade / seasoning that you’ll find in the west. But rather food for the masses which now with the “western” influence coming into China, a lot of places are trying to imitate the tastes that we get right back home! Think of it as maybe the Chinese restaurants in the UK trying to get the “Chinese” taste but with limited resources. It’s not that they can’t do it but it’s just more effective to use home products as opposed to importing the REAL taste over.

– Accessibility is the second since well, there’s one huge language barrier separating you from getting what you want initially. Eventually you start learning how to gesture correctly and explain visually what you want. OR just get out your phone and translate / show a picture. Plus so much of the infrastructure for China has “English” translations scattered everywhere and even the announcer on trains / buses will be in English. Granted though, when we think “Chinese” translations over to english are bad, you soon learn this does go both ways when your ever so convenient “Chinese Translation” app actually gives you false translations and some answers which you shouldn’t be using in certain situations. A good example is “I appreciate your actions” turns into “I value the meaning behind your actions and I really do admire how you do it”. A simple gesture of thanks can turn into almost a statement of admiration!

– Connection thirdly is the biggest difference since upon coming to China you will be slotted into the, “foreigner” box. You can either shrug your shoulders and deal with it, knowing well that there are tons of benefits to playing this card and being as Western as you can be on a day to day basis. OR play the card of a foreigner who wants to be more Chinese. Do this correctly and you’ll be treated with as much care and respect as you would get back home, with people looking out for you and seeing you as someone genuinely interested in their culture. However seek to just reap the rewards of “comfy” living and you can be called out quickly and thrown aside for having your use fulfilled. Finding your place in a Chinese community is all about the challenge of time and gradually breaking down the culture walls, you aren’t just dealing with one group of people when coming here but hundreds of sub-cultures and dialects.

2. Learning Mandarin:
– Well before I say anything more, I’m half Chinese but I was never properly taught the language when I was younger. The closest I got was by going to Chinese classes when I was around 10 years old for 6 months where I learned the basics of tone, writing and reading. However even with that, I only could remember to count to 10 and not even with proper pronunciation! But a benefit I did get was with having a Chinese mother who communicated in English with Chinese grammar. So probably the most difficult thing that a lot of foreigners will have to deal with is an entirely new grammar system upon picking up the language. After that it’s either going ahead and getting more speaking practice or choosing to learn enough “characters” to get by on a texting – Chinese level of communication. Because my position in the placement has earned me the title of a “Guest Relations Operator”, I’ve been privileged enough to practice Mandarin on a demanding level as opposed to something minimum. In which both my colleagues see me as someone they can talk to in their local language as opposed to switching to English for convenience. The first four months of the placement were really building a foundation for the language but after you start work in the hotel, you’ll either find through day to day experience that it all clicks together if you’re really keen on the language. But just like with english, we deal with nonverbal communication and emotions through our communication, the Chinese “Business” language has a whole entirely different set of rules.

3. Biggest Cultural Difference:
– Efficiency vs Eventuality is probably the biggest difference. Upon arriving in the placement you may feel inclined to think “Why am I being taught so slowly” both in language in work. But you soon learn that theres a method of progression that has been taught in China for many years so far and just because your from a new generation of “foreigner” doesn’t mean that process is going to change hugely. Sometimes you’ll be left thinking how long something is going to take but in the “Chinese” procedure, you’re always going to get the result at a specific time in the future. It is efficient since you’ll get the results but the speed of which that result comes may differ depending on the circumstance. A lot of people will talk about the queuing systems and general manners are different in China and how it’s a shocking display of human compassion to one another, however another way of looking at it is thinking that the less time you spend on one task, the more time you’ll have to use on something in the future. However this is only for an “individual” which is why in a company because the matter doesn’t directly impact the server / cashier / person facilitating the issue, there isn’t much incentive for something to be done quickly. It doesn’t give them any change in their job or social standing because in the end, it’s the simply procedure they are being paid to do.

4. Biggest Personal Change
– For as long as I can remember I’ve been without any real long term drive. Whatever was in front of me was my entertainment and afterwards I would just move onto the next thing whenever the time was right. I could adapt to things but I couldn’t string things together in terms of a 5 year plan. Due to this I lacked a lot of assertion and self-initiation to get things done but I do feel that coming to China changed that. I made a conscious decision that I want to connect to this place on a much deeper level as opposed to sticking to my same routine back in the UK and attempt to see things more rationally in terms of what benefits I could reap here. So I psyched myself up for the challenge of creating a challenge of staying here for 4 years and I feel that’s what made the difference in my placement so far. As a result instead of thinking I’ve got to make my Chinese home much more like the UK, it’s turned the other way round. How can I change myself to find comfort over here and in turn make things more favourable to myself. This in turn aided my ability to initiate things in work and play since I felt more comfortable with my environment I was slowly able to bring about more confidence in my actions. As a result this confidence turned into more definite actions which as opposed to the “bravado” and “relentless good ideas” one might have, started reeling in results which made both my placement and personal life here improve. Now rather than just having a solid training path and the trust of my Chinese colleagues, additionally I’ve been slowly building a network of contacts in Shanghai from the regular dancing and performing I do there. Best way to sum all this up is, I have a really strong burning desire to succeed upon coming to China which I didn’t really have beforehand.

5. The process.
– It’s straightforward, sure there were times when paperwork had to be sent back and forth and communications may be scarce at times but things get done. It’s just like with any interview process, except this time you are not just a regular employee but a whole new set business changes come with the potential you hold as a “foreign” investment. You’re a privileged visitor and you are treated very well once you get accepted, however that’s why the process can seem very meticulous at times. Whether it’s extra paperwork or more interviews, you just have to take it as what it is and not overthink it as careless miscommunication of not all the facts being given at once. PYI have delivered on really finding the most appropriate hotel for me to work with and it does feel tailor-made from my work experience so far. Plus they were very open to some of the issues that they were coming across during the process on their side since it isn’t about just one country doing negations. The western branch are having to be in communications with companies over in China so of course a lot of issues can arise, being sympathetic and patient really pays off in the end.

6. Choosing China
– Well my girlfriend is also here and she isn’t someone who comes from China. We both met when I was still in Glasgow and she told me her long term plan was to come here and eventually study business in China, then told me that if I’m to follow her I’ve got to make the reason equally beneficial for myself and not just for the sake of chasing her. Looking at this rationally, I have a whole side of heritage coming from China which I’ve not really looked into or understood before. So as opposed to doing this at a later date when I’m more financially secured / older, I settled to find a way to do it now and come here with her. Low and behold the PYI opportunity was actually something given to her. She passed it onto me, I applied, succeeded and here I am now in China with her. So I’ve really been graced with a very special set of circumstances in coming here. Being able to share the experience with a loved one as well as learning more about myself and half of my cultural background.

7. Homesicknesses
– I don’t feel it. I feel more at home here than I do in the UK plus I do keep in regular contact with my parents back home. I don’t make an effort to find local products here or live like I would back home. There’s a different mindset culturally here which you just need to tap into and adapt into. Afterwards it’s just gradually getting used to the similarities that China has and some of the universal similarities which are inescapable. Humour and music are probably the two which have benefitted this experience. Since even if the food is bad and the temperature is awful, at least some Chinese get a kick out of talking about the weather as much as the Brits do too. I do think accepting the fact things are going to be different is the best first step into getting over the homesick and additionally I tell my colleagues, “When I’m healthy I don’t feel homesick but when I do feel sick, there’s a little bit of home which I miss”

8. Coming back to China to work
– Yes. As I’ve mentioned already I do plan on staying here for 4 years if it’s possible. The experience you’d get from working here ultimately broadens your views on a whole different set of life restrictions and needs. Depending on how you progress in an “Only chinese-speaking” environment, you slowly learn the benefits of being completely selfless, in not being able naturally express your feelings or desires in your mother tongue. And in turn learning to appreciate others and the subtleties of minor details in communications which aren’t the traditional non-verbal communication cues that you’d get in the west. Especially for business, becoming a lot more savy in what details are required to progress in a transaction as opposed to trying to out-talk your audience. I want to learn more if I’m able to secure a position long term here, then bring it back to the UK and tie it together with a career path that a year ago I didn’t think was possible prior.


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