Sunday, April 19, 2009

Putting Down Roots

Tina and I bought a home last week. It's actually a half-finished concrete shell in a half-finished high-rise, but it's got a view of the sea, it's a little bit outside of Xiamen proper so the air is cleaner, and best of all, it was less than half of the price for homes inside Xiamen island. We've put down our 20% down payment and we're going to be on a 10 year mortgage plan, and with my new resolution to start paying off my student loan debt, this means that I'll have to cool it on the tattoos for awhile :-).

Tina was relieved and excited that we actually purchased a home, although it will probably be another year before we can move into it. Her family was pleased too, because it is a demonstration of my commitment to her and our marriage (I guess a diamond ring isn't enough for some folks :-P). Most of the down payment money was hers though, so my display of commitment wasn't so much a monetary gesture as it was a symbolic contract to make a home and build a life with their daughter. And since I'm the breadwinner of the family, my monetary gesture of commitment will be to feed the forthcoming mortgage monster :-). And honestly, I'm pumped. I've always had an enthusiasm for interior design (go ahead, laugh sucka) and having a place that we can shape together however we want is exciting.

But of course the biggest consequence of this purchase is a decision to put my roots down in China. Most people assume that a foreigner doing his thing in China will eventually go back to his hometown, and if he happens to get married in China, he will inevitably whisk his beaming bride to the Land of Opportunity. This was never my intention, and I'm glad that I have an anchor here (besides Tina). Of course, making a home in China can have its challenges. For example, the banks were hesitant to give Tina and I a loan because she's married to a foreigner, and the banks assume (with some justification) that Chinese people who marry foreigners are likely to leave China for their spouse's country and leave the bank holding the bag on the loan. And there is also distance from one's family. My father has been battling terminal cancer for the last 5 years, and although his spirits are high and his faith keeps him strong, I still feel bad being on the other side of the world while he and my family struggle. But they are supportive of me and my life here in China, and my folks are a little bit Sino-philic (my dad even speaks a bit of Mandarin), and they're ecstatic to have a Chinese daughter-in-law, so it makes the distance easier to digest.

So the verdict is that China is going to have to deal with this skinny tattooed laowai for a long time to come, but we're friends so it's cool. One great thing about our new home's suburban location is the lack of foreigners. I think I could really monopolize the market on English and Tina would like to establish some sort of Latin dance studio. Oh the possibilities....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Laowai Rock Star Complex

If you are foreign, male, young to middle-aged, and not hideously ugly, then you will notice several things that will occur to and around you in China. These things will become apparent within mere days of your arrival in China. *Disclaimer: I don't know how it works being a foreign woman in China, so I can't comment on that.*

- People will look at you. A lot. Especially if you are under the age of 35 and are wearing tasteful clothes. Depending on where you are in China, older people will look at you with a semi-confused, somewhat vacant stare. Young people will examine you meticulously. Boys will analyze your fashion sense and athleticism, sometimes whispering an observation about you to their pals and then laughing loudly. Girls will look initially surprised to see you, then will smile self-consciously but will not break eye contact. When you pass, they will whisper and giggle behind your back.
- You will become an object of gossip at your place of employment, especially if you work as a foreign teacher. If you are single, you will be continually quizzed about what kind of girl you like, and the more brazen young women will try their hand at flirting with you. If you are attached or married, you will be continually quizzed about your significant other, such as how you met her, where she comes from, whether or not she can speak English, etc. You will probably still encounter flirting even if it is common knowledge that you are not available.
- People will ask to take photos with you, sometimes on the street and with people you've never met. More often than not, these offers will be made by teenagers, both boys and girls.
- When you walk into a restaurant, you will be greeted by the customary throng of hostesses, but you will notice that the hostess will pay close attention to you, often setting your place and pouring your tea first. If you request where to find the restroom, they will often escort you.
- In a club or bar, random people will come up and want to drink with you. The people who do this can often speak a little English, but even if they can't they will still be very happy to share a drink with you.
- You will be asked to participate in special events- school functions, opening ceremonies, possibly even television programs. You will also be solicited for photo sessions for promotions and advertisements.
- You will have an abundance of women's attention and offers of affection.
- You will be treated as an honored guest at meals and parties.
- People will go out of their way to accommodate and assist you.

Now, all this sounds wonderful, and it is. But I've noticed, in my own life and in those of my fellow expats, a tendency to assume that our status as foreigners opens every door. It's easy to assume that everyone wants to be our friend, that everyone has time to help us with our issues, that every woman is fair game, that every duty we perform will be met with a smile and a nod. But I have noticed a fair amount of irritation among Chinese people at the arrogant foreigners who swagger around like kings and speak contemptuously of this land they feel they possess. This sense of entitlement can grow into pride and pomp, looking down on China as simply a place to exploit for easy money, cheap labor, and carnal pleasures. I think it is important for expats in China to remember that we are all guests and we are not entitled to anything except fair treatment and hospitality. As the concept of the "exotic foreigner" loses its mystique, I think an attitude of respect and diligence will outweigh the diminishing awe of a "mysterious traveler from a land far, far away."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gasp, A Foreigner! **BLAHHRRG**

The other day I was walking on the street on the way to the ferry and a little elementary school student was walking towards me. She looked about 6 or 7 years old. Just as she was about to pass me, she looked up, saw me, and promptly vomited on the sidewalk next to me. I hope it was because she had some bad porridge for breakfast.