It’s “Chinese Culture” or “Saving Face” ~ When is it Real or a Form of Manipulation

I’m sure this will raise some eyebrows. I mean I get the whole Chinese culture thing. Every culture has their own set of “rules”, their own way of doing things. I totally agree that whenever you travel to a foreign country you should try to learn at least a few basic phrases and the basic do’s and don’ts.  I have lived in China for just over 20 months now.  My mandarin is still poor at best and maybe I don’t try as hard as I should, but I do get by.  I think I understand the basic “cultural stuff” in this country of 1.3 billion people with a rich history and one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. I actually love this country, the opportunities it has given me and the amazing places I have visited and the things I have experienced. But…..does China, or should I say the people, who are worldly and “get it”, push the envelope and use it to their advantage as a method of manipulation or am I really causing someone to lose face?  And… it different in the countryside versus city?  Why do I ask?  Because after being in this country for this long, every now and again I feel I am being “manipulated by tradition”.  Please don’t take this as I am fed up with China, well, yes I do get pissed off every now and again, but not ready to kick China to the curb and say nice knowing you……too much I still have to explore in this place………….

When I first arrived in China, August 2015, I spent 2 weeks in training in Beijing.  Part TEFL training, part Mandarin language training, some calligraphy classes, a little TaiChi and a lot about Chinese Culture, traditions, do’s and don’ts, what is saving face, be careful of the baijiu and so forth.  We, me and 70+ other newbies, (actually 98% of we were kids fresh out of high school doing a gap year) bought into all the Chinese culture, tradition, saving face stuff.

I mean, okay, if it will cause someone to lose face if I offer a tip for service, no problem, I can easily forget about tipping.  Yes, I can remember not to stick my chopsticks upright in my rice because it will look like incense sticks at a funeral.  No, I won’t randomly touch strangers, especially on the head (shit, I don’t touch strangers in Warren, Ohio), but why don’t YOU recognize personal space and queue up?  No, I won’t give a clock, umbrella, a green hat or anything that comes in fours as a gift. Nor, will I be offended when you refuse my gift at least 3 times before finally accepting it, after all, it is the “Chinese Way”.  And yes, I will always remember to accept your gift with 2 open hands. This one’s easy, if I am invited to dinner, I will never offer up money which would cause my host to lose face. I could go on and on, because at least once a day I hear, “it’s the Chinese way”, “It’s Chinese tradition”, “Save Face”. If I ask the simple question, “Why?”, I am usually met with, “no why”.

Back to the original question, “is it real or a form of manipulation”?  Many times I have been requested, at the last minute, to do something or change my schedule. When I say last minute, I literally mean “last minute”. It can be on the spot and you are put in a position you can’t really say no.  “It’s the Chinese way!”  Numerous times I got up in the morning, dressed and reviewed my lesson, only to arrive at school and be told, “sorry, no English class today, they have exams”.  Are you effing kidding me, you didn’t know this last week, or really, even last night. Did someone wake up and just decide, oh, lets give the whole school a test today.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about having the day off, but, it would have been nice to stay in my cozy bed instead of arriving and being sent home.

Take this past Saturday for example, I give private lessons from 9 to noon to 2 students in my home.  Being in my home, I stay in bed as long as possible then piddle and sip my coffee until I absolutely must be presentable when my students arrive. I finally rolled out of bed at 8:15 and put the water on for coffee.  I kid you not, there was a knock at my door at 8:25.  Really……it was one of my students. I quickly threw a track suit over my pajamas. That works, right? I am in my own home and have nothing planned for the day, except to venture out at some point for my $6.00 massage.  I hand him a copy off The Little Prince Chinese/English version and continue getting ready for the lessons.  June, my assistant arrives at 9 and my second student at 9:05.  Soon we are deeply involved in fruits, vegetables and all kinds of food.  Laughing, reading, tasting, making deviled eggs, popping popcorn and practicing our English.  All is right with the world……wrong. June gets a phone call and I get a wechat message from Peter at about 11 am.  It says Hot Pot at noon.  Notice the lack of a question mark.  I reply with a simple no.  A few minutes later, June says, we must go have Hot Pot at 12.  Again, I politely say no and explain. First, lessons don’t finish until noon and I have pajamas on under this track suit because he arrived at 8:25.  I shoot the same message to Peter.  Who says, “it’s okay, we will wait”.  Okay, I am no longer feeling “polite” and put Zootopia on for the kids to watch while they eat popcorn. I ask June, who is we and why MUST we go.  It is the headmaster of the Primary School.  He is inviting you. You can’t say no, he will lose face.  “June, I am not happy about this and I will not be there at noon.”  I send the kids on their way, June waits for me to quickly/not quickly get dressed and she drives us to lunch.  Yes, it was a lovely lunch, the headmaster was very happy to have me, we drank two bottles of wine and despite the fact I was fuming inside, I smiled and played nice.  Needless to say, after 2 bottles of wine and small talk, mostly in Chinese, we finished around 4 pm.  My day was shot.

Many people claim you develop a love/hate relationship with China.  To an extent I must agree, but as I stated earlier, I am not ready to kick China to the curb quite yet.  It really is an amazing culture with many amazing people who will be my life long friends.

Would he have really lost face or was I manipulated?  I will let you be the judge.

At least Peter had all of my favorite dishes waiting.  This is raw beef which you dip in a horseradish vinegar sauce.  I love love love this.  It looked much better when it was first served, but I forgot to snap a photo.

Random Acts of Kindness

A beautiful evening to start an adventure

April 2 begins the 3 day Qingming Festival in China. Qing Ming, or Tomb Sweeping, is a traditional Chinese festival on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Basically, the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either the 4th or 5th of April in a given year.  Other translations include Chinese Memorial Day or Ancestor’s Day.  The holiday is associated with eating qingtuan, green dumplings made of glutinous rice and barley grass.  During Qingming Festival, Chinese people visit columbaria, graves or burial grounds to pray to their ancestors.  It is an opportunity to remember and honor ancestors at the grave sites.  Young and old alike pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, joss paper and libations to the ancestors.

What does this mean to me?  Simple, extra days off work and the opportunity to travel and tick a bucket list item.  Xi’an is a quick 6 hour ride by bullet train from Jinan, the capital of my province. Why Xi’an, you ask? On March 29,1974, local farmers, while digging a well, unearthed what is one of 11 things billed as the 8th Wonder of World, The Terracotta Army. The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210-209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.  But, enough about the army, that will be a future post as I am currently on a train 302 kph towards Xi’an. Thanks also to Wikipedia for filling in some details on Qingming and the army.


Now back to random acts of kindness.  Although I have been traveling throughout China as a solo female off and on for about 18 months, Peter has been concerned for my welfare ever since arriving in Dong’e.  In order to travel to Xi’an and make the most of my time, I would need to catch the bullet train from Jinan.  Jinan, depending on where in the city you are going is anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes by car.  I usually have a driver available to take me most places I want to go. However, this time, Peter asked if I would mind taking the bus as all 3 drivers that are usually available for me were tied up.  The bus would take about 2 hours.  I told him that it was no problem taking a bus from Dong’e to Jinan.  The bus was leaving at 5:10 pm and Peter purchased my ticket for me since he was feeling bad about not being able to drive me.  Of course, he escorted me to the coach station, 45 minutes early, I might add.  His idea not mine.  So while we wait on the bus to arrive, Peter insists he wait so he can talk to the bus driver to be sure I get off where I need to and can go to the train station to get my ticket the night before so I don’t have to fight holiday travel crowds early (my train was 7:08 am)  to pick up my ticket.  The bus arrives, I board, its packed to the gills, and find a seat in the last row.  Peter is running around talking to the driver, chatting with random people, etc.  Next thing I know he is on the bus looking for me.  He then points at a young man near the front of the bus and tells me that the gentleman would look after me.  Okay, whatever, this isn’t my first rodeo, I just smile and say thank you.

A view of the road the bus was traveling from Dong’e to Jinan

So, the journey begins.  An overcrowded, rickety bus and bumpy countryside roads, I put my headphones and figure I will close my eyes and relax.  Problem number one, headphone is broke. Problem number two, the bus has stopped and is backing up on the narrow single lane road with busses and trucks coming in the other direction.



Straddling the road, teetering on a ditch, blocking traffic while making a 3 point turn.





Next thing I know, the bus is attempting a 3 point turn around, or so I thought.  We are actually trying to turn, and not fall off the road into a ditch, and head down what looks like a dirt path through a field.  We make the turn and we are on our way again.


Taking the road less traveled












About 2 hours later, the man in the front of the bus is motioning me to come with him and get off the bus.  Okay, it looks like we are on some random back street outside of town. This is where faith kicks in and you get off the bus and go with the man, who carries your suitcase for you. He leads you to a waiting car, puts your suitcase in the trunk, opens the car door and motions for you to get in.  Not knowing where I am and the bus has pulled away, I get in the car and say “nihao” to the lady driving the car.  My escort tells me in his best English, they will take me to the train station so I can get my ticket tonight because it will be very busy in the morning.  We get to the train station and I say thank, you. He says, “No, I will go with you so you have no trouble”. Into the station we go, he waits in line with me and I get my ticket. He walks outside with me and I again thank him and plan to get in a taxi to my hotel.  Again, he says, No, I will find a taxi for you. I told your friend I would get you to the hotel”. Although his English wasn’t that good, he got the point across.  He also pointed to a building nearby and said he worked in IT in that building so it is no problem to help me.  We get near the main road and he speaks to a woman and tells me to pay her 20 rmb ($3.00) and she would make sure I got to the hotel.  I jump in the backseat of the car while she puts my suitcase in the trunk and about 15 minutes later she delivers me to the hotel.

This is the lovely Boutique Hotel I posted the video.  Again, the people at the hotel were so kind despite language barriers.  The lady at reception checked me in, took my suitcase and carried it to my room, turned on the lights, showed me around, said, “okay”?  I said “yes, xiexie”.  After she left, I realized I forgot to tell her I would need a taxi at 6am to the train station. I put the info in my google translate (a lifesaver when in China) and went downstairs.  She said okay.  In the morning, my phone rang a little before 6am and the lady said “come”. I figured my taxi was here and headed downstairs.  She hadn’t called me a taxi, but got someone she knew to drive me to the train station.   End of story, he delivered me to the station and I got on my train to Xi’an.

I know I ramble a lot for a such a short, but the kindness of the people I have met in China is worth telling. Not only that, but I didn’t have anything else exciting to post on my blog. I am writing this as my train is heading towards Xi’an where I am sure I will have some more exciting things to blog about, but for now, this is what you get.

Home sweet home for the night in Jinan. Xi’an here I come.

The Great Firewall of China

The Great Firewall of China

Bottom line, internet in China sucks. Not only does internet in China suck, but we have to deal with “The Great Firewall of China”.  No, this has nothing to do with the 2300 year old, 13,171 mile long structure, which CANNOT be seen from space by the human eye.  The Great Firewall of China per wikipedia:  The Great Firewall of China (abbreviated to GFW) is the combination of legislative and technological actions that have been taken by the government of Mainland China (which is controlled by the Communist Party of China, CPC) to regulate the Internet domestically. It is the main instrument used by the government to achieve Internet censorship in China. These CPC regulations include criminalizing certain online speech and activities, blocking from view selected websites, filtering key words out of searches initiated from computers located in Mainland China, requiring international online service provider store their Chinese customer information within China, and slowing down cross-border internet traffic.

So much for freedom of speech, etc.

Basically, this means that technically, while in China, I have no access to anything google related, no facebook, no instagram and many other blocked websites.  How am I posting to facebook you may ask.  VPN, virtual private network, before arriving in China, I PAID FOR, downloaded and installed Astrill as my VPN.  This allows me to access these sites while appearing to do so outside of Mainland China.  Periodically, the PRC shuts down VPN access.  Generally, it is really just a pain in the ass to have to log onto a VPN each time you want to access these sites.

My only point being, I have been trying to post to my blog. I am trying to post an entry with photos.  Internet sucks, I have been trying for 4 days to upload a post.

This is just a little PSA to let you know I am still recording #mychinalife. I am just having some technical difficulties.  Please stay tuned.