(In)conveniences [Life in GZ, Ed. 8]

My dad visiting GDTV World's English news office

I’m sure many of you who don’t live and have never lived in China wonder: But isn’t it so inconvenient?

Why, sure. Using the term “inconvenient” to cover everything that is not very pleasant, there are plenty of things that seem particularly so to a foreigner.

I will exclude the typical ones that all foreigners complain about: can’t drink tap water, no central A/C or heating, air pollution, insane traffic, public toilets, no napkins in restaurants, peeing in public, the Great Firewall, pushy old ladies—it goes on.

My dad visiting GDTV World's English news office
My dad visiting GDTV World’s English news office.

1 — “Who Gives a Fuck” Attitude: In the Office
This is so real. My dad actually pointed this out while visiting my workplace. People simply act as if their offices are their homes, i.e., they don’t give a fuck. What makes this inconvenient is that everyone who wants to smoke, well, can. It’s as if they’re declaring, “Well, we’ll all die of bad air, anyway, so fuck it.”

I remember reading another expat’s take of a Chinese office environment, something along the lines of: Workers keep windows open at all times, even on Bad Days, i.e., days of bad pollution—implying that it’s basically impossible to get fresh air, making the very act of having windows open very questionable.

Another example: GODDAMN CONSTRUCTION. I have no idea how workers here manage to get any work done in this building that’s in a state of constant construction. Mind you, this building isn’t new. And it isn’t “old.” It’s just a building in China, which means that it sucks, requires constant renovations, and looks so dirty that it could and probably should be torn down.

What an office environment!

In this construction example, both the construction workers and the TV station employees all don’t give any fucks. I’m not kidding when I say that I’ve been forced to record a voiceover for an episode with nonstop drilling clearly rumbling in the background. As a result, I had to come in again to re-record, just in time before the drilling hilariously started again.

2 —”Who Gives a Fuck” Attitude: Everywhere Else
Oh, it goes on—many inconveniences can simply be as a result of this “don’t give a fuck” attitude.

I never understood why a friend who was born here said he hates honking, because as I recently realized, I never truly experienced nonstop honking and figured no one likes honking anyway.

Unfortunately I understand him now. As I’m working in my apartment, all I hear is honk, hoooonk, hooonk, honk! It’s 90% why I’m obsessed with my new Bose speakers: I can drown out the honking without headphones.

The driveway leading to an empty lot immediately next to my workplace has decided to completely repave. To clarify, repaving means first completely destroying the former driveway and lot—so that explains some of the excessive drilling noise. In recent days, they’ve begun adding new pavement, which in a fashion that is incredibly Chinese means that there is this terrible, poisonous chemical stench permeating the air in and around the TV station, where many walk, live, and work.

The scenes I’ve witnessed looked purely apocalyptic: Men, women, children all walking briskly, even running, with their noses and mouths covered.

“That smell!”

“Ahhh!”

Mind you, this is when I’m simply walking across a pedestrian bridge to work. You bet I couldn’t wait to escape that cloud of poison that day.

Since then, it hasn’t been as bad, and I’m now sure to bring my Vogmask with me at all times, even for the five-minute walk to my workplace. That first day of poison even had blue skies, teaching me that no matter how amazing it may look on any given day in China, always have a mask with you in the event you encounter such awful construction.

3 — Better Everywhere Else
It’s no secret that things made in China, whether it’s consumer products or food, are often of questionable quality. I’ve found it increasingly frustrating to experience first-hand how true this is. It’s not necessarily that people don’t give a fuck, although that has something to do with it, but it’s more that people just care more about making money and appear to have given up in a way. (Or did they ever try?)

Instead, the Chinese use the money that seem to come from nowhere and flock overseas to find quality, while endlessly complaining about their own country, to no avail. Want a good education? Go the the U.S., Hong Kong, U.K., or Australia. Want real baby formula? Go to Hong Kong or Australia. Want real beef? Go literally anywhere else. Even today while chatting with colleagues, I learned that if you want warm toilet seats and the best rice cookers, go to Japan. Somehow, all these things continue to not be good enough here in China, and yet little visible progress is being made to improve them. Oh, how about better air? Again, literally go anywhere else.

Take the pregnant woman who hid in a Hong Kong airport, for example, just so her baby could be born with a Hong Kong birth certificate, apparently much more worthy than a Chinese one.

While brainstorming, I’ve realized that I also can think of many conveniences about living in China:

WeChat red envelopes are a fun way to give money to friends.

4 — Smartphone Streamlining
Something truly amazing about China is the ubiquity of mobile payments. Sometimes even the most unexpected shops or small businesses will accept payment via WeChat and/or Alipay. No need to sign your name, no need to print out a receipt. Immediately, your mobile transactions are recorded on your phone.

Mobile payments are part of why this continues to be mentioned repeatedly in the press (and on my blog :p): One can literally do everything on a smartphone here in China. Especially living in a top-tier city, anything and everything you could possibly need to buy or do can be done via smartphone. I’ve written about the addictive wonders of WeChat, but it’s worth giving mention to Taobao and Alipay. The real question to ask is what our smartphones can’t do.

As for the Western world, the reason I’ve heard for why mobile payments haven’t also picked up like wildfire is due to the fact that smartphones are usually the best piece of technology people own in China. Caught in the middle of the country’s rapid developments, many people in China skipped that Western era of owning computers and laptops, simply going straight to owning smartphones, which are being improved much more often and are much more affordable and practical. Many of my relatives here don’t even have computers or laptops. So it has been in part out of necessity that China essentially developed an absolute dependence on living through smartphones.

Still, I’m waiting for that day the rest of the world catches up. Until then, I’m going to enjoy paying bills, booking appointments, paying people back, and so much more—all through WeChat.

First time seeing a double decker Guangzhou bus.

5 — High-Speed Railway & Public Transportation
Another part about China that the rest of the world needs to catch up on is the fast, cheap and efficient transportation network. Taking the train to Hong Kong from Guangzhou, for example, for New Year’s cost under 200 yuan, whereas it would cost $200 USD for such a trip on shitty Amtrak that would probably take double the time.

Sure, it’s a different society here. People here make much less money (and arguably a lot more), but it continues to amaze me how convenient it is to travel anywhere, whether it’s by high-speed rail, bus, metro, or taxi. Admittedly, especially compared to the metro, taking the bus is not very foreigner-friendly, because signs are all in Chinese and there are so many stops that even locals have a hard time figuring out where buses take you and which ones you should take. I’m lucky to have had my relatives show me how the first few weeks, so I’ve since become an avid bus rider, easily blending in with the all-Chinese passengers. For 2 yuan a ride (free for seniors over a certain age), I really can’t complain.

6 — Access to Medical Care
In a country of billions, there’s no way it can follow Western models. In fact, I’m quite impressed by how cheap and efficient getting medical help is here—although huge disclaimer: Prices are usually at least double and processes are more complicated for foreigners. I’m lucky to have had my relatives help me out when I needed them, truly acting like a local when seeking medical attention. Anyway, all you need is a Chinese ID and you’re good to go. I won’t go into the mess of household registration (hukou), but let’s just say as long as you have a Chinese ID, you should have no problem seeing a doctor.

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