The Chinese absolutely love their statistics, which initially gave me headaches whenever I had to proofread English news stories littered with them.
They go something like this: “According to officials at the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Silly Domestic Statistics, the rate of excellent local residents following the Internet+ strategy and Belt and Road Initiative has exceeded 99.98%, a year-on-year increase of 0.88% and a month-on-month increase of 0.66%, which ranks No. 1 in the whole country, contributing to the over 6.88 million talents in the Pearl Delta Region that produce over 8.88 billion yuan a year, a week-on-week increase of 68 million yuan.”
Mind you, that is only a slight exaggeration of the types of stories I edit at least five days a week, contributing to 50% of my annoyance and 50% of pure exasperation.
Last year, I sat in on my first-ever Chinese press conference for the Canton Fair. Having only recently arrived in China and only having had an inkling of the Chinese people’s obsession with statistics, I was struck with incredulity, as the Chinese official on the podium listed percentage after percentage. All I could hear was “percent”—10% more people from Africa, 15% more exhibitors, 100% bullshit—as everything else he said went in one ear and out the other.
So I think it’s appropriate to describe my experiences in China—especially this past week—as 70% good and 30% bad.
Now for those China-uninitiated, this 70-30 ratio mocks the official verdict regarding Chairman Mao’s legacy, which states that Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. As NPR puts it, “That assessment is controversial, given the tens of millions of deaths Mao caused through economic mismanagement and political terror.”
In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to compare him to Hitler and Stalin.
Anyway, I’m getting off track. Let’s get to how this past week was mostly good, with some bad.
1 — #COVERGIRL
June has arrived! Along with yet another Chinese holiday (for which I can’t take off), the latest issue of That’s PRD is now available in Shenzhen and Guangzhou! I kid you not when I say that I laughed to myself for a good minute when I saw, right there on the cover, my sheepishly smiling face against a dark teal square.
Having lost the crazy competitive writing contest, I totally did not expect to be on the cover.
But hey, it does feel pretty awesome to at least be recognized 😛
2 — More. Networking.
My coworker invited me for some more networking, as if the past weekend at Imperial Springs wasn’t enough already. This event was specifically for those who graduated from Australian universities, so I found myself pretending to be a Griffith alum, while chatting to actual Australians. Various representatives, including the deputy secretary general of the Guangzhou government, spoke for the first half, and let me tell you, that deputy secretary general was the epitome of a Chinese public speaker.
Imagine that English news sample above. But spoken aloud. First in Chinese. Then in English. #DEATH
While I enjoyed the networking afterward, those speeches killed me and made me think about how people need to be taught GOOD public speaking—for the sake of the poor public.
3 — BAGELS IN GUANGZHOU!!
Can you tell how excited I am about bagels? One of the things I miss most from America is a good ol’ bagel sandwich, specifically from Pavement Coffeehouse in Boston.
So when I heard about this new bagel shop in town, I had to try it.
Not surprisingly, America still reigns in this regard, but I’ve already been twice these past few days and will keep returning to this heaven.
Thursday was my day off work and my first time visiting the shop tucked inside a pleasant and quaint residential community in Tianhe District. After enjoying such a lovely meal and then walking to my Chinese class conveniently a couple blocks over, I remember thinking to myself what a wonderful day I had—such vivid consciousness only made me appreciate the day—although rainy—even more.
When I went today after having placed my order in English, this nice white-haired man in—no, lie—faded blue overalls came up to me, asking carefully, eyebrows furrowed and all, “Where are you from?”
Randy is from Missouri but has been in China since 2004. He has a Chinese wife, just retired last year from teaching English in Henan, and has a son who looks like he should be his grandson. Randy speaks with a pace that immediately makes me painfully aware of my own youthfulness and the sometimes too-fast paced lives we lead. While we millennials tend to ramble and stumble over our words, rushing to get them out often incoherently, Randy carefully selects his words, even pausing to say, “I’m sorry. I’m trying to think of nicer words to describe Americans, but…”
After chatting about America’s shortsightedness in terms of accepting “people not like them,” we’re naturally now WeChat friends and will likely bump into each other at this shop soon.
4 — The Low
So it surprised me that two days later, I experienced one of those lows that hits me every now and then as someone living alone in China.
It’s that sudden rush of loneliness that makes me desperate to search for available ears at which I can spill out my feelings. It’s not uncommon for me, even back at home, and it’s not uncommon for many people.
And honestly, when we think we aren’t at these so-called lows, it’s only because we’re too busy distracting ourselves from the fact that they exist. Whether good or bad, this idea was inspired by Ezra Klein’s podcast interview with someone who went to a retreat to unplug for 10 days. No electronics. No communication at all. Just you and your silence in the middle of nowhere. This guest said that just after a few days, he found himself suddenly overcome by the extreme burden of the return of his painful childhood memories. Without life’s distractions, he could reflect on what exactly his distractions were distracting himself from.
I think that this is the reason why I feel occasional lows. After such a clearly happy day, my mind was able to free itself from distractions, ironically soon revealing the pain I still feel and still try to hide beneath it all.
Because sometimes, you can only distract yourself so much.
Anyway, that’s all to say that this is just life, and I’m not depressed 😀 Just a transitioning 20-something.
5 — Air
Case in point: Air in China.
The air was unbelievably amazing this past week, especially on my best day on Thursday, thanks to the torrential rainfall lately.
But today, the skies looked particularly murky again.
We have to learn to appreciate the sunny ones before the storms return.
6 — Substitute Teacher Sonia
Casual example of the randomness/opportunity in China: My coworker asked me to sub for him as a foreign teacher for a class of rich kids/wannabe TV hosts.
Now, anyone close to me or anyone who has witnessed me being around kids knows exactly how awkward I am around them. In fact, it looks like I straight-up fear kids.
In truth, if the kids behave well and aren’t hyperactive, then I likely will not avoid them like the plague (again, only slightly exaggerating). I surprised myself (and my sister and relatives who saw my mom post these pictures on WeChat) with how well I think I handled teaching 11 kids who are 8 to 10 years old.
Unlike the Chinese kids I’ve encountered who reveal how fearful I become when around kids, these were extremely well-behaved, listening intently and answering questions promptly. Gotta give their parents respect—or, more likely, their ayis or grandparents.
7 — Life Coach
The night before he planned to leave Guangzhou and head to Hong Kong, I added one of my parents’ friends on WeChat. We first met in Guangzhou last fall when my mom was here and are Facebook friends. Then this week, my mom told me about how he posts a lot of Guangzhou art-related things on his WeChat moments, so I added him and just said hi. The next morning, he invited me to lunch with another friend at the W Hotel’s Japanese restaurant.
Having spent 30-some years in London, he exudes an air of well-off Englishman—and sure knows how to enjoy life.
We had such a nice conversation that we both felt that it was such a shame I only added him the night before he planned to leave! One of the most important things I got out of that lunch was to not think too much into the future, whether regarding relationships or careers.
It’s one of those pieces of advice we hear often but don’t truly understand until we find ourselves lost, confused, and over-calculating that this suddenly makes sense. When we suddenly start nodding our heads in agreement, hoping that understanding will lift us from the fog.
Something I also hear frequently from people much wiser than I: Now is the best time in my life. I have no obligations. I’m not tied down by the M’s, which, according to the rad Randy, are Marriage, Mortgage, and Mom. LOL. And unlike some of my peers, I like to think I’m fully taking advantage of this, having moved to the other side of the world to a country of frustrating contradictions.
My sister is also in what my mom calls—Google Translated to—a transitional period. While we are lucky to have more freedom than we ever will have, we don’t know how exactly to take advantage of it because it’s all so new to us.
So to Eva and anyone else who reaches The Low: know that you’re not alone. This period, after all, is temporary. Embrace the freedom you have now, because you’re going to miss it sooner or later. Take this time to develop yourself, your interests, and make sure to keep in touch with those you care about—something I need to keep reminding myself of. Be open to meeting new people, making new experiences, but be warned that the road is a bumpy one. Shit happens. You’ll feel terrible one day—maybe one week—but remember the 70-30 rule. As long as it’s 70% good, don’t worry about the 30% 😛
Go, and live your own life.
Plus, at least you’re not in China.