Friday, October 17, 2008

being abroad

From an email to a friend:

Strangely enough, sometimes I wonder if being abroad has a negative effect on people, making us more cynical and close-minded than we used to be. After all, I now have extreme road rage in the streets of Kunming, and turn ugly when dealing with crowds and frustrating customer service. Some of my friends who have been in China for “too long” can lo longer enjoy the country. “China this,” they complain. “Chinese people that.” Yet my friends in Oregon, none of whom have been to China, are careful about not offending me. “I’ve heard so-and-so about China/Chinese culture,” they say. “But I wanted to check with you first.”

Why does this happen? Why are American (and Israeli, German, etc.) tourists notorious for being obnoxious? Why do people abroad feel justified in making broad statements about the local people? These are, of course, stereotypes. There are plenty of people abroad who are respectful and nonjudgmental (which is, of course, something I am not always able to carry off). There are also plenty of people in the states I wouldn’t want representing me (which is probably why they are not my friends).

However, I do sometimes wonder if I would be a better person if I had stayed in China for only, say, a year. I feel people getting bored with me when I complain about being here for way too long (a total of over two and a half years), about how I need a change. If I had left earlier, would I still see China as a mysterious, adventurous country?

Anyway, I think a lot of this is the homesickness talking. Was able to FINALLY visit home for the first time in two years, and it wasn't quite enough. Kunming is beautiful right now, and I'm not as unhappy as I have been, on and off, these past few months, but there's still something that can be said for living at home, near loved ones.


Philippe said...

Hi, nice email... welcome back to your blog :-) so you're still in Kunming? no, we never met but i came accross your blog before, and I subscribe to it as I knew I would come back to Kunming... and I finally did.
how's your research going? would like to meet you one of these days...

Anonymous said...

Well, as your mother, I do not have to worry about "saying things that would make you not include me as your friend", and as an individual who did live abroad for an extended amount of time (therefore not quite the arrogant type of tourist you referred to), I will say this: living in a third world country cured me of all romantic notions about "culture", "civilization",
"superiority of the race" of such a third-world country, in this case, China. I found that the driving force behind all progress made (by leaps and bounds) is THE DOLLAR SIGN. China is the profit-at-all-cost Taiwan of olds. The love of money puts melamine in food products, calls for overuse of insecticides, and leads to the tolerance for mistreatment of migrant workers, brutalities towards whistle-blowers.
On top of that, the centuries-old habits of eating dogs, cats (and actually anything that much as wiggles on land, in the air, or in water), spitting non-stop (it's like there's a competition to see who spits out the grossest looking sputum) just totally nauseate me.

Makes me glad I am living in the United States so I don't get stressed out every day trying to rescue every little animal I see (you know about my heart condition.... hehehe....)