China Back to Life: A First Hand View – Opting Out

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From the ground, it seems like life is getting back to normal in China.

The malls in China seem to be busier than they were before the coronavirus panic began. Some have attempted to explain this by theorizing “retaliatory spending” — the Chinese people have been deprived of consumership for so long, they feel like they have to make up for lost time. Either way, it’s clear that they think it’s safe and they can get back to old ways.

You can see some not wearing masks. This is not advisable. Nonetheless, I do see it as some indication that people believe that things are getting back to normal. The Chinese people are getting ready to open up. I’m not quite there yet, but it will be good to feel the fresh air against my face again.

China’s government have stated that they anticipate a long period of improvement, whilst practicing vigilance. This will represent the culture for the weeks and months ahead. They’re eager for people to go about their usual lives again, whilst being wary and sensible.

According to the state’s numbers, and take that as you will, most new cases are coming from outside the country. Although China has banned incoming travel, some visitors who have undergone two weeks quarantine from before the ban have been diagnosed.

This has led to some foreigners being treated suspiciously, as they suffer restrictions on where they can or cannot go. Some are being barred from restaurants and other public places. That said, these seem to be isolated cases instigated by overly paranoid individuals and don’t represent a comprehensive policy.

More concerning are reports from Guangzhou of active discrimination against Africans. It’s said that some Africans are being evicted from their apartments unexpectedly.

It’s possible some of the inhabitants had been living without a proper visa, and their landlords evicted them in the expectation that inspection was imminent.

Regardless, this situation will further the inter-cultural stress that’s been brought about by the corona crisis. Spurred by fear, we’ve seen harassment and violence towards Asians in Western countries, and suspicion of Westerners in China, now active discrimination against Africans in China.

How to cope in China, as a Westerner

It’s very important that when Westerners come to China that they approach it in the right way, and frankly. They have to leave behind all of their expectations and assumptions about the way they are, and the way that people should live. This is not to be judging, or to promote some kind of virtue, it’s just to help you have a better time of it.

The initial period when you first come will be a time of ingratiation, and building a routine and life. This will be a challenge because most things will be different. It will be a period of what might feel like instability and stress. This is the inevitable three to six month period where you’re assimilating yourself into this new place and culture that will benefit you in the medium to long term.

There is no denying that the Chinese and Western cultures are different. However, there is a strong foundation of common humanity that we share. You might be surprised at how much you identify with the average Chinese person. You will be able to do most of the things you did in your native country as far as daily life is concerned.

The other stuff is a challenge to overcome — the differences in cultural values, hygiene, food, etc. — and some can’t hack it. Most of those have gone back home within months. But if you feel like the experience will be good for you, it’ll be beneficial to you to park your preconceived notions of what China is at the airport check-in gate.

This is all coming from someone who did not have a great time of it when he first came to China, and has since grown to sit well enough in it, and enjoy some of the odder, baffling aspects of this immense country. Westerners, frankly, don’t understand China. Oddly enough, the ones who understand it least seem to have the most forthright opinions on it.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.

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