Stephan Schwab

Some reflection about the China I have not found

04 Dec 2014 in china culture thoughts

My journey as a Software Development Coach in China is coming to an end and I feel it is time to reflect a bit on what I have seen and learned. I have been to a number of large cities and I tried to use a week long vacation to see a bit of the rural part of China in the Yunnan province.

The Chinese people I've been interacting with are typically much younger than me. They are in their early 20s or 30s with some exceptions. Almost all of them have families with young children.

Each time I asked about what they do on the weekend the reply was mostly about being at home with their family. Nobody said anything about any activities. They seem to just look for a few calm moments.

Their week is marked by spending very long hours at the office. They are supposed to be there by 9 am. To get there they ride the company busses which they catch at several stops throughout the city. Around 6 pm there is a bus service to take them back. But there is also a second run at 9 pm and that second run is for a lot of people. Almost all of the people I've been working with have to work mandatory overtime and so they spend 12 hours in the office.

The regular workweek is Monday to Friday but whenever there is a holiday during the week they will work Saturday to compensate for the time lost.

In early October the office was closed on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and the following Monday and Tuesday. Subsequently everybody was working five Saturdays to make good for the holiday.

Several times I have tried to learn more about Chinese culture. I was looking to learn more about what was my image of China before I came here. However, all I knew was tales from ancient China and the modern Chinese I spoke to uniformly explained that all that were close to garbage and they don't know much about it. They also didn't seem very interested in it either. Some said their parents knew.

I've traveled for work between Shenzhen, Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and I've been with my family to Kunming in the Yunnan province and to the Hainan island. There were Chinese characters everywhere, yes. But everything else looked more American. Different faces and a language I don't understand but very American nonetheless.

As I write this I sit on an Air China flight from Beijing to Shenzhen. The big screen in front of the cabin shows a video about food made by some people somewhere in the mountains. It looks delicious. I can see people going into the forest to harvest some roots and cook them. There are beautiful pictures of happy people enjoying various crafts and the products they make.

Earlier when I stepped into the Beijing airport I saw a giant Christmas tree and there was Christmas music playing. The whole scene looked extremely American. In the hotel where I stayed the last two nights there was Christmas decoration as well. Table decoration had shiny globes, glitter and something resembling a candle. In the lobby they had artistic interpretations of a Christmas tree and also some present packages nicely wrapped. In the background Christmas music was playing and the big screen somewhere announced the upcoming Christmas Eve gala dinner.

If these words sound a bit like I'm disappointed, that is probably not far from the truth. The overall impression is that in modern China it is all about working, making money and buying things with it. And there is a lot of competition between the people. That I was also able to observe, feel and have been told by them.

On the other hand I've made a few friends. Some people were very interested in learning about the "outside world" and I happily told them what I've seen around the world. Unfortunately when I wanted to show them some of the pictures I have online we ran into the problem that some of the places we had stored these pictures in the past are not accessible from within China. I'm thinking about consolidating all that and store those pictures together with the rest of the content of this blog on the same GitHub account where the blog is also hosted.

Chinese people also seem to be very curious. However, my impression is that their curiosity is not that of explorers. It seems to be directed more at the things that are "in" or which they admire for some reason. Everything European seems to be high on their list. Everything American also but European seems to be a bit more important.