Experiencing Chinese communication and family feuds

Fighting happens in the tightest families. I am blessed with families on both sides where this is limited, but that is often not the case for most Chinese. In general, life itself provides plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, most importantly for the Chinese (and pretty much everyone else): money, work, partner, and kids.

Now, a while back I was on a short trip with a friend of mine (also a foreigner) and indirectly experienced one of the most frightening fights ever. She has described everything in more detail on her terrific blog, go read that as well!

Let me quickly recap: we stayed at an empty AirBnB hotel. The host was the male part of a couple and since it was Chinese New Year some extended family (grandmother, uncle (?), aunt (?)) was present. After a day spent outside, my friend and I returned in the evening and were warmly invited to join a big dinner table, sing karaoke and show off some dancing moves. We were included in video footage to non-present sons and daughters, sang some modern classics and had a great time. But after a while we got tired, the karaoke machine started sputtering and people simply disappeared. So we also went upstairs to sleep, or so was the plan.

However, after having read a bit and trying to sleep, I heard noises downstairs in the restaurant area. Slowly but surely the noises became louder and more distinct. There were 2 persons, most certainly our host couple, screaming things to each other. I could hear other voices trying to hush, but they kept becoming louder. Repeatedly, I heard stuff being thrown on the ground and shattering.

After there was enough thrown around downstairs, I heard footsteps on the stairs to the hallway that was connected to our hotel room. I took a quick peek out the window to see the situation below. It was a mess, with broken glass on the floor and table, mixed with food and a box of chopsticks thrown around.

My heartbeat was so loud I almost thought the people outside must be able to hear it. Instead, I could now hear their insults clearly. The woman screamed: “Fuck your mother! She still owns me 1 million RMB!” The man roared: “Oh please, stop with that and do not dare to say another word about her! This is already long resolved!”

As I mentioned, I am not at all ‘experienced’ in family feuds, and this seemed a particularly feisty one. The insults and accusations were repeated many times. It was definitely not the first time this happened.

To be honest, I was sort of ‘lucky’ to become part of the story. I was also lucky to not be in the same space as the fight since there seemed to be some intense physical contact. At the same time, during the fight it felt like a very tense moment. Since the walls were very thin, and people were thrashing about, it felt like every moment they could stumble in our room. I sat as still as I possibly could, trying to be even more invisible than I arguably already was.

This occasion was certainly my first time hearing pretty much Chinese strangers discuss intimate things so loudly and hotly. But my friend later told me that a previous CNY celebration she experienced also ended in a big family fight. And to be honest, around Christmas do we not see the all-too familiar topic of how to prevent the Christmas atmosphere from being ruined pop up everywhere as well?

So it seems that big occasions lend themselves good to big fights in any place or culture. What was actually the most surprising about this whole thing, is that my friend slept through all of it. When I asked her later if she had heard anything earlier she said: “Yeah the fireworks right?” Truth be told, you do not hear them that often in China I guess.

Tourists with Chinese characteristics: fanatic families

For the past month I have been travelling through South- and Southeast Asia. Especially around Chinese New Year there are many Chinese people going abroad as well. On the road I saw many different kinds of Chinese tourists. These impressions include a few of the different types.

Who?
A mom, a dad, 1 or 2 kids (byebye one child policy) and often some extended family members like grandparents.

Where?
Most families obviously have a limited program. Chinese families often even more so since they focus on the main attractions.

Why?
This is probably the beginning of family life and they are just settling in. With the kids still being small they get in for free at most spots. Everyone can relax a little bit, see some different things and meet new people.

Their thoughts?
Mom: a combination of tired, worried and excited. One of the few holidays need to be spent happily with family. But it is hot, and there is so much to take care of. Luckily dad carries most of the snacks and drinks. Are the kids hungry? Are they not getting too tanned? Where is dad anyway? Will I be able to buy all the souvenirs I promised my co-workers to bring back? This bird is so pretty, I really need to take a photo of this. Our kids should really learn more about nature now that they have the chance. Which sightseeing spots have we not covered yet?

Dad: this is not entirely how I pictured life with a kid. A heavy photo camera dangles on my belly, which is also starting to accumulate some ‘baby fat’. God is it hot here. Wiping my forehead while looking for some shade. This garden is really nice and the kids are playing outside. Sitting down this suddenly feels eerily similar to any other time I go out with mom. Waiting, looking and obeying. Mom motions you to take photos of something. What will be for dinner tonight?

Kid(s): so many different things! I can jump from the tree to the stairs. I want to carve out my name in this tree! And in the stairs! And in the temple! Where is dad? I want food. Mom is so annoying taking her time. When are we going home?

Grandparent(s): I am getting too old for this. But it is really nice to see the kids play. Do they drink enough though? I can tell all my friends in the park once I return that my grandchildren already went abroad.

My thoughts?
Families rank about medium on my irritation/frustration scale. Of course it depends on the age of the kids. Babies are terrible when they cry or excrete bodily fluids. When they talk and walk, kids often do too much of both. Grandparents tend to walk too slow and skip lines since they can often get away with it. Moms often take pictures of everything all the time. Dads mostly just look sad. But for the average backpacker, Chinese families are quite avoidable. Also, it looks quite exhausting to be in a different country with a group that seems to have mixed goals. It really turns fun into a verb.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing

It is almost time for the new year to start (again, more on that in my post of last last year). And this year, I am returning to Beijing where I lived for almost 3 years. Planning stuff with friends to do there is of course the perfect moment to think back on all those good times.

I actually do remember quite well that I was quite annoyed with Beijing when I left. It was way too noisy, the people rude, the air polluted, the food greasy, the temperatures too high or too low and the city all in all just did not attract me that much anymore.

Fast forward to having stayed in Shanghai for only a little over 6 months, and I am already telling everyone that I like Beijing more. Its noise and rude people seem eccentric now, the polluted air a ‘minor inconvenience’, the food flavorful and the temperatures are only a bit better in winter and worse in summer where I am now.

What is worse, this does not change when I actually return to Beijing. Everything seems nicer in a smaller time frame. Even when I am sad that things have disappeared, as they always do, the joy of recognition is much stronger. Oh, and chaotic traffic is the best. Not getting any fines when cycling as well. Not having to break out in cold sweat whenever I ignore a red traffic light, afraid a cop will suddenly turn up behind me is also pretty relaxed.

So I will be enjoying my new year in the best and worst place in China I know. I will give Shanghai a chance the rest of the year.

The beginning of a not-yet-new year

2018 is here! Or rather, it is in fact the start of a new year according to all agenda’s, forms and word documents. However, China is a bit of an oddity in that sense.

Of course a large part of Asia and South-East Asia all celebrate Lunar New Year. The date which so happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day this year, which will surely heighten the fun for everyone. This means that New Year’s Eve is utterly uneventful, unfestive and unexciting. I remember that on December 31st there were exactly 3 bangs outside of my house, after which I went to my window to see that there were indeed no fireworks being set of.

Most Chinese also tend to be quite lackadaisical around ‘western’ new year. There is a (shockingly) large amount of people dat just go to sleep at 23 o’clock, not only parents and elderly. There are not really that many parties being held and as mentioned the fireworks are often very limited.

It always seems mystifying to me that you do end the year and start a new one, mainly noticeable because of the different number, but collectively decide to not celebrate. Instead, you keep track of a different calendar, with all these spcial days and names, and collectively choose to celebrate the new year on an entirely different day and for the heck of it also take 1 week for all the fun.

What is of course not lagging behind, is the commerce. This year the zodiac sing in the spotlights is the dog. And thus, although the year has technically not started yet, we see all these dog outfits, mugs, notebooks and calendars waiting to be bought. Furthermore, train tickets for the new year’s travel will also be on sale soon, which will inevitably lead to being unable to buy train tickets to even the most obscure places. Yes, the new year may not have arrived yet, but there is enough to remind us that it is indeed coming.