Nothing to be done pt. 1

*BOOM BOOM BOOM*

I took a look at my phone. It was 6:50. Also, my alarm did not sound like a cannon. I tried to picture myself sleeping and dreaming that sound, but it was a little bit too real.

*BOOM BOOM BOOM*

“Hello anybwody hwome? Wopen de doowr!”

Note: this is not too make the person sound drunk, rather it was quite a heavy Shanghainese accent and I was not being very diligent in my listening.

Why was this person so confident that people are happy to open their doors at 6:50 for strangers? Now it happens to be that the walls in my building are very thin. Not that I actually know my neighbors (they were lighting up a fire in the hallway a few days ago. It did not make me want to befriend them more), but I was still a bit concerned that this might go on for too long to be comfortable.

So i put on some clothes, slowly got out of bed and opened the door. A 50/60-year old man, of about my height (1.60 cm) looked me suspiciously in the eyes. “Something is leaking.” he said bluntly. Or, to be fair he might have said a bit more, but that was lost on me. I looked back quite dumbfounded, as there was not anything leaking in my house for the past month.

He barged through the door, walked to the balcony where my washing machine was and looked out of the window. “Here” he said, “You need to move this washing machine.” Now I am quite a strong and healthy person, but I am not too confident in my washing machine-moving skills. Nor was I quite sure why this guy, who certainly did not look very professional, would be the right person to tell me so. “I am the management of this building, your washing machine is causing a leak further downstairs.”

The good thing about China is that times are very flexible. You can eat at any hour of the day, go to the bank in the weekend (or more like spend the weekend there) and arrange a housing tour on the same day. Truly, I think this was the first time I found that this timing was working against me.

So naturally I did something quite logical. Of course I should not have.

We take your time

So time is money and it is often said that there is nothing more valuable than time. At the same time, we spend too much of our day on the phone, behind screens and with way too many triggers that ask our attention. Well, I have the perfect solution for you to relive a feeling of utter boredom and frustration.

It is called: waiting. Specifically at many official or large institutions. Think of governmental organisations, banks, hospitals, mobile providers etc. The wonderful thing in China is, you can do this on the weekends, in your own time. Although, I would also like to mention it is great that everything is open 7 days a week here. I am happy that I do not need to work during the weekends regularly, but luckily others are sacrificing themselves for me.

So you wake up on Saturday and think to yourself: “I am just simply going to open a bank account.” Well, the unwritten rule is that if you enter at any time after 9.15, you need to wait at least 1 hour. Why? What is the case with all these official-looking people walking around, but not actually doing anything? Only a single counter open for all these people? Why does it seem like they spend at least 2 hours helping every client? These are great questions to ponder over when you waited so long that your phone is dead.

What often makes me agitated as a Dutch person (we value money) is that for many services you need to pay upfront. When I went to the pet hospital for my cat’s veterinary examination, I needed to hand over quite some money for a relatively mundane service. And of course you ask them after you paid what comes next, to which the answer is: “Just sit there and wait, we will call you soon.” Well, with the amount of time that passes, you can be sure that the staff want you to have enough time to think over your day, life or why you actually wanted a pet.

It works wonders, really.

What words mean

The brain is a strange thing. Once you do not know something, you cannot imagine how it is when you understand or know it. Once you do know it, you automatically forget how it is when you did not understand or know it.

Last weekend, I had a niece visiting who was in China for the first time. It made me remember how everything was when I visited China for the first time, or even when I did not know the language as well as my face would assume. With all the characters and different pronunciation(s), you adapt to a wholly new way of conveying things and processing information.

Of course, a cultural component also plays an important role with the establishment of these differences. In many Asian cultures, it is less common to be very upfront about feelings, ideas or opinions. China also has this until a certain degree. The Netherlands and other northern European countries are at the other side of the spectrum, voicing thoughts openly.

Since I grew up in the Netherlands with Dutch parents, I am quite direct, but not the most extreme. Even within the Netherlands, differences exist, mostly between the northern and southern parts. Then again, China is even larger so I cannot even pretend to be speaking for China in general. However, the Chinese expression, 口是心非, the mouth says yes but the heart says no, can be applied widely. But in more surprising ways then you might imagine.

Being positive but meaning negative

  1. ‘I will see.’ / ‘If I have the time I will come!’ There are the standard instances when you ask someone to do something, go somewhere with you, participate in something and the other’s response can vary. Furthermore, these kind of propositions and answers can be held in forehand, or a few hours before the event itself. See my Dutch post on time for more background.
  2. ‘Let us meet (soon)!’ Is this ever meant though? The digital equivalent in China is adding someone on WeChat and instantly forgetting about her/him. Like, only receiving the standard ‘I added you, we can now start chatting!’ and not even moving beyond that.
  3. ‘Please do everything in your own tempo.’ Whether it is study or sport or anything you are trying to master, your tempo had better match the class’s or teacher’s. For sports, feel free to reach as far as you think is anatomically possible. We will push, pull and lie on you to get you further. Read my Dutch article on sports in China for more enlightenment.

Being negative but meaning positive

  1. ‘You do not need to bring anything.’ Actually, I have never been in the situation where I really did not bring anything. The advantage is that you do not need to bring a highly personalized gift. Food or drinks are usually appreciated. Often accompanied by a ‘You should really not have done that.’ while handily storing it in the cupboard.
  2. ‘Your English seems to have become worse.’ A friend of mine was told this by a Chinese friend of hers. Mind you, jokingly. The Chinese are often full of these contradictions, seemingly to inform you: ‘I know you well and have high expectations of you / know you can do better, which I express in this way.’
  3. ‘It will not be long.’ If it is anything related to food and drinking, this is a blatant lie. If it has anything to do with a bank, hospital or police station, this is also a blatant lie. If it has to do with meeting again, this can be a blatant lie. Or they start stalking you.