Homesick for China

03:15 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

For someone from the other side of the world,  it would be easy to presume that the Chinese and Japanese are pretty similar. Easy and foolish. I've glimpsed Japan and lived in China long enough for homesickness to linger like a bad fart and I've seen how different they can be.

Sometimes, Chinese people can really do my head in. However, after living amongst this alien culture for a year, I can begin to separate what is good and bad about China and what are my own projections, like homesickness.

First of all, I really enjoy Japanese culture and my interest was heightened after visiting the archipelago. I'll be spending the next few months filling my Kindle with books about Japan and boring my girlfriend to tears with endless Japanese cinema. Japanese art and design was great too, form and function married effortlessly. Their traditional art is beautiful and their modern design is amazingly progressive. From clothes to technology, the world follows what happens on Japanese shores.

I also appreciate the Japanese because they have many similar traits to the British. We are both island nations ruled by long standing monarchies, with an occasionally brutal history. As people, we are both polite to a fault, obedient and reserved. Maybe even a little cold. Also, both British and Japanese have a well defined notion of personal space.  My arm brushed again a Japanese guy's arm on the metro and he flinched like I'd just sat in his lap.  In China, 'personal space' seems to be a foreign concept. Foreign and therefore inadequate, just like the concepts of stopping at red lights and holding it in if there isn't a bathroom nearby. In China, someone can walk straight into you and not even notice you. The upside is that you don't need to expend energy climbing onto a bus because the crowd will simply push you on. I hate that about China. I also hate the lack of hygiene, the closed-mindedness and the often grating wail of the spoken dialects.

In Japan though, away from the chaos that is China, I realised I was missing something in the silence. Chinese people are so friendly that it can get irritating. Sometimes you just want to buy a coffee without giving four different people your life story, but  in Japan I missed the attention. But I've realised that its only irritating because my language skills aren't good enough to communicate thoroughly.

Chinese people will also bend over backwards to help you, even if they haven't got a clue themselves. I'll sometimes avoid asking someone for help because there is every chance they'll drop what they are doing and rearrange their day to help you. I'm British and I find it hard to accept such selfless generosity. The story is different when it comes to Chinese customer service which can be annoying and misleading. Instead of a straight answer you get a big dose of confusion wrapped in blatant lies. It's because most services are overstaffed by the under-qualified. Those contrasts of helpfulness and uselessness can be confusing. I've learnt that if you ever need advice, ignore the information desk and go outside to the old fella playing chess.

Japan felt familiar. In every direction I look, China feels like another world. In Japan, people go for a jog just like us. In China, people exercise by doing tai-chi under trees, by playing badminton on the street and by ballroom dancing in car parks. There is life everywhere. If they aren't playing mah-jong in the street, they are drying their clothes in the park or munching on some strange food. For me, the beauty of Chinese culture is that they are inherently social.

I think both Japan and China are great. But I just didn't get to see peoples charms in Japan. In China, they've got everything on show, the good and bad. And that is much more rewarding for someone travelling from the other side of the world.

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