Monday, July 28, 2008

Angry 'tai tais'

People always say that Suzhou is full of famous gardens. I say Suzhou is full of expat housewives, or tai tais as they like to refer to themselves as. Visit Starbucks around midday, any time of the week, and you'll know what I mean. Starbucks seems to be meeting point number one for housewives, as the combination of gossiping and extra-cream-frappucinos and muffins is particularly popular.

I am normally not invited to join the tai tai gangs in my hood. I suppose mainly because I am not a tai tai. Also, I am younger than most of them, I often come accompanied by my Chinese books, and, I don't drink frappucions. (So no, I don't take any offense. Obviously we don't have that much in common). During my 2 years in China, however, I have had the occasional 'tete-a-tete' with a Suzhou housewife, and I have been surprised to notice that many of them, despite having great lives, still seem so...angry.

Despite the fact that they don't have to work (thanks hubby!), don't have to do housework (thanks Ayi!), don't have to look after their kids (thanks Ayi/school!), don't have to cook (again, thanks Ayi!) and don't have to worry about money (thanks hubby!), many of them seem rather... unsatisfied? In some cases it makes sense, like when the wife initially didn't want to come to China but did so for the sake of her husband's job, or when she's feeling lonely and lost in her new country (I've been there too). However, the tai tais that I don't understand are those that HAVE a great group of friends in Suzhou, a lot of spare time since they have chosen NOT to work, a great gym membership (with a personal trainer 3 times a week of course), and plenty of lazy lunches in the sun, and STILL manage to complain about the fact that 'it's such a hassle sometimes to take taxis' or 'that Chinese people should speak better English' (are we living in the UK or in China?) or that 'You never know if you can trust the health care here' or (this is my favorite) that 'their friends back home don't understand how BUSY they are over here in China and shows a lack of understanding for their new life.'

Sure, we all like to complain at times (I am very good at doing it here in my blog) but sometimes I wonder what people need in order to be satisfied/happy? Do we have to get an approving nod from every one around us so that we can feel happy with our lives?

Another interesting complaint is the one about health care. When I broke my foot in Scandinavia one winter I spent 4 hours in an emergency room waiting for an x-ray, a doctor and a painkiller (yes I was screaming our loud but nothing happened still). Why are we forgetting that the systems 'back home' are not so perfect just because we live in a country with a not-so-developed social security system? Every time I have had a medical condition in China I have got 'served' very fast. Actually, most of the times when I have called a dentist or a hospital I have been told that I can come straight in. One angry tai tai kept on saying to me that she had small kids and that she lacked trust in the Chinese medical system.
-What about private Western hospitals then? I said. Here's plenty of them.
-Well .... if there is an emergency maybe u don't have time to go to a private place?
-Well if there is an emergency, no matter where u are in the world, isn't it always then a bit critical?
-I still feel safer in my home country.

Safer yes, sure. But if you are so scared of emergency situations u should basically be afraid to leave the house. No matter where u are.

Having said this, though, I am obviously not a mom and I don't kow how it feels like to worry for your children. Maybe I am being too harsh towards those tai tais. Am I? What do you guys think?


Anonymous said...

Great post. It's simple, they don't appreciate what they have, like so many people but also, they don't know how to make the most of their time. I don't understand anyone who claims to be bored. I have so many things I want to do and not enough time between blogging, my photography, gym, wining and dining, looking after my cat, oh and I also have to work five days a week! I would love to have all that free time, and their anger is what I call "laowai behaving badly" with the "people should speak better English" type of remarks.

Tina said...

It's not just in Suzhou, they're in Xiamen as well!

There are some Tai Tai's, me, being one of them, that enjoy living in China. No, I don't have kids, ayi, or driver, and don't go to coffee houses.

There are a few of us, that go to university to learn Chinese, take Taijiquan, clean our own homes, take the local buses, go to the market, and attempt to speak Mandarin.

As for the hospital concerns, I can only tell you that the ones in Xiamen are filthy, though a new Taiwanese hospital has just been built for foreigners.

The women that are complaining about China, will also complain no matter where they live, be it Paris, or Toronto or anywhere else.

That being said, like many things in life, it's all about attitude.

Anonymous said...

- bang on target

Jonna Wibelius said...

Tina -glad u made a comment. Like I said in my post, I don't want to generalize, but in a 'small' city like Suzhou, where life is veeery easy (and health care is quite good! not to mention the fact that the city is close to Shanghai -which has really good health care) it just bugs me that some people still can find reasons to complain. Like u said, however, it is all about attitude and u r right -these ladies would probably complain just as much in Paris or Rome as they do here.

Anonymous said...

Jonna - You really put up a great blog with many penetrating insights about life in China! As for the "tai tais feeling perpetually bored" topic, I might be a little biased because it is my hometown, but if these ladies feel bored even in Rome, then they do not deserve to live!

Jonna Wibelius said...

wancestyle -glad to hear u like my blog! :) There's just so much to write about when it comes to China, I think I have enough material to write a book, but then the question is if people would be interested reading it...? Blogging is probably a better option for sharing my kind of stories.

Anonymous said...

Tina - Wow what an amazing attitude you have, a great example to the spoiled Tai Tais and you're right, they'd probably complain if they were living in London or Paris.

Anonymous said...

Tina, I was just in Xiamen last week. I have heard some very interesting things about a hospital in Xiamen that is owned and run by some Taiwan investors. What I have heard is that they have a hard time attracting local Chinese doctors because all medicines and medical equipment have been provided by the hospital. Hence docs cannot get any kickbacks from drug makers. Actually a top Taiwanese investor told me this story.

Tina said...

That's interesting.

I have heard about the new hosptial which will relieve some of the complaining that one hears around here, though I suspect will still hear a few.

We heard that the hospital was built by some rich Taiwanese man, who built it for fellow Taiwanese and foreigners. Apparently, all state of the art equipment so it would be sad, if they couldn't get doctors.

Anonymous said...

Tina, I think we are talking about the same state of the art hospital in Xiamen built by Wang Yongqing, the richest Taiwanese billionaire. I was talking with some Taiwanese investors about business opportunities in Xiamen. One of them brought up the topic of corruption in China and how doctors are paid under the table by pharmaceuticals as well as hongbao (red envelope) from patients. Chinese doctors are leaving this Taiwanese hospital because they don't have a chance for kickbacks from pharmaceuticals or hongbao from patients. The hospital isn't profitable right now.

Anonymous said...

You might say that I am one of those stay-at-home-moms who has absolute nothing to worry about. No job, no babies to look after (he is in school), money in the bank, my own car, and although I do clean our 3550 square foot house and cook for the entire family of 3 myself (when we do not eat out), I also have time to read, take a degree, exercise, shop and meet with friends at Starbucks.

And do I find things to complain about? Not much, I must admit, but people need something to talk about, when they are around others. Especially if they are not really tight friends, which is hard to come by in an expat environment where people rarely stay more than a couple of years at a time. And in a group of more than 2 people meeting for perhaps only an hour or less, you do not engage in political discussions or talk about art or what books or articles you read lately. So you turn to hassles you meet in your daily life, such as rude taxi drivers or door men.

Have you ever met someone who is absolutely content and happy? After a while you would stop listen to her babling on about her beautyful flowers in the garden, the oh-so clever children, the adorable dog or absolutely perfect husband and start thinking she must be high on weed! And certainly not interesting to listen to in the long run.

And last : who gets to decide who's problems are the biggest?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Lene -everyone's bitching (I'm a fan!) at times. It's just a matter of how u do it. Some people just never see the positive in anything (not saying it all have to b about flowers and great hubby -but most ppl should b able to find SOME sunshine in their every day life, right?)... I just think some house wives in Suzhou (like the one I spoke to about health care) are forgetting that things are not so perfect back home as they think it is in their head. It's worth giving the new place a shot.

Saif said...

These tais tais reside everywhere, not only in China. Usually (not necessarily) they are British ladies who do not work. Plenty here in the UAE, but fortunately we speak English so their comments are held under their breath.