Friday, September 12, 2008

Getting to know people

Bonding with kids in Yunnan

I was chatting to a friend from Australia the other day, and he expressed something I have been meaning to write about for a while: that despite being in China, it's quite hard to get (good) Chinese friends here.

He has some great, Chinese female friend (most who he has got to know though work or via work mates), but when I asked him about male friends, he shook his head.

-Non, zero... I don't know how to approach them? It feels like they are not interested in getting to know me?

Hm... funny. I have had the same feeling about Chinese girls... :) In Shanghai I have a bunch of great and amazing Chinese girlfriends. In Suzhou, however, I have none! Here I have gotten to know a bunch of Chinese guys instead (and to be honest -in general I feel it is easier to talk to the guys than to the girls here.. )

Actually, the girlfriends that I already have, weren't that easy to find. Most of them are former work mates from when I worked at a city magazine in Shanghai, and even with them it took a while to bond. (It didn't happen over working overtime, doing stories together or having lunch -but during a spontaneous night out on Volar. And what a night then!)

But before I met this bunch of girls, I had some interesting moments while trying to get to know others. One girl in particular, Lynn, was so excited when we met at a bar one month after I had arrived in Shanghai. Forget about checking out guys and drinking cocktails. Me and Lynn spent the night talking about our experiences of studying in Australia (she'd studied in Sydney for 4 years meanwhile I had been in Perth for 3.5 years). I was thrilled. At that time I couldn't speak any Chinese and Lynn's English was great. She seemed fun, outgoing and happy. We decided to have dinner sometime during the next week.

We met for dinner at a quite fancy Cantonese place. I let her do the ordering (which took more than 40 minutes) and we ended up with a bunch of different dishes that she barely touched herself. She was too busy talking. She'd told me during the night we met about her boyfriend who was still in Australia (he was originally from Hong Kong -but now living in Sydney with his family. His parents didn't approve of his relationship with Lynn) and about him wanting to break up with her now when she was back in China. I listened compassionately, offered some advices and showed some sympathy.

I'd say that I am normally a good listener. I don't mind letting people pour out their hearts to me and I am happy to offer advices... but... there's a limit, right? After 1 hour I had eaten more than half of all the food Lynn had ordered (she still had barely touched anything) and said about 2 things except for: 'no way, he said that?!' 'Really?!' and 'That's awful!' I was getting a bit bored.

Carefully i tried to change the conversation to something else, commenting on the food being good.

-Yeah but I don't want to eat it. I don't want to look fat the next time I see him (he was coming to visit her... I think? Or, she was visiting him? I don't remember)
-But you are already tiny? I tried (girl's love hearing that -and besides, she WAS! I felt like a giant next to her)
-Noooooo! I am noooooot! she said! I need to lose some weight!
-So do you do any exercise? I tried, still keen to get the conversation moving.
-I have a gym membership! She said.
-Haha, yes but do you use it?
-Not yet. But I am planning to do yoga!
-Ah, I personally like running...
I tried, before I was interrupted:
-Oh my god, I miss him so muuuuuuuch!!!!!!!!!!!

OK so shifting the conversation wasn't working... I decided to be more involved in hers.
-You know what? I said. I also have an ex boyfriend in Australia so I know what u feel.. it is hard to move on!
This caught her attention.
-But... you have a boyfriend here in China too don't you?
-Yes... but when I left Australia I also left my boyfriend there... that was really hard at that time I remember. It took me a long time to get over him.
-Oh, so you have an ex boyfriend?
-Yes... Well I have a couple of ex boyfriends.
-And now you have a new one!?
-You're such a slut!!!

Slut? who? ME?! Sure, she said it with a cheeky smile but I still felt as if I was about to fall of my chair. If I was a slut, she was an obsessive-ex-girlfriend. But I couldn't tell her that... could I?

I didn't. But then again, we never had dinner again. That night at the Cantonese restaurant was our first and last meal together.

Lynn actually called me some weeks later asking me if I wanted to come shopping with her. I did, and it was a disaster. We spent 45 minutes in one shop on Xinle Lu where she tried on a pair of jeans, a top, a hat, and shoes, and bought nothing. She then took me to another shop on the same street and told me this shop carried exclusive designs from Hong Kong. I browsed for a while and in the neat piles of sweaters I found a knitted V-neck jumper from 'Divided' (a section from H&M) with a price tag of 700 rmb (this was before H&M came to China). When I tried to explain this to her she looked at me as I was from another planet and once again explained to me that the clothes here were 'exclusive' and 'only from Hong Kong.'

That was the last time we caught up and to be honest -I wasn't that sad that we never got any closer. I mean, some people you click with and some you don't. Nothing to fret about. Now I just laugh about it. but I remember back then -being new in China and not having any idea of how to find good girlfriends, that I thought "wow... this is going to be some different years in China!"

Anyways, what I am trying to say is... it takes some time to get to know people here (but it's worth some patience.. I mean, those girlfriends that I have now are awesome. Well worth waiting for). And I guess that maybe some western guys have experienced the same things with Chinese male friends that I first did with Chinese girls: that we are quite different, think differently and share different life experiences. But that's nothing worth losing sleep over, just keep trying until you find someone you click with. As long as they don't call you 'slut'.


Anonymous said...

Is Lynn a typical modern Chinese girl? I have always wondered how little the Chinese have understood the outside world in spite of their joining the global economy. Vain, vain, vain. I have heard many similar stories from other expat Chinese who returned to China on visits. They were just shocked at how materialistic and vain Chinese folks have become over the years.

Anonymous said...

jonna: you're an amazing girl!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymouse -I don't want to generalize by saying that Lynn is a typical modern Chi girl, because I don't think she is... I think we just didn't click. Sure she was materialistic and self-absorbed but that doesn't mean all SH-girls are like that. My other female friends from Shanghai are all humble, friendly and great fun, and although they all love shopping I wouldn't call them materialistic... I think Shanghai, like any other city, has a mix of all kinds of girls.

Jon -I am?! Geez, thanks! :) I think Lynn was.... in her very own way ;)

Anonymous said...

I was out to dinner just last night with one of my female Chi friends at the hot pot. As usual we ordered TONS of food. When I was done I was so stuffed I could hardly move (I hate wasting food). I was amazed and impressed with how much she ate as she is a tiny little girl and she had never seemed to eat that much before. She was very concerned that I was full. The conversation went something like this:

Her: You are full? There are no boys here. You must be hungry since you always eat with your husband.
Me: Yes, I am full. What do boys have to do with anything and why would I be hungry because I eat with my husband?
Her: Well, you know when boys are around, girls shouldn't eat too much. Boys don't want some girlfriend or wife that eats like a pig. When you have a meal with girls you can really eat what you like and not go home hungry.

I tried to gently tell her that I thought that was absurd, but alas it was a lost cause. The poor girl is probably always walking around starving to death! No wonder she is so small!

And...I can't believe that girl actually called you a slut!!! Maybe she didn't actually know what that means. I once heard my Chinese teacher say the word whore when describing someone...she just thought it meant that they had had a lot of boyfriends...oops! She was really embarrassed when I told her what it actually meant.

Arthur said...

The difficulty of getting to know Chinese people also depends on your guanxi.

For example, if you fulfill any special wishes your Chinese business partner might have, he will do business with you, be nice to you and, perhaps later, grant you other favors or introduce you to more people with whom he has guanxi. When you don't have guanxi they will be cold, distant, or even abuse you.

As long as all the people in a network of guanxi adhere to the rules, they will all benefit.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your comment about the "swedish jealousy-issue, appreciate it :) and you have a great blog too, I always find it fascinating to read about Swedes and their lives in foreign countries. and yes, my sambo is Taiwanese, although he spent much of his life in the US. we've been together since 2004 and we're actually going to Taiwan this christmas :) take care keep up with the good work with the blog ;)

Anonymous said...

I am a Chinese studying in New Zealand.

I have many similiar problems when talking to kiwis and other westerners.

Basically, it's like your conversation with Chinese. Sometimes, the things they say make me speechless, othertimes the conversation just gets bored.

Tod said...

Great page ... I went searching for a blog from a native Chinese, but this is interesting as well. I'll come back now and then and see what you are up to.

Anonymous said...

I find it harder to make male Chinese friends too so maybe there's a gender issue here. I think it's probably more a case of needing to put yourself out in places where people can run into you.

My male friends do a good job keeping themselves busy. Our first meeting is usually accidental - whereas I'll meet more women friends through work.

Anonymous said...

I feel it is the opposite way. Ive got tons of chinese male friends, and some of them is the best friends I have ever had. We hang out and do all kind of stuff, and I never seen a problem getting to know them.

With girls it is different, they seem to be shy and not interesting at all, and those who seem to be is usually never interested in knowing you.Most of the girls I know is either friends with me for language exchange or showing their other female friends that they got a foreigner as a friend.

Anyway, great blog, checking it out daily. Nice to read how other Scandinavians are doing in China.