Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Not living in "la-la-land"

Only for work circumstances would I agree to wear a hard hat...

Where does all of my time go? It’s almost April and I haven’t even done half of all the “Jonna stuff” I promised to do for myself this spring. Sure, I’ve kicked off a more healthy life (and I’ve stuck to it –I mix long distance treadmill running with spinning, weight training and yoga- it normally becomes 4 sessions/week, sometimes 3, and sometimes 5), but what about the rest? I had some serious writing plans for this spring, oh, and not to mention the fact that I was gonna cook more (ehhh), blog on a more regular basis (ehhh), take more photos (ehhh?!) and try to do more fun/new things on the weekday nights. Hasn’t really happened yet, but maybe I can blame winter and get re-started again now with spring around the corner. It is really heating up. Lovely! I hope spring lasts for more than 2 weeks this time!

One thing I’ve thought about is how people back home look at my life over here. Sometimes it hits me that some people don’t seem to take it seriously. It’s like they don’t get that my every day, boring Mondays are spent here, in Shanghai –and that they can be just as grey and dull as they can be back home. Just to take an example: I get a lot of visitors for work, from Sweden. Every time they come here they want full programs, they want to have dinners, go for drinks and explore the city. When I, on the other hand go to visit someone in Stockholm, my program almost always ends around 6.30pm, when people go home from work. There might be a dinner scheduled for one night out of seven. The other six nights, I get the whole: “Oh, you’ll have to take care of yourself because I have to go home to my family!”

Sure, I don’t have a family over here so that makes it a bit different. No kiddies to go home to. But it’s not like living abroad means that you hit restaurants and bars every single night –it’s not that special when you constantly have the possibility. I also like to get home early a few nights a week in order to do all that cooking/writing/photography that I never get around to do anyway…

Also, it’s funny how these “work visitors” often want to add some time for exploring the city/sightseeing in the program. If I would ask for something like that on a business trip to Stockholm I think people would start laughing. Why should I explore? I travel “home” for work –nothing else (although Stockholm is as far from home as any place in the world for me, truth to be told I’ve spent very little time over there –since I’m from Malmö we always went to Copenhagen rather than Stockholm when we were young). When people come here, however, regardless if it’s for a work trip, there should always be time for “some fun.”

I’ve talked to a lot of friends (that are in similar situations as me –they work for a European company and have to deal with visiting delegations, as well as working against time difference). Another really frustrating things is how people from Europe always feel that they can call you anytime, regardless if it’s 9pm and you might be enjoying a night off.

-Oh, sorry! Well, over here it’s only 2pm… bla bla bla.

I wonder how happy they would be if I called them at 4am, going:

-Oh, sorry, well over here it’s already 10am, and I really need some answers…

Bit of a rant, excuse me, but point to be made: when living and working here –it ain’t no holiday. Also, it is for real, even though it doesn’t feel like that when friends back home are asking me: “when are you coming home to start your real life? Aren’t you going to buy a house, a car, get married and have some kids soon? You’re not that young anymore, Jonna.”

It’s like they are waiting for my “fantasy-and-not-so-real-life-far-away-over-there” to end and me to join the rat race back home. Only thing is… I’ve already joined the rat race over here. And even though I just made a deal of the fact that time flies and I don’t have much spare time on my hands, I think I’ll stick to what I have here. Regardless if people think I’m “on some kind of holiday.” Has anyone experienced similar things? How do you guys deal with people from your home country not taking your life abroad seriously, constantly telling you that you should go "home" (meanwhile you might not be sure where "home" is anymore)? Please, do share.


flyingfish said...

What a beautifully insightful post!

I think one factor in the communication breakdown you and your friends are experiencing is the lag between perception and reality. The time lag, I mean. It's not so long ago that most people did use their time in China as a kind of parenthesis in the expected trajectory of their lives. That's not really true anymore, but it's hardly surprising that your friends back in Sweden have not yet caught up with the new reality.

Also, your blog itself may contribute to this sense of holiday exploration. After all, you usually write about what it feels like to be you, living in China. And a great deal of what it feels like to be you is mediated by your foreignness. Perhaps China is your new home now --for the moment anyway -- but if so, it is a home that you have only recently adopted, and that is still sometimes strange and surprising to you.

I don't really think that your blog is much of a factor here, I just thought I'd raise the idea. Honestly, it seems to me that while you are cutting-edge, your friends are still behind the times. Nothing to do, I'd imagine, other than wait foe them to catch up.

Kevin said...

Im not sure Jonna.

Most expats that stay in China do it because they are fed up with life back home. Not necessarily because the life is so much better for them in China, but because life in their home countries seem lethargic. Even expats who have lived in China for 10+ years can discovers new ideals and surprises in everyday life. Being in China excites them and keeps them at the edge of their seats.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Back in Sweden, married with kids? In China living life? Pursuing your career no matter where it takes you?

Unknown said...

I have friends who worked in China for a few years and they would love to go back to China and live. They do not miss their home in Australia.
Who knows, you might find your life long partner in China too! Really when the world has gone global, where is home tho the folks at home miss you.

Reluctant and Recluse said...

Since you deal mostly with Swedish people, and in China as a swede this may be your curse. :)

This happens a lot when you are from a different country, but settle in a new country. So visitors (whether business or personal) will come expecting you to spend time with them - especially in a place like China if you speak the language!

I guess when you go back to Sweden they don't see you as a visitor and expect you to take care of yourself - and i guess it also depends on the type of company and people you are visiting.

When i go to China (or most places in Asia) as a business visitor the Chinese are very hospitable and will make time to take you out etc. But, also depending on the level of company you are meeting and amount of business you are engaging in...

Also, if i meet people in China or in anyother country from my own; they tend to be more available after hours and in special cirumstances.

In Europe moreso than America i would also expect to have my evenings free, either by choice or design. Probably a cultural thing (or it says something about my experience with Europeans). :)

Sara said...

I think I know what your talking about. Just last week I was talking to a older Finnish man and he's opinion was that we young people can have fun but at some point we have to get the real job. And he thought I should have a real plan already about what to do when I grow up.

Well. The life is real and boring (sometimes) here in China too. And who says I have to get into that rat race at all? Could I just get it all and write books for my living?

Or maybe I'm still just too young to understand life ;)

胡崧 said...

Also, it is for real, even though it doesn’t feel like that when friends back home are asking me: “when are you coming home to start your real life? Aren’t you going to buy a house, a car, get married and have some kids soon? You’re not that young anymore, Jonna.”

God thats gotta be beyond annoying! It probably makes you rage hardcore and want to punch a panda in the face.

Your friends need to change the perception that living in a foreign country is like being on an extended vacation.

Plus, you should live in a country/place that your competitive advantage is at its highest.

It looks like you have find a good niche for yourself. It makes no sense to throw it away in favor of "stable" life.

Jeanette Kongsgaard said...

Yes I have experienced the same thing. I spent three years living in Paris and every time I spoke to friends and family in Denmark they asked me when I was coming "home" and getting back into a serious life. My plan, however, was to stay in Paris which I told everyone from the very beginning.
Now my french bf and I finally decided to spend a few years in Denmark and I`m constantly met with comments like "good you decided to come home and be serious..". But for me this is almost less serious than living in Paris, because we both know that we are going back to France in a few years. That this kind of is the living away from home and we`ll be just as much home when we move back south.
Der er generelt ikke mange der ser det som et realistisk valg at leve udenfor Danmarks graenser naar sabbataar og udenlandsophold i forbindelse med studier er overstaaet. Det er bl.a. derfor jeg nyder at laese din blog, fordi du ogsaa ser muligheder i mange andre lande istedet for kun at tro at man kan blive "voksen" i sit hjemland.

Chinese Traveler said...

Jonna, I am just curious why you took down your earlier post on how Chinese folks would liken your look to that of some totally different Westerners. I was looking forward to reading some comments. Just so you know. You have my understanding. This experience is true for us Chinese living in the West. To Westerners, we Chinese always look the same. In most cases, it's purely insulting. In some cases, it's just laughable. One time my American neighbor had a problem with his Korean neigbor and asked me to talk to them because this American didn't speak an Asian language. He thought I as a Chinese could simply open my mouth and with a few words of Ching Ching Chong Chong, our Korean neighbor would get it. I am telling ya. This annoying stereotyping works both ways. We have got to help both sides see that.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh.. The classic! I used to get told the same thing. As if people thought I was on a four-year vacation. No.. I work, I buy food, I pay bills; it's not always fun and games.

I also got the when are you going to settle speech (I actually still do!)... As if life is only about getting a house, two kids and a dog...

This is my life, my real life! Sure, maybe it's different, but it is still a life! :)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Glad to hear that many of you have experienced the same thing. In a way I don't think it's my friends that are narrow minded. Maybe they are just asking out of habit. The whole thing started when I moved abroad in 2001.. then I knew I was going to London for 6 months, followed by at least 3 years in Australia. No one (including me) knew that it was going to be longer than that. When it did, people had already gotten used to me not being around except for a couple of weeks every summer, and therefore, the most natural thing to ask was: "when are u coming home?" The sad thing, however, is that it doesn't feel as if a lot of my friends back home knows what I am doing here. Maybe I'm not good at telling them, but it also seems hard for them to relate to something they cannot imagine... Also, as Jeanette pointed out: leaving and doing something different is considered more of a "temporary thing" when you come from Scandinavia. We come from a society where it's not really OK to stand out or do something different (Or, it is OK, but it's not necessarily considered a good thing).

To answer some questions:

Flyingfish -My friends and family (except for mom) don't read this blog.. so I doubt that it has influenced their thinking...

Kevin -I don't know where I see myself in 10 years. But I am more career orientated than family orientated. I really enjoy working, and although I get jealous when I see my friend's and sister's big houses back home, I think I would be bored if I lived in one and had to spend all that time decorating it... I am quite flexible and keen to try new things, move around, see new countries, new cities... wherever life takes me. No clear, 5-year plan though... no point. It never goes the way you thought it would anyway.

Reluctant -You are right. About everything.

Sara -haha, some 7 years ago I was thinking the exact same thing as you. I just wanted to write books and be happy. Not as easy as it sounds though. See how many books I have written... ehh...

胡崧 -it doesn't make me that angry!! One of my sisters has lived abroad for many years -when I talk to her it's easier as she can relate. If you haven't lived abroad you obviously cannot. It's annoying, sure, but I cannot blame them for not being able to relate. I can only wish that they would start seeing my life over here as a life as normal as the one they are living back "home".

Jeanette -Ja, jag har alltid känt ett behov av att resa utanför Sverige och uppleva så mkt som möjligt. Jag tror att det ligger en del avundsjuka o folks "oförståelse" för ens val. Det är lättare när man träffar svenskar/skaninaver som bor utomlands själv, då är det inte alls samma visa. Måste dock kännas skönt för dig med Paris då det inte är så långt från Danmark! Perfekt ju!

Chinese traveller -I didn't mean to remove it.. I spotted a spelling mistake in the post during the day and changed it. When I re-posted it, the whole formatting went wrong and all the text was clogged together. I deleted it and posted it as a new post, but still could not split the text into paragraphs. I got so annoyed with it and since there were not so many comments I decided to delete the whole post.. sorry about that! Maybe I'll try to write something about look-alikes in the future. I enjoy that topic too!

Kanmuri -I sort of guessed that u must have experienced the very same thing... for many years. Oh well... I guess I just have to learn to deal with it, and not think about it so much.