The Rapid Traveler apologizes for deviating from travel but so many questions come in on what it is like to live in China, that he is thrilled to have finally found an article that superbly illustrates the frustrating side of the daily experience of life in China. This translated piece on Inside-Out China by an anonymous Chinese shows a system that people feel helpless to change, instead putting their energies into working around the system. Those who try to change it are looked on as Sisyphean fools. There are many wonderful aspects to living in China, but it is essential to learn to navigate system.
The trouble starts when a woman purchases a flat to discover that the prior owner meddled with the electric meter to be charged only 10% of his usage:
I called the previous owner, who neatly denied everything. His voice was
full of surprise: “Really? Really? I had no idea! How could it be?”
The classic playing dumb. In China it is no loss of face to tell bald-faced lies, only to call people on them, and many take advantage of that dynamic.
Then comes the subtle hint from the property management office when the woman decides to be honest and go to the electricity bureau:
And from there, the adventure really picks up!
For travelers, there are some important related lessons:
- If you get stuck with counterfeit currency, most commonly from unofficial taxis, train station ticket scalpers, and touts, you have no recourse and best to destroy the fake bills or not object if a store confiscates them if you unwittingly try to use them. Bill scanners are everywhere and there is a reason that people carefully check nearly every bill. The best way to inoculate yourself is to only change money at banks/ATMs and use correct change when dealing with taxis and informal vendors.
- Management is generally as top-down as in the military. Many people are not empowered in their jobs to think or be reasonable. That does not mean they cannot think or that they enjoy it. The incentives are purely punitive so making an exception means taking a personal risk.
China is a delight to visit, but when problems arise, and they do anywhere, there will likely be people who desire to help more than they are safely able. Be reasonable and keep perspective.