There is a theme of expats in any country, the variety who respect their host country not for what it is extraneous to their being, but for how it does or doesn’t serve their whims. For some, countries cannot simply exist on their own, but are servile to their desires.
Edward Said discusses this subjectivity in great detail in his seminal work, Orientalism. It’s nigh impossible not to thrust yourself as the protagonist when viewing another country, and as a corollary you are the star of the story for your own country, as well.
There’s a certain brand of foreigner I’ve met in virtually every place I’ve traveled, but namely Southeast and East Asia that are disrespectful to their adopted home to the nth degree. They eschew local customs, trash the place literally, trash the people figuratively, do as they wish and commit the worst act of all – waste precious moments being in a different nation
I think the cardinal sin of living in a foreign country is failing to take the time to enjoy things native or unique to that place. Certainly if you live in a country long enough, you’ll need to take the time to enjoy pleasures from back home: play video games, watch TV, throw back some beers, etc.
However, the extent to which some foreigners waste away every weekend getting trashed at the bar, forgetting where they are on both a macro- and microscale. They spend the weekends playing video games (mind you, an activity I adore), doing nothing in particular, watching cartoons or just generally consume media they would otherwise consume back home.
Many of the foreigners I engaged with in China were somewhat like this. Going out with “Chinese friends” meant going to get hammered in the presence of Chinese people. “Getting Chinese food” was getting the same dish you always got, probably gongbaojiding. “Dating a Chinese girl” was more about Edward Said’s exotica and less about genuine connection; any white dude who spends no time learning the language beyond sexual innuendos and direct wants and needs probably isn’t too interested at a core level.
Aren’t you a foreigner, too?
Yeah, but didn’t I say we all place ourselves as the protagonist in our narrative?? Clearly, I’m not the shitty variety. Without reeking of hypocrisy, I can assuredly assert that China and Southeast Asia attract a certain crowd of expat, an escapist one who dons a jacket of exceptionalism.
Living abroad, you should make as much of a point as possible to do as the Romans do. 入乡随俗。Eat their ingredients, dine in their homes, consume their media, frequent their hotspots, belt out karaoke, attempt the language.
This is ostensibly one of the benefits of living abroad, so one should at least partake in as much culture as possible. I certainly engaged in my fair share of Western guilty pleasures, but you bet your ass I was out there staring at that the moon for Mid-Autumn Festival, stuck in May Day crowds in Hangzhou, preparing tripe soup with a Hakka friend and making dumplings from scratch for no good reason whatsoever.
Hypocrisy is king.
One of the most egregious things a foreigner can do is selectively deride their host country. A particularly obnoxious example was that regarding strikes.
When I was living in Zhuhai, there was once a bus driver strike, and public transit was slightly inconvenient for a day. On an expat thread, foreigners shredded the Chinese government and the general populace for being nincompoops – as I’m sure they said verbatim
They were upset that such a disorganized country could mishandle public transportation, an institution people leaned on for daily use. They were upset the CCP could allow such action and pissed at the overall inconvenience.
First, if the people are so disorganized, how did they organize a strike in the first place?
Second, foreigners rip on China ceaselessly for the lack of labor rights or general “free speech.” And now that they exhibit some, it’s a lamentable feature of the country?
Third, you know which countries have frequent strikes? Western ones. France, in particular. We do!
China has remarkably few labor strikes. They would be shut down almost immediately by any local government, as they kinda create friction with the ideal of a harmoniously socialist nation. The West has an incredible amount. The US in the last few years has had many notable teacher strikes and telecommunications strikes.
China has had few. And somehow foreigners can perform the Ole Switcheroo and make it seem as if the Middle Kingdom and not Europe was home to endlessly inconvenient labor strikes.
Another egregious form of hypocrisy emerged around the Brexit referendum and 2016 Election. This section is to say nothing of political justification and motives, but everything to say of hypocrisy.
Many expats in China were very pro-Trump, which is AOK. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with supporting a candidate. My beef comes with the very issues they supported vis-à-vis their own status in the country.
I knew loads of expats who forged their diplomas in order to work in China. Getting a work visa used to be unthinkably simple in years past, until summer 2016 when the government tightened the rules. You forged a medical, forged a diploma, acquired a tourist visa and entered the country. From there, you could easily find employment.
How to obtain a tourist visa? Easy. The US and China recently reciprocated 10-year tourist visas, the Chinese one being much easier to get. Step 1: Buy a flight and literally any housing. It can be a hostel for one dollar. Step 2: Go to the local embassy or consulate and give the mandated paperwork. Step 3: Wait for your acceptance letter and cancel your buck-a-night hostel. QED.
So many of my fellow foreigners went this route. They never completed university and were in China, working illegally on their visa. They were neither tourists (making wages and all) nor legal workers (since the pretense they graduated is nullified). They were illegal aliens, truly.
And yet they complained of all the immigration going on in the US and UK. Yes, you may have your opinions on border security. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting to protect borders. Literally every country does it to some degree.
However, you waive your right to complain about illegal immigration in your own country when you’ve lied to a foreign government and are collecting a salary on an illegally obtained visa or an improper one (tourist visa). It’s a bit on the nose.
I’ve met legions of fine expats. Some of my best friends work with me in China. There are millions of expats who don’t work illegally or do shitty things. Unfortunately, there are far too many whose views clash with internal logic, and the hypocrisy is too great. What to do?? Go enjoy a Chinese way of life!!
Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments below! Maybe you’ve met shitty foreigners, too, or maybe you think I’ve over reacted!
Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!!