Elias Pelcastre

Learning China

Moving to China for a couple of months has taught me a lot. I have found that I have become increasingly tolerant of things that at first made me want to rip my hair out. I am out of the stage where I always question everything happening, ‘why?’ and now instead think ‘why not,’ when I see something out of my ordinary. There are certain things though that are still a novelty to me, although I have come to appreciate and laugh at them, rather than let them ruin a good mood.

Chengdu looking pretty at night.

A difficult thing to become accustomed to is the feeling of being an outsider. There is a fine line between feeling like a celebrity and constantly posing for photos with people, and always harbouring the knowledge that you will never quite fit in. In work environments, the concept of ‘white face’ is ubiquitous. Foreigners present in the country are seen as making a company innovative and successful. In my first week working here, I attended a lot of government events, despite knowing very little. There are certainly a lot of opportunities for foreigners in the country if you are willing to step out your comfort zone.

The ubiquity of mobile phones is very apparent. I had always assumed that people in the UK were obsessed with phones, but it is nothing compared to some Chinese people’s reliance. WeChat is a combination of the best elements of Western social media applications and is central in China. You can buy cinema tickets, pay for your goods in a market, promote your business and update your ‘moments.’ In some cities, they are even starting to set up ‘texting lanes,’ to make walking around for the mobile-obsessed safer.

Crossing the road is always an experience!

The metro in Chengdu is not the most greatest MRT system, with only three lines and a few interchange stations (although there are plans to build twenty more in the next few years). Using it to navigate the city, especially during rush hour is the equivalent of a workout. There is no space for politeness or personal space, and it is quite acceptable to elbow somebody out of the way. However, this is preferable to the traffic in the city, a problem set only to increase over the next few years. Crossing the road requires enough confidence to assert your wish to reach the destination, but not too much so you end up being run over. It is acceptable to be standing in-between two lanes of traffic travelling at 60mph, having to dodge between cars.

Over time, I have learnt that that somebodies way of doing something is better or worse, it is just different. Spitting in the street, taking sneaky selfies with you in the background, insisting that the whole office eats lunch together, all of these things make China into the interesting and melting pot of cultures that it is. Immersing myself in this culture has been incredibly rewarding.

A beautiful, but smoggy Chengdu.