Last year, on Christmas Eve, the foreign teachers were invited to a special Christmas buffet held at a nearby 5-star hotel. The meal is normally 600 rmb, a kings ransom (to put it in perspective, 600 rmb covers 6-months of my water and electricity bill, or an entire year cell phone bill) but free for us foreigners because they want to look more international and many Chinese people consider a Christmas event more “real” if westerners are there. Also, as payment the foreigners had to literally sing for their supper by performing a few Christmas carols.
I missed it because of class or something, and regretted it based on everyone else’e reaction. They had a full turkey (something I have never had in China before) ham, steak, a salad buffet and more. So I was really excited for it this year, and I made sure I was available. Only this year it was marred in controversy, and it’s kind of my fault.
You see, one of the foreign teachers is a vegetarian, which is normally not a problem. Sure, we rag on him, but he rags on us and no one is upset or offended. But his British girlfriend came to stay for a month and she’s a Vegan with a capital V. She can’t even handle a plate of tomato and eggs laid down in front of her and looks disgusted until someone moves it to the other side of the table.
Not only that she is the most PC person I have ever met, getting offended for other people, and finds pretty much no joke amusing. For instance the other night we were talking about our favorite actors or actresses and she promptly interrupted and said “Actor is a gender neutral word, so you don’t need to say actress.”
So we’re all walking on eggshells around her trying not to do or say anything offensive. Then, the subject of the Christmas dinner came up. I called my friend who is organizing it and I asked if my boyfriend could come for free. She said no, that since he was Chinese he would have to pay. We were out when I found this out, and I happened to mention it to everyone. One of the other foreign teachers also has a Chinese girlfriend and he was a little annoyed as well. As the dinner was Christmas eve, and he didn’t want to leave his girlfriend alone on that day, he said he wouldn’t go. Totally understandable. (His girlfriend lives in another province, but was staying with him for a few weeks.)
Then the Vegan got involved. “That’s racist,” she said. “We should take a stance. We need to fight this, and show them that they can’t treat people differently.”
Here’s the thing, I agree that it’s racist. And by racist I don’t mean black versus white, but rather benefits foreigners get living in China (reverse racism it’s sometimes called). In China, the fact is that foreigners, both black and white by the way–it has less to do with your skin color and more to do with your passport–get special treatment. Free dinners, meetings with important people, easy access to good paying jobs. It’s especially unfair to the foreigners of Chinese heritage who don’t get treated as well just because their face looks Chinese.
Our job is inherently unfair. We can get an easy job, with good pay and free apartment with no training, just because we were born in another country. The poor chinese teachers have to work for years, and get degrees and pass tests to become college teachers, with pay starting way below ours. All a foreigner needs is a college degree and a foreign passport. So I think it was hypocritical to gladly and willingly accept and support one benefit of racism and then eschew another part.
Needless to say, we argued about it over the course of a few days, and on the big night 4 of the 12 foreigners refused to go. But they missed out on one amazing dinner.
Everything was there as before, turkey, ham, steaks cooked to order. A salad buffet with 4 kinds of lettuce, and a desert bar that covered several tables. They even had about a dozen flavors of New Zealand ice cream, New Zealand ice cream! It was amazing, and unlike any dinner I’ve had in China before.
And we definitely played our part as “foreigners.” While we get these special privileges, they usually come with a price. We are expected to behave like dancing monkeys, with everybody staring at us, taking pictures with/of us, and parents forcing their children to speak to us and say “hello, nice to meet you” usually the only english they know. And of course we had to sing and entertain the crowd. All of that can be pretty uncomfortable at times.
In my small city, foreigners are few and far between and we might be the first foreigners the locals have seen, and possibly the only. So while getting these benefits is racist in many ways, I also see it as a diplomatic mission. I’ve had several people (including students) who said they thought all americans were ‘bad guys’ before they met me, and even something simple, like speaking Chinese, can really leave a good impression. “Hey, that american is learning our language, I guess they are not a selfish as I have been told,” is a sentiment I have heard expressed a few times.
In fact, that’s partially why I started this blog in the first place. There is a lot of cultural misunderstanding between the US and China and by experiencing it, and sharing that experience, it helps more people understand China. At the same time, I’m here teaching not only the language, but through my actions and behavior I’m teaching others about the west.
So it’s a shame that others immediately put a label on a situation and are unwilling to be flexible or look at things in a different light. But you can’t change others behaviors, just the way you react to them, and I guess we all have our issues, or lines in the sand we wont cross. I’m just sorry the others missed out on such good food, and the opportunity to meet and interact with some local people.
I’ll finish up this post with one funny anecdote from the night. Next to the turkey was two big silver pots filled with thick brown liquid. “Look guys,” I said to a few friends near me. “Gravy!” We all got bowls and dipped, or poured it over our turkey. Several hours later, while we were all patting our bulging belly a chinese person said how good the Shark’s Fin Soup was.
“I’ll never eat shark fin’s soup,” I said aware of the environmental implications.
“You already did,” she said pointing to my half empty ‘gravy’ bowl. Whoops. The chinese people must have thought we were redneck foreigners dipping our turkey into this expensive soup.
>At the same time, I’m here teaching not only the language, but through my actions and behavior I’m teaching others about the west.
Now there’s a scary thought. Given that you’re conscious of your impact as the first foreigner many Chinese meet and try to be a cultural ambassador, you’ve probably helped to dispel some of the negative stereotype of Americans but I really don’t think the same could be said about many American English teachers. I suspect the job might screw with people’s heads a little. As you say, you’re paid more than the locals, you’re treated with more deference than the locals and many English teachers come to the job right after college with little life experience. It often seem to go to their heads. I love your blog but I’ve also read some horrid blogs by American English teachers who seem to hate everything and are constantly complaining about the people. I dread to think how they act in everyday interactions and the impact they have.
I know what you mean. I’ve been mortified by the actions of some of my co-workers at times, much less what I’ve read on other blogs. And even trying to remind them that they are representing more than just themselves doesn’t help.
I’m actually really confused at why some people chose to come to China and then seems so put off by everything. Especially teachers that just come for a year. Can’t they see the amazing opportunity they have? Often they don’t complaining about everything, avoiding chinese food and going home for every holiday instead of traveling in China. Like, why did they choose to come to China in the first place if they are so resistant to everything right off the bat? It really pisses me off. Luckily, this semester the teachers we have here are better. They are all even learning chinese!
Some bigger truths are in play here Bec, but isn’t it nice that pretentious vegans are annoying in every culture? I mean as long as we have that block to build off of – anything is possible.
The PC police are going global! 😉
(P.S. Good to hear from you. I’m psyched u read my blog!)
As much as it reflects far more badly on me that I bothered to read this blog at all Becky, it is probably fair that I point out at this stage that I am hardly impressed and more than a little bit annoyed by your inexpert and highly partial criticism of my partner Cat. It seems rude and cowardly to just dismiss and criticize somebody on your blog, when you were apparently incapable or unwilling to point out your concerns in their company.
As much as Cat does attempt to fight discrimination and inequality wherever she sees it and can reasonably feel capable of acting, a drive which is of course wholly pretentious and hypercritical I agree, I struggle to understand how you can feel satisfied churning out the near-meaninglessness right-wing epithet ‘PC police’, apparently feeling that it is enough to qualify or justify your criticism. The word actor is a gender-neutral term, and I feel that as Cat does indeed have a gender, that she was less getting upset on behalf of others, and more delivering a statement of fact. Furthermore, you might find that with people who do not tolerate jokes which are at the expense of minority groups, if you can manage to refrain from making them, they are in fact capable and even sometimes willing to find you amusing.
As I have tried to explain before, racism is not merely prejudice, or even discrimination. It is the enacting at the personal or social level of a deep-set structural inequality. Privileging of white people is the near ubiquitous heritage of imperialism and uneven economic development. It is something that yourself and other white people benefit from before you are even born, as it is the premise of all social relations and is riven deep into the mindset of both white people and people of colour alike. To discriminate against black people, Chinese people etc. as a white person, is to enact a historically and presently existing structural violence, which simply is not possible in the other direction, as the economic, ideological and historical conditions that led to presently existing racism can hardly be reversed. Thus your inevitable turn to the fictitious notion of ‘reverse-racism’ is highly disingenuous.
In our discussion of this issue, your own argument was that Chinese people have no concept of racism or discrimination, an argument that you thought it appropriate to make in the presence of a Chinese man who you ignored throughout the whole proceedings. You also implied that in the USA, you were capable of and *even have actually!* made steps to fight racism. Upon talking to Chinese people, I have come to the conclusion that they do indeed understand racism and discrimination, and of course the premise of the argument was not just that myself and Matthew were annoyed, there was also the issue that the Chinese people involved might actually themselves be upset by their being discriminated against because they were Chinese, an issue that is strangely absent from your account.
I am no expert on the subject of PCness (as it is a discredited and highly unhelpful term), but my general understanding is that it relates to language. This situation was not one of people saying potentially offensive things, it was a situation where we had the choice to accept a clear form of discrimination against Chinese people, or not. I chose the latter. It is not to say that in doing so I am somehow pure, or have managed to overturn all the myriad and near-ubiquitous forms of racism that surround me, that would of course be impossible. Rather, I have made one small, earnest and modest attempt to, as best I can, not become complicit in a particular system that demonstrates a very clear form of racism.
I find it strange and somehow vulgar that the only political issue that you have at all seemed to be bothered about since I arrived here, is not the many problematic racist and sexist actions and words of your peers, but rather one, very small and sincere attempt by myself and others, to avoid complicity in a discrimination that actually affected those around you.
Pete, you started off this critique with a comment aimed at trying to insult me, which is surprisingly immature for your normal discourse. Usually we devolve into petty insults, not start off that way!
And I’m not going to get into the arguments of racism because we’ve been down this road already, and you have clearly misinterpreted, and apparently just plain made up, some things I had said in our past arguments, so I think continuing this one further is fruitless. But I will address some non-racism argument issues you raised:
1-Dismissing and criticizing someone behind their back. Did you really want me to insult your girlfriend to her face to make her feel bad during her time in china? We were all being nice to her because we respect and like you Pete. We wanted to make her feel welcomed and not weird when she was hanging out with us. She was here for one month, everyone dealt with it, and there is no law that I know of that says I have to like my friends girlfriends. You know I’m not one to hold my tongue when it comes to my opinion, but even I, who has the social skills of a turnip, felt like that would be inappropriate. If I was to have any sort of lasting relationship with her, I would have made my opinion known, and actually wanted to on several occasions but was talked out of it by the others.
2-re: political situations: If you had read my blog more than, I’m assuming, two blog posts you would see that I do actually blog about political issues and their injustices. The most recent example would be the over inflated sense of patriotism due (and anti-japanese sentiment) to the Diaoyu Island kerfuffle. Though my political rants are seldom as I am not an expert on these things, and my knowledge of international politics is nil, so I can only reflect on situations that affect me directly, be it through discussions with my students or my life. And over the years I have written repeatedly about the special treatment of foreigners (and how I don’t think it’s fair) and also the downsides of being a foreigner (such as the dancing monkey routine).
I get that your upset over what I said about your girlfriend, but it’s the truth. You can’t say I wrote libel. Most of the things I wrote about in my blog happened mere hours before I wrote the post after she had been here for a month. That’s the problem with being friends with a writer, we’re always taking notes and filing things away to write about. Just wait till my book comes out!
The bottom line is this. This blog is called beckyances.net and as such it is my thoughts and my experiences as seen through my eyes. This is not a news blog, or a unbiased account of my life. This is as biased and one sided as it gets, as most personal blogs are. This is how I saw the situation, and I did not hide, nor shy away from telling you about my feelings about this, and how stupid I thought your opinion was as you did not shy away from telling me how stupid you thought I was. Despite our many arguments over the week preceding this event neither you nor Cat convinced me otherwise and I (and Becca) couldn’t convince you guys otherwise.
Anyway, I’m sure we’ll argue this over dinner soon so I’ll stop now.
Your characterization of Cat is certainly your own. Its implicit rudeness, patronizing tone, ignorance, and woefully unselfcritical normative assumptions, are however overwhelming disingenuous and offensive. For example, Cat would have been willing to tell you why she finds the smell and sight of eggs a little disgusting, but instead of asking and entering into a discourse where you could have learned a little about veganism, something that you are evidently not that knowledgeable about , you chose to enforce a silly stereotype about vegans that you already had in your head.
There is nothing natural about not finding eggs disgusting, nor is there anything natural about finding them disgusting. Rather, both reactions come from a specific ideological interpretation of whether it is acceptable to exploit and kill animals for profit. Cat ‘can’t even handle’ this, because she has absolutely no obligation to, neither to justify why she doesn’t to you or anyone else. Your own acceptance of eating part of the menstrual cycle of another animal is no less strange than the rejection of it, but, rather than recognize your own implicit ideological assumptions, you’d rather just dismiss someone that you have not properly engaged in debate with on the grounds that they deviate from what you problematically take as truth.
Your readiness to dismiss and clumsily characterize others is certainly your right as a blogger, but as I mention earlier it is quite clearly rude and disrespectful to those around you. It is neither insightful, interesting, nor merely ‘the truth’, just bad writing.
I loved reading the comments the most. I’m a whitey in China and my wife is an English teacher but comes from Taiwan. As a couple we encounter positive and negative discrimination regularly. My local bar offers free drinks for ladies and no entrance fee but guys need to pay for both. Where do we start? I’d have gone to the meal and smuggled my wife a turkey or two. And the animals are killed for essential nutrition and profit, not profit alone.
Haha, I know, right? These are the most epic comments on any of my blog posts.
Of course I tend to not get upset with “ladies nights” or the general dating custom where the guys pay. Intellectually I know it’s wrong, but socially I enjoy it. 😉
“Ladies nights” is also benefiting the guys you know why? Because this would make it much easier for the guys to interact with a tipsy girl. No free drinks for guys – No worries. It’s even better when you see a lotta girls having fun, ignoring those phony sober girls tryna drunk is also another good thing about ladies nights.
Drunk girls are wayyyy much more fun than those sober ones.
Why there’s a lady night because the guys would be on the prowl, coming to the party with the intention of finishing off their preys.
Plus, there only one rule, in fact, never buy a girl drinks In order to get their attention or get to know the girl. #winkwink
Tatum s out.