Some of you might look at the title of this blog post and laugh, but this is a really big problem! I already wrote a post on how to meet Chinese guys, and that is a cakewalk compared with making real friends.
At first glance it seems like making friends in China is easy. Outside of the major cities (which seem quite clique-y) foreigners are instant friends. You see a foreigner on the street, in a bar, at a shop, you can talk to them, ask for help, advice, whatever and it’s not weird. We’re all just one big happy group of “foreigners.” But just because they might be from another country, even your own country, doesn’t mean you’ll like them.
You see, the problem is China attracts, well, a certain kind of foreigner. All you need is a college degree and a foreign passport and you can land yourself a nice job, with a decent salary and plenty of free time. Or, a few thousand dollars will get you a couple of hours of class a day, and eventually a degree. How do most foreigners spend their free time? Drinking and trying to hook up with people. Blah.
Or on the other end of the spectrum there are the sinophiles who do everything better and cooler than you. Speak fluent chinese, mock you for your “western ways,” and generally try to make you feel like a worthless turd that should bow down to their awesomeness.
So just because you can meet foreigners easily it doesn’t mean you’ll be friends. Even co-workers are hit and miss. With your co-workers you have to make nice, and be friends, because you’re stuck together (which is especially true in small towns like mine that have so few foreign teachers). But the truth is, aside from my first year, and this current year, I haven’t really spent much time with my co-workers. Sure, an occasional dinner together, or a walk to class together, but we were just different people and not friends.
Of course you don’t need just foreign friends. There are over a billion Chinese people some of them have to be cool, right? Well, right. But the problem is that as a foreigner you will attract the “foreign loving” Chinese person. The type of people that really admire all things western and are so excited just to speak English and be near a foreigner. Basically, a totally unequal relationship where you are calling all the shots and you can do no wrong.
For instance I have a chinese friend who is into blonds. Not any foreign girl, just blonds. Personality, communication (he can’t speak English) and actual affection isn’t so important because he just wants a blond foreigner to fall in love with and marry.
Some foreigns LOVE this kind of relationship, and get totally sucked up into it (and suddenly can’t be around foreigners who don’t worship them like the Chinese do.) But I’m not into that.
So how to find friends in China?
The foreign students
Before when I said foreigners are one big group, I actually meant foreigners from North America, Europe, Africa or India. But truth is there are many Asian foreigners in China as well and it turns out they can be a lot of fun to hang out with. They tend to not be so party crazy, and are in China because they chose it for a reason (work, or study). So a lot of asian foreign students are interested in doing more interesting things than just drinking. Also, their not impressed by your “foreign-ness” because they are foreigners too. When me and my ex broke up, the first group of really good friends I had were Japanese and Indonesian. It helps if you can speak Chinese, as many might not speak English, but don’t let that stop you.
Find Meetings of Like-Minded People
In cities with more than a handful of foreigners you will find group hangouts for foreigners. If you go to English Corner (a group dedicated to helping Chinese people learn English) you will be assaulted by fake friendship requests in which they just want to practice their english, but if you go to Chinese corners (a group dedicated to helping foreigners learn Chinese) you can make real friends. Most big cities have Chinese corner, TED discussion groups or some Chinese culture group, which meets regularly. Often they are public groups , which welcome newbies, so you don’t even have to know someone to go.
The thing I like about these groups is, one, the foreigners that go are more interested in actually learning about China, not just the drinking crowd, and two, the Chinese that go there are the ones that like western culture, but also are proud of China.
There are many Chinese people who maybe have a more western mindset, feel constricted by Chinese culture and understand western things, but at the same time, love their homeland, their history, and their culture. I find these people easiest to be friends with. It’s real friendship because they don’t just hero worship you for being foreign. They like talking to you, with your different ideas and such, but also know when to call you out, when to tell you your wrong and when to teach you Chinese ways. Color, Jason, Michelle and others are like this. Truth be told I have bonded and am closer to them then almost any foreigner.
Friends of Friends
The one westerner who is my closest friend, or my bestie, is a guy I met through a friend. A few summers ago I went to Kunming to study Chinese. I met other like-minded foreigners one of whom lived in Shanghai. When I went to visit him after our course was over I met some of his friends. Lo and behold I liked them too! (One became my bestie.)
It just makes sense that if you find a westerner with similar mindset to you, then their friends will probably also have a similar personality and you’ll get along with them.
Don’t Focus on One Nationality
My biggest, and best group of friends is filled with amazing diversity. I’m the only white American, there is one other white British guy, then there is a black African/American (has 2 passports and spent equal time in childhood in both countries) who went to high school in England, a girl from India who grew up in Africa but also lived a long time in England and several Chinese people, many of whom are gay. Diversity overload.
You might think we have nothing in common at all. Certainly not a lot of culture similarities or customs, and yet we spent almost every weekend together for months in a tight friendship. If I had limited myself to Europeans or even just Americans, I would have been quite lonely.
Finding older people is a bit of a challenge (older here being 30’s-40’s). Because in China most of the foreign teachers or students are younger, in their 20’s. And most Chinese people get married and have kids in their late 20’s or early 30’s so they are harder to meet and make friends with.
That’s why it’s important to take opportunities in which you’ll meet other people. I had a woman, a english teacher at a local primary school, text me and ask me to go to some hot springs with her and her sister. I actually wrote back “sorry I’m busy” (I wasn’t) without even thinking but I paused before I hit send. “Wait, why not go?” I though.
I’m often refusing offers left and right of English corners, tutoring requests, dinners with people who pitch me business ideas (thinking if a foreigner is involved they will be highly successful). So my default answer is usually “sorry, I’m busy.”
We ended up having a great time and while I know she’s busy, and we won’t get to hang out a lot, I consider her an actual friend now.
So, if you just moved to China and are having trouble finding people to really connect with, hang in there. They are out there you just might have to search a little harder.
Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker. Doing all three in China
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