Are You Done Complaining Yet?

The more people whine about the way Chinese do things, the more I have to wonder if they’ve ever met anyone different than themselves. They’ve gone 5000 years without your help and they’ll do another 5000 whether you correct them or not.


“I wish they’d all learn how to drive and queue,” said every basic foreigner.

You know how it is; you’ve probably heard this all before. Time and time again. “Oh, that is disgusting!” people exclaim as they complain about missing manners, lack of attention paid to rules and safety or doing many things socially unacceptable in the west.

Time and time again, this kind of debate hits apps, social forums, coffee shops and is found in almost any conversation with an expat.

When you talk with an expat, you might think you can usually quickly assess their background with respect to their education and proper transferrable social skills, all coupled with a splash of common sense.

That moment when John Doe cuts you up on Guantai Lu road, while driving erratically, is not the moment to prescribe deep and meaningful conversation. As they hurtle from the furthest outside lane and edge into the last few inches of junction, you don’t have time to give any thought to why. Still, let’s say you could talk—is it your job to educate them, all-knowing oracle?

Perhaps a worker struggling to find work may be more likely to suffer tunnel vision and not pay due care and attention to your precious mountain bike worth five times their monthly wage.

Think about it: desperation might drive the negative behavior. Perhaps a worker struggling to find work may be more likely to suffer tunnel vision and not pay due care and attention to your precious mountain bike worth five times their monthly wage. How can we educate and share our thoughts? My British nature urges me to write a strongly worded letter to somebody, but who?!

Have a little heart
How many times do we consider how far away these workers are from their homes, comfort zone and families? Do migrant workers feel they can close the widening gap and enter the middle classes? How easy is it to pick up manners in an unfamiliar place? How simple is it to shed long-conditioned behavior? During the three years I have been here, I’m sure there has been an exponential increase in no spitting signage.

One child may end up rather selfish: me, mine, I. As a kid, I was raised with multiple brothers and sisters. We shared. Now, I also grew up with a few friends that were the sole offspring of their roosts. Some, but not all, were selfish. Might this affect your view on assimilation into the strange urban sprawl?

In a migrant city, does everyone get to know each other like the neighbors you see on television?

“Hello, I wish to gain an equal footing as a fellow urbanite, but I won’t hold the door open for this pregnant lady who is carrying her shopping and the kitchen sink.” I’ve seen this scenario twice in Dongguan. Once the halfwit could have been Western, the other was perhaps a local, migrant worker.

In the 1970’s, many people were moved from cities to the countryside resulting in a particularly different generation in the so-called Down to the Countryside Movement. Now we see a smidgen of the 250 million country folk topping up the megacities of China. Dongguan is no exception. According to online mass media, more than 50% of the country’s population are dwellers in urban locations and that figure has risen by 30% since 1980. Wikipedia says, so it must be true.

A city like our fair Dongguan is growing. The economy is growing. It needs people right here, right now. High-waged jobs are a privilege for some and opportunity to progress should be a right for all. For every piece of litter dropped, there is likely a social (who taught who what?), personal (is it just me or is everyone lazy?), economic (no threat of a fine here), emotional (well, it releases a worry of where to find a rubbish bin) and cultural reasoning (London’s rivers were once toilets, too).
As a foreigner, I sometimes snarl or laugh at the rudeness or oddities, but then I take a step back and think, hang on, what happened here could have been different, but it wasn’t. Why?

When people from one area move to another. They bring change with their own education and experiences. For the residents settled in Dongguan during a generation or two, things take time. Patience is a virtue to grasp an understanding of why things aren’t quite what they seem.

Also, how few of us actually point out what is more acceptable? If people want to see change, make the changes; talk the talk and get others walking the walk. The new residents need you, o’ great bastion of reason and understanding. How will you guide the residents of this city to be precisely the Dongguan you so long to see? Until one morning you’ll wake and realize you never had to leave your now faraway home because it followed you here.