Our family is pretty average. In case you are scoffing, hear me out. We have two kids, live in the suburbs, have two cars and a dog. We get our groceries from a local supermarket, but sometimes we go crazy and take a trip to the farmers market. We recycle. Yes, for a family that is an Australian and American blend and used to live in China, we are pretty average.
We didn’t used to have two cars. We used to be able to cope with no electricity and no running water for at least a couple of days. Our internet went down all the time when we lived in China. It was very fast but extremely unreliable. This was the stuff of life. I bathed my children in bottled water, lit a bunch of candles and moved on with life.
We used to be so used to dealing with little irritations that I was surprised recently that a few little bumps in my very “average” First World life threw me off. I got stressed about these things. I got upset that they took so long to fix. The internet went down, our second car was in the shop for 6 weeks and our air conditioning died. In the midst of my miniature meltdown about all these things I did have the presence of mind to say to myself, “Hey princess! Yes you! A lot of people in this world don’t have one car, wouldn’t know what to do with internet and just deal with heat. Suck it up sweetheart and put a smile on your face.”
You can attribute that last bit to my mother. She is great for telling like it is. It must be a Southern thing. To be fair I was big on the pout and whine as a child so she had to develop some serious coping tactics. I often heard her say, “Hun a frown never fixed anything. Put a smile on that face and go get dressed, you’ll feel better.” To be honest a smile, a pair of jeans and some makeup does go a long way. Southern women learn this early on in life.
After I had a good long talk with myself about my attitude, I had some thinking to do. I realized how much I needed to check myself when my youngest child walked in our living room totally despondent that he couldn’t download a new game app. We were using all the data allowances on our phones for the boys’ homework so he had to go without. (I am not the only used to the First World lifestyle, half my children’s homework requires the internet.) I was teasing him about what a rough life he thought he had because he couldn’t download new games for a week when it hit me that I was behaving much the same way.
I won’t deny that it gets hot in Perth, but as a girl raised by a Southern mother I know there is no amount of hot that can’t be fixed by a tall glass of iced tea and a fan. So I don’t have internet in my house for a week or two. Instead of downloading new books maybe I can reread a few classics. Certainly wouldn’t kill me. The second car was the biggest stress, but the truth is our office is right on the train line. It is pretty easy to get to. You know what I missed about having a second car? I missed being able to call my husband and asked him to pick up something I had forgotten for dinner before he came home. I also really hated getting up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. I am that spoiled by my first world life and my kids know it.
How bad is it that my reaction to not having a second car is so blown out of proportion when you take in account that there are people in the world who struggle to find drinkable water? What am I teaching my children when I lose internet and act like it is a huge deal? There are several big problems in the world right now, like the number of orphans, pollution, human trafficking, violence, hunger etc… To act as though having no air conditioning is a big problem may be teaching my children that it is actually a big problem. None of my problems are life-and-death and I need my children to understand that there are life-and-death situations in this world. I need my reactions to my “First World problems” to indicate I understand that there are bigger issues in the world than these tiny little problems. So many people in our world would be happy to have my problems. Can you imagine if I told someone who was starving that I had a fridge full of food, a car, access to medical care and a good education for my children but I don’t have air conditioning, internet or a second car so I am really struggling?
Last year our family had to go without a fridge for a month because ours broke down and a new part had to be shipped in. Didn’t bother me a bit then, and it is not like I really lost it when I had to deal with these problems, I just let them get to me. When I realized that I had let these things get to me even a little a bit and that my children were in turn letting these things get to them, I knew it was unacceptable.
My children’s generation who have grown up in the first world, have grown up with the world at their fingertips. The slightest inconvenience seems to be interpreted through their eyes as a big issue. I want my children to grow up seeing the bigger picture. I want them to be able to put their problems in the context of the larger world. If I want them to truly grasp other people struggles, then I need to clearly demonstrate what actual problems are. I need to show them that I understand what a real problem looks like. I do not want to give my children implied permission to treat their “First World problems” as life and death when they are really more like small irritations.
So I am getting back to where I need to be. Thankful for my First World comforts without allowing the times they don’t work properly to shift my perception of what should actually trouble me.
Our family is a mixed up blend. When we moved from China to Australia four years ago we were all going through different things. My husband was returning to his home country. My boys were learning how to be more Australian because they had never lived anywhere but China. Then there was me. I was immigrating. I am still immigrating. It is a long process.
I am learning to be something new while not losing what I already am. My children have embraced their new lifestyle. My husband is now enjoying being able to get back to all the things he loves about Australia. I am learning to love new things but that doesn’t mean that I am learning to love all new things. Unfortunately for my husband’s sake, cricket is one of those things I do not love.
4 years of transition have equaled laughter, sunshine and frustration and have seen me start this long process of becoming a member of the Lucky Country. I am American so the process is fraught with confusion and teasing from Australian friends. Don’t worry… I get my own back. How can you not good-naturedly rib people who belong to a country in which the main point of any political party seems to be to overthrow the leader so that the next person can become king of the hill? It seems like this country indulges in political blood sport every time the season changes. Yes, I good-naturedly rib them until I realize that while they have been born in this country I am voluntarily choosing to join it.
People might think that making a new home in another English-speaking country is easier than acclimating to life in a place like China. China presented its challenges but at least it was up-front about it. My roommate and I used to have what we called “bad China days”. It really meant we were in danger of behaving poorly or already had behaved poorly towards someone because of cultural stress and overload. I love Aussie land. I love the people, the weather, the lifestyle and the animals, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have “bad Australia days”. Australia’s cultural and language differences are hidden beneath a very thin veil of similarities. That veil of similarities makes it seem, from the outside, like it should be no sweat to adjust to life here.
Contrary to the illusion, the shallow similarities that these two cultures actually have, barely hides a deep chasm of differences between mind set and traditions. This chasm is where I find myself overwhelmed and likely to behave outrageously. I recently refused to hang up on a customer service representative until my problem was resolved to my satisfaction. There is an iceberg under that tip of that story but sufficed to say I behaved poorly and I wish I could take it back. I wish I could put off that call until I wasn’t having a day where I was struggling to adjust to a country which hates the tall poppy. A country where it feels as though sport is almost always more important that a really amazing classic novel. Where there is so much slang that I don’t understand so I have to spend time figuring it out and then using it. Most of all it is difficult to never quite fit in. I will never have a proper Australian accent. I will never enjoy sport or the great outdoors, (unless the great outdoors is the beach with flavored iced coffee). I would never choose to drink multiple cups of tea instead of coffee. A big stress is having to explain where I am from/not from, over and over and over again. I really should appreciate everyone’s interest and thoughtfulness but what happens is that some days it is really too much. My circuits overload in those moments and I have a, “bad Aussie day”. In my case this means a fire breathing dragon of epic Hobbit proportions bursts forth and everyone wonders where such a teeny tiny lady was hiding such a hideous beast.
Immigration is tricky and it is tricky business trying to make sure every Aussie I come in contact with knows how much I love this country while all the time trying to be diplomatic about the fact that sometimes the differences make me uncomfortable or stressed. The ironic part is that now that I live in Australia, the Chinese community feels like a welcome relief from some of the adjustment stress. They say that cultural adjustment is like a roller coaster that starts off with huge dips and scary peaks and then gradually slows down and the peaks and dips get smoother and smoother until you almost don’t even notice them anymore. At this point in the amusement ride the adjustment is almost over and hopefully the screams filled with terror have stopped. If that is the case then Australia is my roller coaster, a roller coaster that is starting to feel more and more comfortable, while Chinese culture would be the merry-go-round that is fun and different from normal life but not scary anymore. You might think that my experiences with adjusting to life in China had given me tools for eliminating cultural stress. You might see me drinking a flat white coffee and eating biscuits and think that I am an experienced world traveler and I breeze through moves to new cultures. Anyone who has known me longer than 2 minutes can now proceed to laugh at the picture that presents. I do have tools for culturally stressful times, but they don’t eliminate cultural stress. The tools I have tame the beast I become when cultural stress gets out of control. The times when I ignore the inner voice which is telling me I am not emotionally or mentally fit to face a certain task like a trip to a huge mall, (the shops), and countless sales people. When I ignore that silent pressure to give myself a break then I am sure to become a raging beast which indiscriminately stomps all over innocent people and their feelings. Just as it would be challenging to play Monopoly at the same time as you ride a roller coaster, dealing with tasks which are normally challenging while also coping with cultural stress is impossible and will have a different effect on everyone. Perhaps you have faced something similar. Maybe you don’t become a beast but something else happens. Want to share what nickname you have for the days you are struggling to cope? Let us know in the comments below.
For those going through something similar all over the globe I would say it will get better! Time is key.
The following are websites with information on tools to deal with cultural stress.
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Now let’s turn our attention to the “ee” sound in Aussie. There is a need to make Australia seem less intimidating to outsiders because it is home to a slew of many frightening and lethal creatures. For example, there are more deadly snakes in Australia than any other country worldwide. The answer to this problem seems to be adding an ie,y or ee ending onto several essential words. This sounds absolutely adorable! It does feel downright odd though that a country that speaks English in such a cute way has men the size of Chris Hemsworth, as well as sharks, killer snakes, spiders and drop bears. With words like footie, sunnies, cossie, mossie, rellies and schoolies, it is like the whole language is designed to take a tourist’s naive mind off the deadly flora and fauna.
You can imagine an entire continent of people saying, “Look at the beach now look at my hand there is a bikkie. Look at the beach, now at my hand, there are some sunnies for you. Look at the beach. You could be here at the beach instead of in your country freezing vital parts of your body off. Oops! Sorry ignore the huge shark. Go for a swim, she’ll be right mate.”
It would make sense if this were the case, if the language was a vast conspiracy of cute designed by Australians to distract attention away from the dangerous insects, animals and plants native to Australia. This is really not the case though. Australians actually love to point out the variety of bugs this country has that can kill you! Give an Aussie an uninitiated tourist and they will frighten the pants off them in 5 seconds flat. They will spout numerous facts about the gruesome kinds of death or injury you can experience in this country. It makes me think they take children aside in school and say, “Alright this is how we scare the tourists, pay close attention!”
To put this all in perspective though, this is a country which boasts unusual animals of all kinds. While the crocodile, box jellyfish and redback spider are indeed scary, the country is also home to kangaroos, koalas, quokkas and wombats. Also home to, I kid you not, the Fairy Penguin. These are animals which go above and beyond just cute .They are adorable bundles of picturesque sweetness that will reduce any tourists to oooohs and ahhhs. Petting them is even better. I will never forget the feeling of a kangaroo eating out of my hand while snuggling into me. Australia is a wonderfully weird place where the absurdly dangerous meets the absurdly cute.
I think this is the only way we can really make sense of the language. It may be hard but try to imagine Chris Hemsworth saying, “chippie”, and there you have Australia in a nutshell. By the way chippie does not mean what you think it means. One of the more entertaining parts of my life in Australia is trying to figure out the meaning of new “ee” words.
So let’s dive right in, what are some words you need to know and understand here in the Great Southern Land.
Lippy- Lip gloss
Footie- Australian Rules Football, side note here; it is necessary to know the difference between rugby and footie. Some American commentators messed up the two recently and Aussies everyone got a good chuckle out of that.
Bikkie- Cookie or Biscuit. Not to be confused with bikie – a guy on a motorcycle.
Sickie- Sick day
Dodgy- Not to be trusted
Lackies- Elastic bands
This is just a taste of some of the terrific ways Aussies have altered words. You can imagine having an average conversation can be a little mind boggling. I was once told I should, “Rug up and have a bikkie.” I was pretty baffled until it was translated for me. I was being told to wrap up in a blanket and have a cookie. I had no objections. Add a cuppa, (cup of tea), to that and I will stay for life.
Aussies are incredibly proud when their unique words make it to other parts of the world. Seeing the look of pride on my Aussie friend’s faces when I say a word like, “rellie”, in the middle of a sentence is worth feeling slightly strange when I actually say it. It may also make sense that Aussies speak this way since they also refer to their country as “lucky”. Why wouldn’t they? They live near the beach in temperate weather with a variety of beautiful native plants and animals. In fact if anything is a conspiracy maybe it is the built up reputation Australia has for being a place where death follows you constantly. Perhaps that is the biggest trick Aussies pull, making everyone think Australia is a frightening place to live when actually it is an insanely nice place to settle down.
I think you will see what I mean if you are brave enough to find an Australian and ask them about Drop Bears.
Sitting in the dark, in a hotel room, in the middle of a town I had never been to before in China. The only sound was the echo of my slightly frustrated and emotional chuckle because seriously this day could not possibly be this bad. The temptation was to just burrow under the covers and pretend it wasn’t happening but that was not going to get the lights back on. I needed to put my big girl panties on and deal with it. Let me tell you how we got from a missed flight, newly booked flight and a hotel reservation to here.
I had a ticket and I managed to call a hotel and get a reservation but I now had to negotiate the taxi line. Those who have lived or are living in China can commence laughing at me now. Zhengzhou is a smaller town and they haven’t gotten around to regulating airport taxis as of yet so imagine a tiny,irate, exhausted fireball trying to convince a long line of drivers that she wasn’t taking a taxi unless they used the meter. Joke was on me because my driver said he would use the meter then took the long way around so 260rmb, (Chinese dollars), later I finally arrived at my hotel which was a grand total of 3 kilometers from the airport. I arrived at the hotel tired, hungry and riding a very thin line between patience and a World War III emotional breakdown. I would not be the ugly foreigner again. I would be sweetness and light. Ha!
Since the airport did not take Mastercard I thought it would be judicious to ask, before I checked in, if the hotel took Mastercard. “Oh yes, we do, of course!” Except we don’t apparently. The hotel is brand new and the bank hasn’t approved it, they will have the permission by the end of the month. I was told this right after I was all checked in and they wanted me to pay. “You can’t pay in cash?” they asked. No I couldn’t because as a rule I don’t keep that much cash on hand ever. Tomorrow would have to include a trip to the bank to get the money and pay them. Lovely.
I had not eaten all day either, so my next stop after the room had to be a restaurant, room service or a hotel restaurant. There was no room service or nearby restaurants but the front desk informed me there was a restaurant on the 3rd floor so I went there….except it wasn’t open…yet. It is a new hotel, in fact it is so new the elevator still has paint all over the mirrors, so yeah, ok you get the picture.
Thankfully for some reason they had a waitress looking after a restaurant that had tables, chairs, plates, polished flatware and napkins but no customers. No it is not the Twilight Zone, just a new hotel. They also had a chef. The two of them decided that they would give me food. I think if I didn’t have a husband, I might marry that chef because of his kindness to me. He made me egg and tomato noodle soup and an espresso. I might marry him even though I have a husband because wow, he knows how to treat a girl.
My day was looking up. It was 9 pm, almost the end of the day, but I am an optimist when caught at the right moment. I believed the day could still get better. I had a hotel room, I had a flight, I had eaten and developed a very proper crush on the hotel chef. (Don’t worry my husband will understand, he knows all about my relationship with caffeine.) Nothing could go wrong. All was right with the world. I blame the caffeine for this uncharacteristic rush of euphoria.
But… five minutes passed and the power in the whole hotel went out. My rush of euphoria promptly left and I could only laugh and I lived in hope my flight did actually make it out of Zhengzhou the next day. I was also thankful for my Chinese language at the moment. Most days I feel that you can make it in China without a lot of language. Today, however, if I could not speak the language I am afraid I would have been stuck forever. To be honest, I am not sure I am going to make it out of this city even with the language. I hope I see you all again, if not, I guess I have moved back to China.
And the rest of the story…
For those of you wondering what happened with the power and paying the hotel bill this is the happily ever after. After looking out the window and determining that it was a whole hotel problem, I started trying to contact the front desk. I had no luck but did find a maintenance man out in the hall a few minutes later who assured me he would have the power back on in 10 minutes, and he did. After a very good night’s sleep, I was taken to the bank the next day by a lovely member of the hotel staff. Not the chef. I arrived and the bank president promptly came out to show me the banks brand new ATM machine. He was quick to point out the English capabilities of the machine and I was very thankful, if a bit embarrassed. I paid my hotel bill and got to the airport where my flight took off and landed in Beijing. I made it through another 18 hours of flights and some layovers and home to Perth.
If you are looking for more great ironic pictures of signs in China, try this link Shanghaiexpat.com.
I am writing this blog sitting in a hotel in the middle of a dark hotel room in Zhengzhou, China. Zhengzhou is meant to be a stopover between many larger cities. Zhengzhou is a middle point between two places and not often a destination, even though it is a capital city. The fact that I am writing this from a hotel in this city says a lot about how my day has gone. First of all let me say that it is no surprise to anyone that I have a love affair with China. I adore this country. I fly, and to say I hate flying is an understatement, so that I can come to this country. Having said that, there are days when it throws me for a loop and today was one of those days.
I lost my patience today with several people. I will no doubt be referred to as tiny crazy lady, or dragon lady, in this city for a long time because I got a little peeved. I did not yell, but most people who speak Chinese as a second language will say there are some times when it would be better for everyone around them if they couldn’t speak the language. For me today was one of those times. I checked into my flight at Shenyang airport and the flight was supposed to go to Kunming. At check in I was informed that I would be changing flights in Zhengzhou and it was not just a stopover. I would actually have to get a new ticket and change planes. “OK” I said politely, “Would I have enough time?” The lady at the check in counter replied, “Oh certainly, more than enough.” I had my doubts so I later asked at the gate and found that this person thought I would definitely not have enough time if without someone to help me. “Tell the flight attendant,” she said, “she will arrange for someone to meet you and transfer you.” I then asked, “OK, well I have an international flight leaving from Beijing the next day, I am meant to fly to Kunming for a meeting then immediately after, fly to Beijing, so are there many daily flights from Zhengzhou to Beijing?” She replied, “Oh yes naturally!” Newton’s law went into effect here. A little voice said, “Switch airlines or flights now!” But I ignored the voice, I was already checked in and, I thought,I am not that person that screams about broken phalanges and gets off the plane. (Watch Friends the TV show.) So I took the flight, which arrive a half an hour late, and no one met me to help transfer me so, no, I didn’t make my flight to Kunming.
I finally found the domestic ticket desk at Zhengzhou airport, (see picture of airport above to the right), and some people who were reluctantly willing to help me. (At this point I had already gotten put out with the people at the transfer desk who couldn’t help and now was actually power walking mad so their reluctance was very understandable). There was not much they could do though. There were no more flights to Kunming today. The flights the next day were too late to arrive in time for my meeting. Surprise, surprise there were also no more flights to Beijing because there are not, as I had previously been told, many daily flights from Zhengzhou to Beijing. So I cancelled my meetings in Kunming with embarrassment and as much grace as I could manage and moved on to booking a ticket for Beijing tomorrow.
This sounds easy and it would have been but I am in a city where people are not supposed to stop or do things like buy brand new tickets so I could not pay with foreign currency or used my MasterCard to pay for the ticket. The banks were closed so I couldn’t exchange any of the three other types of foreign currency I had. So, I had to call my husband, have him purchase the ticket online and send me the confirmation while also looking up hotels. Then I had to confirm the flight with the airline which I had been told to do. Shoot to a picture of me still in the airport four hours later.
You may think my story is finally over, I have a plane ticket for Beijing and a reservation at a trusted hotel chain. “It wasn’t so bad after all”, you might be thinking. You would be wrong because as of this moment the electricity has gone off in the entire hotel and here I sit in the dark writing a blog because that is all there is left to do. You can read about how I ended up in a dark hotel room writing a blog in part 2, coming soon!
Suite 18, Piccadilly Square West Building
7 Aberdeen Street, Perth, WA, Australia
Telephone +61 448 089 336
CRICOS Prov. Code 03385J
ABN 43 156 002 265