I like to describe myself as a failure: I dropped out of graduate school and moved to China. There has always been this itch inside of me, a kind of restlessness and dissatisfaction with my experience, education, and abilities that I think I was hoping to fill. In fact, the night before I boarded my plane, I ran into my grandmother at the grocery store in my small hometown in Kentucky. My grandmother explained to the checkout girl that I was moving to China to work, and the girl’s response to me was, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” I looked at her with skepticism, but she apparently knew more than I did.
I used to think that architecture was my life, and that everything in my life was devoted to it. China has changed me. I no longer want to be a hero for architecture. I cannot say that my passion for architecture has changed; in many ways I have fallen into a deeper love for it as I feel it is something that needs to be protected from environments like China. Environments that aim to abuse and bastardize it by not properly thinking through projects due to lack of time or ability to critically assess design problems. It has been a really difficult personal journey but incredibly enlightening and inspiring. I have found that there are certain undeniable necessities in life that I had given up for China, family and friends being the most important. But, during my time here, I have developed some great rules/ definitions to live by if you want to brave the storm and work in the most booming architecture market in the world.
The Sahara Desert: The condition of being a single, white girl with somewhat high standards in China. Few Chinese men are acceptable or interested, and few Western men are interesting and acceptable. If you find yourself in this situation, book a flight home immediately or attempt to convince a normal tourist to move in with you because expats in China are not acceptable boyfriend material.
The Oasis: The condition of being a single, white male in Asia.
The Double-Take: The secondary, longer stare of disbelief that occurs immediately after a primary interminable stare of disbelief at the whiteness of your skin performed by some folks from the China boonies.
The English Teacher: Generally failures in their own culture, they move abroad to teach English in a foreign country. The English teacher is to be avoided at all costs. If you find yourself socializing with an English teacher, politely excuse yourself from the conversation and run away as you are sure to regret it later as they are generally not good sources of free drinks or conversation. (The single, white female architect and the English teacher are a bad match).
CCP: “Chinese Change of Plans” describes situations in which unexpected events occur without prior notice as a result of improper/ lack of translation. You could end up on a plane last minute to sit in a meeting in which you understand nothing that is going on. Bear in mind that only 20% of information is actually being translated for you and you will always be in the dark.
The 20% Rule: If the Western make-up of a group is 20% or less, Chinese will be spoken regardless of how hard one tries to try to commandeer the conversation towards the English language.
Western Etiquette / Table Manners: Don’t exist. Don’t worry about using chopsticks properly; you can just shovel it in because our table manners are geographically relevant. Just shove your face into your plate and be right at home. No one is going to yell at you for chewing with your mouth open anymore.
If you’re a particularly tenacious Westerner, you should enroll in Chinese classes. (It is important to your sanity to learn some Chinese while you are living for an extended period of time in China, as no one will speak English to you even if they know how). I was very interested in learning some survival Chinese. A few weeks into my lessons I was standing outside of my local Starbucks when a cute and pudgy Chinese girl with an ice cream cone came up to me and stared at me for a while, then said, “Bu hao kan.” I blinked, looking at her, and then wondered why she had called me ugly. Immediately I felt amazed I could actually understand something someone had said, but offended, I wanted to insult this fat little girl who had called me ugly. (I later learned how to say “little fatty” in Chinese.)
I am going home soon, it is time for me to go back to school and become an American again. In all honesty… I have to go home, because I ran out of tampons and they do not actually exist in mainland China. I don’t have a job waiting for me when I get home, just some graduate school applications, but I do have the confidence in my abilities and myself as an architect to know that I will find something. You have to know when it’s time to go home: I found a new part of me in China that I like very much, but its important to keep moving on to new experiences.
BuildingSatire is a blog consisting of architectural satire, cynicism, and humor to alleviate the tension and pretension in professional architecture.