Monday, September 25, 2006
Ex-Pat Adrift
Well, I've been in Laiwu almost a week now. And no less than a handful of weird goings-on have occurred. There is always the usual pointing, staring, receipt of confused looks from native Laiwu-ren. But starting work and trying to bridge the language and culture gap has proved interesting.

First, allow me to apologize for changing the link to my blog. I made the mistake of telling my colleagues here in Laiwu my other blog address, so I couldn't write about them on it. I didn't realize with what zealousness they would read it until I awoke this morning to 10 email messages that contained some very serious questions and commentary regarding what was supposed to be (at least mildly) humorous content. I appreciate their effort and energy, but remember that these are the same people who provide most of the humor in my day. And not being one to talk about others to their faces, I chose to start with a fresh blog address so that I could give my home viewers a true slice of life in Laiwu.

After a long trip here involving a cancelled plane flight and a 12-hour bus ride with about 150-pounds of luggage (pretty much everything I own), all I wanted was to rest. I arrived at 4 a.m. (China time) and slept until about 8:30 a.m., awakened by the sound of very loud yelling. I figured maybe there was a car accident, or some construction workers at the site next door to my hotel had gotten into a fight. But it was more rhythmic than that. Then I realized, the voice was shouting commands and then counting from 1 to 8. I looked out my window and several hundred people, all in blue Laigang Steel uniform, were simultaneously responding to the loudspeaker's commands, exercising in tandem. Although angry to have been woken up at such an early hour in such a way, it was quite a sight. It was like army training for the everyman. While I don't plan on partaking myself, I could see the sense of togetherness that comes from living in a small city where most people work at the same company you do. The danwei system (a unit that provides for the needs of the workers of a given company or industry) really does still exist in China in almost the same way it did before, unifying all the workers of Laiwu Steel with their blue jackets and Laigang patches.

While I admire their sense of togetherness, there are some cultural differences between the U.S. and China
that I'm damn proud of. For example, on Thursday I schooled some Chinese workers in the ways of American basketball. Apparently, they didn't even expect an American girl to know the rules of basketball, let alone be able to crush them like a fat American sitting on a Chinese farmer (for those of you who have never been to China and don't get the reference, the Chinese think that all Americans are fat - which is why everyone here thinks I'm Spanish).

But by and large the most humorous of these occurrences happened just this morning as I was sitting down to start this blog. First thing when I came into work, there was a twenty-something Chinese guy sitting and chatting with the coworker I share my office with. She explained to me that his English was pretty good and that he had wanted to be introduced to me. He seemed very nice and interested in my education and religious backgrounds and we talked a bit about some of the religious differences between Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Then my coworker casually mentioned that if I wanted to take trips to other parts of Shandong (something I had earlier expressed an interest in), that I should go with this guy together for the sake of safety. And it was at that very moment that I realized it: I'd been set up. I've been here not even a week and my colleagues were already searching around for my Chinese husband. And being in a Jewish family as I am, I should've been able to smell a set-up in the air. But I wasn't prepared for it. The young man then shyly mentioned that because of our religious backgrounds, "it was forbidden." I didn't even want to ask what exactly "it" was referring to. I just excused myself and walked away, laughing quietly as I went.

And that's just the first three days.
posted by Rachel @ 3:01 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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This is a satirical site intended for the entertainment of an online audience. None of the features on this site are real (except in my own distorted view of reality), nor are they intended to harm the subjects mentioned. This site uses fictional names in all its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized or when I choose to use this site as a platform for someone's public humiliation (usually my own). Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental (or purposeful, but with good reason).

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