China Wife struggles with America
As an American Male, I continue to find surprises with China Wife.
My wife has told me she wants to “retire” at 50.
Her father retired at 60 and her mom 55. A well intentioned ploy by China no doubt to ease the unemployment issues for its population while at the same time simply increasing the tax burden of the State.
“So what’s up with China Wife,” you ask?
She’s told me her life is “tiring”.
My wife has been here over a decade now, and has had the time to learn through observing, and most definitely through personal experience just how “hard” America can be.
While I most certainly would be guilty of more than readily calling China Wife wimpy….or just not “tough enough”, without doubt she has reminded me of just how people not born and raised here see our society. And I tend to agree with her observations.
You see, the culprit of my China Wife’s angst is the American Workplace.
America can fire her for any reason, including “no reason”. Companies are not required to offer vacation, and if they do, they can arbitrarily reduce it at any time. As for one’s annual performance update, well performance reviews in America are like chewing glass.
I’ve lived in 3 other countries in my life. While I’m sure the above could equally describe a lot of countries, I must remind you that one’s company in America is the main avenue for most of us to receive health insurance. Thus, no job, no health insurance. While, we Americans have all grown up with this anvil swinging over our head, those that come here from abroad simply are not used to it. One can literally go to work in America on a Monday at 9am and by 9:05 has neither job, nor health insurance. Just like that. Imagine if one has children?
One often hears employees of a company saying things like,
“I’m here for the insurance”, meaning of course if not for the health insurance they’d have quit their job long ago. Is it any wonder America doesn’t rank high on the “happiness scale” of countries?
And finally there is the most humiliating experience of all: simply getting laid off. For those of you yet to have been laid off within America count yourself fortunate. Again, one can be laid off for any reason. Upon the deed being done, one is not allowed to say goodbye to one’s colleagues. Laptop confiscated on the spot. Company cell phone same. You get the picture. Sometimes said worker will have to come back on a Saturday morning to collect their “stuff”. Baby pictures, etc.
Often, colleagues will come to work on a morning only to see the cubicle where “Joe worked” suddenly empty.
I can only think of one instance where a Chinese company actually laid off a worker at a place where I worked. It was a factory in Shenzhen, and the fellow laid off had nothing to do, and throughout the day just would talk incessantly. When he was let go he cried like a baby. He was in his mid-twenties.
All of this stress and coldness within American society is simply too much for most Chinese, let alone any normal person to endure. Especially if your native country has universal health care. The fact one must endure working at a place one disdains, at the cost of one’s spiritual wellbeing and happiness, let alone sense of self-esteem, all to ensure one can have insurance should one get sick does not strike anyone born within America as strange at all. Especially if said American has never travelled abroad.
Within this narrow context it is without question difficulty to call America a great country.
(I once had a cyst removed from my forehead while living in China. I was told to come in the next day and though I did have to wait several hours, the fee was cheap enough for me to have forgotten any monetary hardship I may have endured.)
But if one in China comes from a family of privilege and comfort, then living and working in America can be a culture shock. I see this culture “shock” on a daily basis. Every day I have a front seat to the pain and agony, the disillusionment of life in America for a certain Chinese One Percenter child of the 80’s.
Many a time she has complained about how life here is designed to take care of the poor and the wealthy. How American Society humiliates the middle class on a daily basis. Yet she forgets how our child once received a $250,000 medical bill that the state covered. Sure the State had insurance, but I didn’t have to pay a dime. Or the free therapy my child received upon birth. So her memory is selective, to be sure, yet all the same I can see her pain.
My annual income is at times over twice the average wage of a middle class income. And yet China Wife complains the American government takes it all. (Excuse me while I kiss the sky, but methinks China Wife’s spending habits may have a tad bit to do with it)
I remember the one time my wife got laid off from her job. She came home nearly in tears. Upset, exasperated, angry. Very, very angry. Like most folks laid off, she didn’t see it coming while at the same time believing she had been doing a great job. And she had been. In this instance, she was laid off simply because she was a woman. It was a choice made by the VP. Either her or her boss. Who deserved to be let go had nothing to do with it. And well, her boss, a director, was the breadwinner for his family. So that was that. Ability, capability, had nothing to do with it. Nor did salary. To make matters worse her salary was approximately half that of her boss’ income.
But for China Wife, none of that simply mattered. What stung her most rather, was her personal loss of Face. The coldness of the company. The lack of emotion involved. Upon reflection, we do not believe we deserve our fate. Not at all. The bitterness lingers long enough. But for a Chinese the expression by one entity that you are no longer necessary stabs a bit deeper.
It is at this point in the narrative where perhaps you are saying as you read this, that
“Chinese today get laid off by the millions!”, and I’d say you are right.
But China Wife is a one percenter. And well, this would never happen to her in China. No way. Not a chance. Beautiful women are spared the ravages of societal upheaval in China.
As you may recall, I once asked China Wife why all her friends are ugly.
“Don’t you have any pretty friends I can look at,” I asked her once.
Without hesitation, she simply replied,
“Beautiful women never have to leave the country.”
Still….they called her back two months later, albeit for a different role. And she is still there today.
Yet, China Wife thinks America is simply too tough a country to live in. And I would upon reflection say she is right. Without question America is no country for a Chinese 美女. Not at all. Nor is it a place for the children of China’s Old School Money.
The Old Wealth of China, from the 80’s if you recall, had its power and influence based not on money, but on relationships and influence. If your father was a high ranking cadre your life was set. Your marriage, your path…everything. (Unless a lower class laowai whose parents were high school dropouts swoops in and blows it all up, but hey, that could never happen, right?)
You were pampered.
Then you come to America and in short, no one gives a fuck who you are. Oh, your money talks. Your nice car speaks volumes. But if your status comes from old school political connections then who the fuck are you? Your father being a senior provincial level official means what here?
Does that connection help your credit score?
Can you use that as a reference?
Can you put it on a resume?
America is the land of dreams if one has the money to “buy” that dream. Otherwise, sorry, but you will have to trudge along like the rest of us. Your wistful memories of “what could have been” in China simply don’t translate here.
And for China Wife that makes the unceremonious abuse she must take within this society all the tougher to swallow.
She has my sympathy.
Aside from the inability to emotionally handle the concept of getting laid off, of not being able to use her status within China to her benefit overseas, it is also difficult to emotionally handle criticism in the workplace. Now, we all know thanks to the importance of Face how poorly equipped the Chinese are to handle criticism as a Culture. Now think how hard it must be to handle criticism in an alien society at the hands of a laowai! Never mind the constructive intent behind such a gesture.
The Chinese simply have no concept of constructive criticism. Nevermind that back in China she’s handled with kid gloves, right? She has status! In the Great American Workplace she’s just another worker trying to carve out a meaningful existence. Living in America can be quite the come down for an upper class Chinese, let alone a beautiful woman. It is no fun. Many a Chinese have taken the measure of the country within which they live, and simply put, prefer to go back home.
It is a very humbling, humiliating experience for her to go through, and as such, China Wife finds herself emotionally unequipped to deal with the situation we call living in America. It is especially difficult if the boss of China Wife is a person with no passport, no Master’s Degree. No interest in either Chinese History or China itself. Couldn’t tell the difference between the current leader of China and Deng Xiaoping, and has probably never heard of Zhou En Lai and to rub a spoonful of salt into the wound, could care less that she’s never heard of Zhou.
In other words, a very clear inferior to China Wife. Perhaps even the equivalence of a Chinese
Peasant back home.
And yet it is this person that holds such sway over China Wife, day in and day out. And for a sophisticated, well-travelled Chinese that has been to Angkor Wat, seen the Potala Palace and can tell you a thing or two about the Paris subway vs the Tokyo subway, how is this not an insult?
Nevermind that in many ways the honeymoon between the Chinese in America and everyone else here has long since worn off.
To make matters worse she can’t simply go back home. China Wife has kids here you see? She’s stuck. Her sex drive has gone extinct(couldn’t help myself bringing it up), and she’s now come to the very abrupt realization “this is it”. This is and will be for the foreseeable future her life going forward.
As such she has decided she needs “a rest”.
And therein for me lies a problem.
You see China Wife just completed a 6 year rest only three years ago. That’s right. She’s back in the workforce all of nearly three years. And is ready for a break.
That is, now she is ready for the “face” of not having to work. Rather, it’s time for those morning walks in the park with her gossipy friends.
“Your husband is back in China, you’d better be careful….”
China Wife’s long lost youth was a dream, shattered the day she came to America, a nobody amongst all the other hustling Chinese. Her China, of innocent fun, and stress free times, when nobody had money, and everyone was the same, is only missed by those whose luck it was to be the child of a high ranking government official. Those Chinese that lost the lottery of a lucky birthright don’t miss those times at all. Not one damn bit. America gives them opportunity they never had in China.
Its Spring now. The Cherry Blossoms are blooming. Yet all I can think of is Frosts’ poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
China Wife for better or worse, is part of American Society now. Her kids young.
She has miles to go before she can sleep.