I’ve spent a total of six years in China and married a man from Zhejiang Province. So of course, whenever I return to the US, invariably the subject of China surfaces in conversations with people.
For the most part, I love this.
I love it when approach me with curiosity about the country, whether they’re just fascinated by the sky-high wonders of Shanghai, interested in the history behind the Great Wall, or simply want to know if China has Pepsi. And there’s nothing like watching my husband hop into the conversation — it’s as if the very mention of “China” flicks a switch on and he’s suddenly as animated as a talk show host.
But on occasion, the conversation strays into a sort of forbidden city I’d rather not visit. Ever. And it goes something like this:
“Wow, you live in China? I once visited China. But boy, all that [negative thing about China] made me so grateful I live here in the US.”
“I’ve read about that [negative thing about China]. So glad I’m an American.”
In other words, “China makes me feel so much better about myself and my great first-world country.”
Usually, I’m gobsmacked when I hear something like this. It’s not every day you encounter someone so smug over where they live after traveling to or reading something about China. But more than that, this sort of thing hits me personally — because China is where I live, it’s where my husband grew up, it’s the country we both love deeply despite its flaws and imperfections. It’s like just telling someone all about your great new house, only to have them crap all over it.
Sometimes I wonder, whatever happened to world travel or even international news as a means for enlightening people and opening them up to new cultures? And is it something about Americans, that somehow certain people there need an ego boost and get their fix through slamming the developing world?
What I want to tell these people is that their perfect little piece of American isn’t all that perfect. That there’s more to a great life than their squeaky-clean homes in the suburbs and the shop-till-you-drop malls and outlets they visit on the weekends. That my family’s home in the Zhejiang countryside might look rough on the outside, but in fact is a family that has a wealth of resources, money and even the most important thing of all — love.
Most of all, I’d like to tell them they make me feel grateful too…that I’m not their neighbor, and I never will be.
What do you think?