Learning Patience in China

Finding patience
Has China helped you learn patience?

One Saturday morning in Spring 2005, about 10 minutes before crawling from bed, I heard it — a screeching sound akin to scratching a blackboard with your fingernails, but magnified more than 100 times over. Yes, just a little good old welding and drilling in the name of redecorating yet another apartment in my neighborhood, a process that happened seven days a week, from morning to evening, for as long as two to three months.

Sounds like this used to bring out my worst side (a side that, regretfully, I’d even bring outdoors on occasion to shout something I’d regret later).

But not this time. I yawned, rolled over, and then slept the rest of that 10 minutes (with a clear conscience). And when I did finally rise, I didn’t even have any residual hangover of rage when I finally rose from bed.

What a milestone — but it wasn’t the only one.

Earlier that week, I squeezed into the hard seat section of a train from Hangzhou to Shanghai — knee-deep in impatient, crying children, roaring conversations, incessant cellphone ringtones, and secondhand smoke from a guy dragging on a cigarette (despite being against regulations). And me? I lost myself in the latest news from the Southern Weekend, too engrossed to worry about the din, or even my dwindling legroom.

In a way, I owed some of this inner change to China — a place a colleague of mine once called “the ideal classroom for learning patience.”

The learning, now, that’s the hard part. I know I didn’t learn my patience for a LONG time (and, even as I write it, I’m still learning it). I definitely spent a lot of energy reacting in China. Reacting to the crowds, apathy about rules and regulations, noise pollution, those greasy guys standing along the streets hooting and hollering “hello” like you were a porn star on the catwalk, and — yes — the near-death experiences while bicycling through the streets. I’ve had my share of “I hate China” days, rants, and shameful, shameful moments.

But at some point, I began to rethink my perspective. I realized what rankled me pretty much fell under the mei banfa (there’s nothing you can do about it) category (not an easy realization for a girl who has been known to be a control freak at times). That meant I could either go with the flow, or go home.

I chose to stay, and change. And while it definitely wasn’t always easy, it made all the difference — even turning that once ear-splitting redecoration next door into something I learned to live with, peacefully.

(Well, at least, most of the time. I am, after all, still learning. 😉 )

Has living in China (or other countries abroad) helped you learn patience?

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10 Replies to “Learning Patience in China”

  1. “those greasy guys standing along the streets hooting and hollering “hello” like you were a porn star on the catwalk,”

    Oh, us guys get them, too. I equate it to being more along the lines of those twits who taunt animals in zoo cages.

    But I must say: Extremely well said. I have travelled, and still travel the same journey. China is very good at knocking the rough edges of us foreigners.

  2. Patience is not something that comes natural to me, either, and living in Turkey has often awakened resistance because there are many times I feel outside my comfort zone. It’s not that I’m any more or less, it’s just that it becomes highlighted or amplified when I’m abroad. I could have almost thought I wasn’t impatient when I lived in the US, now I’ve learned first hand that’s not true!

  3. I consider my self as a patient person, but there have been several times when I have lost it in China. Only afterwards I remember that I shouldn’t have done it. Living in Guangzhou sure have helped me but there’s still a long way to reach the mei banfa mentality.

    1. So great to see all of the comments, and know I’m not the only one!

      @ellen, thanks for sharing that link — what a hilarious story!

      @Chris, thanks for the comment. I like the way you put it — “China is very good at knocking the rough edges of us foreigners.” 😉

      @Rose, thanks for adding your voice to the convo. You explain the situation perfectly — that things become amplified when you’re abroad.

      @Sara, thanks for sharing. I think we’ve all lost it at least once in China, even those of us with lots of patience.

      @Nicki, thanks for the comment. Living in China is a journey, isn’t it — and it gets better (well, mostly). 😉

  4. Ha! “The ideal classroom for learning patience.” I must say, that’s spot-on. I,too, am still working on that patience learning curve!
    I look forward to the day when I can peacefully be shuffled from one (insert govt buro/state-owned institution here) to the next incessantly only to get what I’ve been looking for after hours of arguing! =)

    1. Hi Brittany, thanks for stopping by, and sharing your experience (don’t we all wish we could get through our official errands peacefully?). Keep up the fine work at WSJ!

  5. If you can’t tell, I’m really digging into the archives during my 12 hour graveyard shifts haha. This article was very resonant with my experience moving to China a few years ago for just one semester. I’m moving back this Fall for (at least) two years and it was a gentle and heart warming reminder of all that China has (and will continue) to teach me. I love your posts! Thanks for sharing.

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