Sunday, November 30, 2014

Worst Things About China

I'm trying to stay positive about life in China, but some things just suck. Does it make them suck less if I ignore them? Probably, but I'm not that good of a person.

When we first got here, our apartment building was top of the list. My school has undertaken a bunch of cosmetic changes that were not completed before our arrival, so everything was dusty and filled with toxic odors. Going outside was a terrible inconvenience, and even when we just stayed in like trapped rats (or carrots, as Russ Cargill would say), the toxic fumes would seep inside. More than once we had to abandon the living room because of paint fumes.

Mercifully, those repairs are done now, and our building isn't too bad.

Still on the list, though, are bathrooms, undisclosed information, and, sadly, church attendance.

Bathrooms all smell terrible here. Even the fanciest bathroom in the nicest establishment is going to smell like an open sewer. I thought it was due to squat toilets having open holes to sewer pipes, but the church bathrooms have recently been remodeled and have only ever featured sit-down toilets, yet they still smell terrible. Is it from the tap water? I don't know. When we went to Tianjin, our hotel bathroom was so nice that I decided we would, once each month, spend the night in a hotel, even if it's just down the street from our apartment, so we could take a hot shower that didn't look like it was set in a post-apocalyptic horror film's torture hospital set.

I've already written about undisclosed information. For instance, our school has a pool. How do we use it? No one has told us. So we ask. And they say, "You go to the pool." Hours, entry cards, regulations? No disclosure. An e-mail references something called a "deep water card." I ask what that means and no one can tell me. My wife and I go to look around and we get chased out of the pool because (as best we can tell, anyway) we are wearing street shoes on the pool deck. Evidently there is a rule posted somewhere about that. A rule that could be translated and shared with people who want to use the pool. How many other rules are posted? But when we ask, we're told, "You just go use the pool."

Finally, church. I understood coming here that church would be more difficult than it is in America. But I didn't really expect it to be so disproportionately difficult for different church members, and I really didn't expect that a source of the disproportionality would be those with little burden shifting some of their burden onto those with more. I feel many people in our branch have no idea what church is like for some of us, and they will never have any idea as long as they continue to have no contact with us. Now our building is going to have four branches using it every Sunday, and preliminary word we heard yesterday is that our meeting will start at 8:30. This means we have to leave our house no later than 7 am, which means we have to wake up our kids no later than 6. We will either have to eat while we're out, bring food with us to eat during church, or not eat until returning home at 1 pm.

I've read some online recently about the success of member groups in West Africa. I wish we would be allowed to have a member group. As it is, how am I supposed to do missionary work among my non-Chinese-national colleagues? "I know you know nothing about this church so far, but do you want to skip some meals and spend three hours standing up on the subway so you can find out more?"

There's an aspect of class distinction at play, as well, but I'm ignoring that for now. I just don't want church to be such a terrible experience every week, and instead of getting better, it is promising to get much worse.

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