Funny thing.

If you go by what you hear, even in the midst of the reports on China’s economic growth, it doesn’t sound like a place to be: pollution everywhere, except maybe in those places which are truly backwards, without too much in terms of medical care or other amenities; traffic that is even more lethal than the air and water – and those are not exactly safe; costs for housing or, if you want those, Western, quality products that are just about as high as in the West, but at wage levels that are much lower – and mind you, not everyone is on an expat wage.

Even the economic opportunity seems to be a mixed bag. There is said to be widespread optimism, but it’s more of the kind that you expect to handle whatever life throws at you. (Just ask students around the time of their graduation what they expect of the future.) There are more than enough manufacturing bases, but quality assurance (seemingly) doesn’t work without constant supervision. And that is a keyword for employees, anyways, it seems. People working in China tend to seem rather exasperated about the situation.

You can easily be led astray. If you give too much credence into some of that recent reporting which made it sound as if China were only waiting for Western graduates, if you think that you’ll easily change things for the better, if you need Western food and amenities and expect things to work just the way you have come to expect. There is a reason why the majority of China expats leave early.

Yet, there is something to China.

City pond at outlet of reservoir lake, local swimming hole

City pond at outlet of reservoir lake, local swimming hole

People make do, enjoy whatever they get and whatever they have – whether it’s making more money or having more time to play, or even warm sunshine in the middle of winter drawing people out of unheated habitations.

Not too many people seem to dream. Not in the way that you are led to dream in the USA, of finding ways to strike it rich, achieve great things by your own doing. (Even though English texts to learn by heart are full of such images, and so are Communist (?) / youth league (?) / school (?) slogans.) They do dream of a good life, know that there should be a place to call one’s own, a family, a car, want to find work – and they’ll simply take their chances, work hard, see what comes.

It’s a problem when that which comes are kickbacks, and people fall into wealth without quite knowing what hit them, just because of the way the system is set up. Still, there are enough people who see their lives improving through their own work, there is an education to enjoy shopping, but be thrifty at the same time – and there is ample opportunity to be thrifty. Lights at home get turned off, food is valued, repair shops are everywhere…

It certainly is a mixed bag, but a truly fascinating one, where every new day can be the same, and yet different at the same time.