Saving Face

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I had read plenty about the cultural tendency toward “saving face” before arriving in China. Now that I’m here, I definitely see the far lengths locals go to in order to avoid looking silly, uneducated, or unsuccessful.

This accounts for the frequent occasions I have enlisted the help of a local on the street to help me find a place and instead of saying outright, “I don’t know,” they ponder the location I have shown them on a map for several minutes. They, then, point me in a direction, whether they know it’s the correct way or not. They simply don’t want to be caught not knowing something. I have also heard scandalous stories of ex-girlfriends seeking extreme variations of revenge on the men who jilted them because of the shame they faced after being rejected.

Just recently one of my favorite colleagues told me in confidence that he was leaving our company. To my surprise, his last day was the next day. He explained that the company simply didn’t have enough work for him to do and he didn’t want to waste its time or money. He also told me he didn’t want any other people in the company to know about his leaving, so I kept quiet. A few days later, my supervisors explained why the company let him go. The discrepancy in stories led me to believe he was saving face by omitting the fact that he was most likely fired.

It’s interesting to see this tendency in action, but it also makes me wonder how Chinese people view me. I’m great at making a fool out of myself, and even more so while abroad. Professing how terrible my Chinese is, admitting my lack of direction, and wandering into areas I obviously don’t belong, then sheepishly retreating are all things I do daily. I’m either amusing the locals or reiterating a foolish foreigner stereotype.

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Hidden Parks and Egg Tarts in Hong Kong

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When I was gearing up to travel to Hong Kong for the week off work for the Spring Festival (also known as the Chinese New Year–these holidays all have several names which can be extremely confusing), I would tell co-workers and friends where I was headed. Every time, they would exclaim, “Ohhhh shopping!” To which I would respond by shrugging and saying, “I guess I might do some shopping…”

As soon as I arrived in Hong Kong, I understood why the majority thought I was set on retail therapy. I could not walk a single, overcrowded block without running into a mall. It was heavenly. And also very dangerous for my wallet. Instead of whittling all of my time away in Zara and H&M, I made a point to wander outside and see things that I can’t find in Beijing.

The humid, salty sea air and the ferry boats that shuttled both tourists and local commuters alike were special treats unique to Hong Kong. I enjoyed every second of the lush, green parks crammed in between skyscrapers and traditional food like dim sum with a new Australian friend.

I met up with a friend and native Hong Kongian (totally made up word) who accompanied me to The Victoria Peak and mouth watering sushi. I also spent time with my roommate, Katie, who was visiting her uncle in Hong Kong on her way back the The U.K. It was a bitter sweet way to end our adventure together as roommates.

While my 9-person dorm was less than ideal for rest, I found my holiday as relaxing as ever and Hong Kong is definitely one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited.

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Enjoying a traditional Hong Kong meal of Dim Sum

A dragon dance in the mall for CNY. Rub his nose for good luck!

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

Tram ride

Tram ride

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Taking the Peak Tram to the Victoria Peak

Taking the Peak Tram to the Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak & astounding views

Victoria Peak & astounding views

Trying egg tart for the first time

Trying egg tart for the first time

Drum decorations

Drum decorations

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Glass floored cable car to see the Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

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People burning incense for prayers at the Po Lin Monastery

People burning incense for prayers at the Po Lin Monastery

Discovery Bay on Lantau Island with Katie

Discovery Bay on Lantau Island with Katie

Buddy the Elf, What’s Your Favorite Color?

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This year Christmas was different, to say the least. I began the holiday by saying goodbye to three friends with whom I had become closest since arriving here. My roommate Keith, Amy, and Lorena had all planned to leave China in time to be home for Christmas, so right before the holiday we had to part ways. I was not terribly unsettled about those goodbyes. Maybe it was due to the fact that I truly believe I’ll stay in touch with them (and I’m definitely inviting myself to the U.K. to visit them).

My friend, and new roommate, Katie, seemed more upset than I was about not being home for Christmas, so we drowned her sorrows in hot chocolate, Christmas candy, and classic movies like The Santa Clause, Elf, and The Polar Express.

On Christmas day I forced Christmas cheer upon my Chinese roommate (who doesn’t celebrate Christmas). I had the honor of giving him his first Christmas card he’s ever received and later I taught him how to create paper snowflakes. To make ourselves miss home less, Katie and I went to get massages and lunch together and afterward, we joined a friend and his co-workers for a big American-style turkey dinner. The wonderful air of relaxation I found after a full spa day and delicious meal confirmed that was the best money I have spent so far in Beijing.

Good Friends and Goodbyes

It had briefly crossed my mind that I would have to bid my friends here in Beijing farewell eventually, but I didn’t think one of those goodbyes would come so soon. A girl who I have met here and [obviously] not had nearly enough time to get to know gathered her parents visiting from Guatemala with her friends she had met here in China for a farewell dinner. She gave such a heartfelt acknowledgment of her friends at dinner and gave us all each personalized gifts. It was probably one of the most generous and genuine acts I’ve experienced, and from someone who I had known only two and a half short months.

It was inspiring to see where she got her fiery passion for life from [her mom] along with the sweet and understanding attributes [her dad] that have contributed to several of our own moments bonding over trials of living abroad. Although I hadn’t gotten a lot of time to spend with María, I could tell if she were in Beijing for a longer time we would become even better friends.

María and me at Summer Palace in October

Since my roommate from the U.S. as well as a few others will be leaving before I do, I’ll have to go through the same kind of bittersweet last moments together here. But for now I will cherish my memories with María and appreciate the Spanish I got to soak up from hearing her mother speak as well as the delicious tequila her parents generously passed around. Momentos buenos con amigos buenos!