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Culture Shock
-It can be subtle and hard to even recognize for what it is.

Culture Shock and Adaptation
originally posted December 11, 2010

When I first came to China, I spent a lot of time searching for a dish rack.  You know the kind of thing EVERYBODY has in Canada to stack dishes in after they are washed.  Nobody in China seems to use them, and they aren't in any of the supermarkets.  While I continued to search for this familiar item, and even considered bringing one from home, I had to wash dishes of course.  So I started stacking the dishes beside the sink on the counter, on a clean towel.  Gradually it dawned on me that I will never use a dish rack again.  The towel system has advantages - it is infinitely expandable, easy to put away, and takes up no space while not in use.  How did we ever get hooked on dish racks?

Picture: a common dish rack of a type to  be found in just about any Canadian kitchen.     Picture:  Instead of a dish rack we use a clean towel on the counter.  It's a better system.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
The dish rack is unavailable here, but the clean towel is better anyway.

Culture shock comes at us in very small ways, almost unnoticed.  We just find ourselves unable to do something the same way we did it back home, and feel irritated.  It's no big deal, but that is culture shock.  Once I adapt, I sometimes find that life has actually improved.
     Our kitchen is a case in point.  It's tiny, and has only a hotplate, a small electric oven that Ruth purchased so she could bake brownies, and a microwave.  If a forty pound turkey would fit in the oven, which it won't, I'm sure I could turn out a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings with these basic appliances.  Kitchens and stoves as we know then in Canada are definitely overkill.

Picture:  Ruth gives cooking instructions to GouGou in our tiny kitchen.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Our magnetic inducion hotplate.  Amazing what we can cook on it.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Picture:  Our tiny toaster oven gets a lot of use.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Picture:  There's no room in our kitchen for the fridge and microwave.  Apparently feng shui rules say that a fridge should not be near a stove anyway.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China (I don't belive in feng shui.)

        Our kitchen also does not have hot water.  We carry two basins of hot water from the bathroom each time we wash dishes.  One basin loads a sink for washing, and the other sits in the sink for rinsing.  Ruth and I take turns cooking dinner, and the person who didn't cook washes the dishes.  The person who did cook helps set up for washing, and brings the hot water.  Hot water in the kitchen would be more convenient, but we've adapted.  Again,  no big deal. 

Culture Shock Again?
originally posted April 30, 2010 

Before I came to China, I thought I was immune to culture shock.  Culture shock is only for the squeamish.  I was ready to eat bugs, or see live chickens dispatched in the market.  No problem.  But since then I've come to appreciate that culture shock can be much more subtle than the truly shocking.  Culture shock is happening anytime I'm thinking: What is wrong with these people? 

Strause Waltz in China, Jiangnan University, Wuxi

Wednesday evening this week we attended a concert on campus.  Delightful music played on two pianos, with a string quartet playing Pachelbel's Canon, one of our favorite pieces, thrown in for variety.  But all through the performance, people in the audience were talking.  Not in whispers, but in a normal voice, like they were listening to a CD in their kitchen.  For me it was like listening to a radio tuned between stations, or like that old Simon and Garfunkel version of "Silent Night" with the world news broadcast mixed in for irony.  I found myself getting angry.  What is wrong with these people?  But that's the wrong question.  The question is, what's wrong with me?  This is their country, and their culture.  None of the Chinese in the audience seemed the least bit concerned.  Most were having their own conversations at times.  If they take a much more casual approach to music concerts than is the norm in my uptight culture, who am I to be critical, or to try to correct them. 
     The audience called for an encore, and it was great to hear Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" played as a duet in China.  I need to adjust my attitude.  Again.

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