All expats here have one sooner or later, I am told, but usually it happens after a number of months or years. Three weeks in, I think I am in the throes of a low-level China expat breakdown, right now.
I am displaying what are (I assume) the classic symptoms: generally hating everything, making gross generalisations about the country and its people, feeling rage and bitterness, finding comfort only in moaning about things with my fellow foreigners. My thoughts are going something like this: “I hate this place. I want to go home. I hate this place. I want to go home.” I knew that this country is governed by neither law nor reason and I prepared myself for the ridiculousness before I got here but my tolerance is wearing thinner and thinner as the smog gets thicker and thicker.
The trigger for this meltdown was leaving a hairdresser at 1.40am this morning, after a traumatic six-hour session in which my hair was dyed and washed five times because they messed up the colour so badly that I actually cried. Now it is in an acceptable state, but it was not worth it, at all, and not what I wanted. The people were actually very nice people, but terrible hairdressers.
It was definitely not a language problem because I could say what I wanted, plus I had a PHOTO. I knew already from previous bad experiences that it’s not a language barrier, it’s a stupidity barrier. They just don’t listen to you. This is why I brought photographs along… but OH NO even that wasn’t enough. A PHOTO breaks all language barriers, but the two massive, isolated, uneven blocks of bright yellow blond (with about an inch of brown roots) on either side of my otherwise brown hair looked nothing like the photograph. When, in my despair, I held up the photograph and tearfully asked them, again and again, if my hair looked anything like that, it was like they couldn’t hear me. They just kept asking what was wrong… er, HELLO?
So, I feel like I’ve had it up to here with this place and its ridiculous ways. First, it fucked up my phone. Then, it fucked up my hair. Soon, it will probably fuck up my lungs and god knows what else to do with my health, considering I’m never sure of what I’m eating, or whether I can even really drink the bottled water. Nothing really terrible has happened, thankfully, but the accumulation of ludicrous, nonsensical occurrences everyday are grinding my determined patience down. I can’t even take a deep breath to calm myself down because I want to inhale as few pollutants as possible.
This is not a precious western princess’ tantrum because things are not as I like, and not going my way. I don’t have silly little complaints like “I don’t like the squatter toilets” or “Why are there no forks, only chopsticks”. I get shouted at virtually everyday by serving staff and it doesn’t even bother me (well, it does now that I’m having my breakdown. Shouted back at someone today). The loud spit-hocking sound amuses me more than anything; I share a room without complaint; I don’t throw a strop if I can’t understand some Chinese because I realise that’s my problem, not the Chinese people’s.
My frustrations are both everyday and political. China must be the only place in the world that is prejudiced against you if people think you are NOT a foreigner. The silly things that happen are not one-offs; this is the reality of living in China. The smog-ridden air is not a temporary issue. The inefficient, ridiculous and time-wasting administrative processes are here to stay.
Plus I don’t know what products they were using last night but my hair fucking stinks.