Friday, September 30, 2011

South China

From March 2004 to November of 2007, Leeds and I lived in South China’s Guangdong province; specifically Dongguan City.

For those of you who have spent time in Jiangsu and Guangdong province, you may agree with me when I say there is “night and day” difference.

When I first moved to China, it was in Jiangsu province from Dec 2001 to Mar 2004.  Once I moved down to Guangdong it was a bit of shock in the differences.  I had been to Guangzhou various times so I was already slightly aware of the differences.  Only after living here a short time did Leeds and I realize that it’s COMPLETLEY different. 

(photo credit: GR Sipe)
Safety:   This was my biggest beef with Guangdong and things may have improved by 2011.  South China is the only part of China I’ve been to where I felt I had to “watch my back”.   I haven’t been to every place in this vast land but South China feels sketchy and you see a larger portion of shady characters lining the streets and alleyways.  Dongguan is infamous for purse snatches by motorcycle marauders.  The locals in the area blame it on the migrants.  But does not Shanghai have a huge percentage of migrant workers too?  Where is their petty crime? 

Atmosphere:   Folks simply ain’t as friendly down in this neck of the woods.  There is more of a “big city feel” and folks are less connected to each other.  Although Suzhou is a big city, there everyone is up in each others’ business, asking, talking, advising in a caring fashion…in Guangdong’s big cities, they just don’t care.  There’s also lack of a bit of backbone.  Connected to the above portion on safety – the Shanghainese wouldn’t allow that petty crime in their city.  The folks of Guangdong are complacent, as long as it doesn’t bother them. 

Communication:  The folks in Guangodng seem adverse go to good ol’ fashion communication.  You can ask someone a question or say something to somebody and they will respond by just giving you a blank stare or will walk away.  You think, “did they hear me, did they not understand me, did they get it, will they do it, etc..”.  And this isn’t just because I’m a foreigner, my wife, who is red-blooded Chinese, could communicate with them about as easy as communicating with a signpost.  A good percentage of this is because their Mandarin is not great. 

Business:  Definitely more of an entrepreneurial feel in South China.  There’s good and bad to that.  The good is that there is a wider range of selection in shopping from everything to groceries to house ware.  This may have to do with the Hong Kong influence.  Also I would say the service in restaurants is better in Guangdong.  The downside is South China comes off as super materialistic.  There are ads everywhere and wholesale markets on every block.  For a hayseed like me from North Carolina (USA), all the wholesaling doesn’t make for a very livable and relaxing atmosphere.     

Service:  I’m of the opinion that most service in China is nothing to write home about.  Dan over at the China Law Blog has a good discussion up on this.  But to compare; Guangdong’s service beats Jiangsu’s.  It’s more of a service-oriented society.  Leeds (who is from Jiangsu btw) concludes, and this makes good sense, that folks in Jiangsu feel they are above service.  In the Jiangsu / North Chinese mind, service is humiliating therefore up there most places’ service….stinks…there I said it.  In Jiangsu, most of the folks in the service industry come from surrounding poorer provinces.   
(photo credit: GR Sipe)
Face:  Connected to the fact that they have stinky service in Jiangsu, is the fact that the atmosphere and concept of face is bigger there.  In Guangdong it seems that face isn’t that big, folks don’t care what others think and are more focused on making bucks (thus the entrepreneurial spirit).  Folks in Jiangsu seem more wrapped up with what other people may think about them.  But the lack of "face" in Guangdong is connected to the shiftiness, petty crime and darker atmosphere that seems to reign down there.  A good thing about "face" is it proves to be a restraint on bad actions.    

We just got back this week from a two-day trip to Guangzhou and every time I go there, it solidifies what made me move away from it in 2007.  The place is hustle and bustle, there are funny smells on every street, it’s humid and there are shifty little people everywhere looking like they may snatch your wallet.  This may be expat-burnout coming from me, but I would like to hear opinions of any expats or travelers who’ve spent sufficient time in both provinces.

Also, remind or convince me any good points on Guangdong life…I’m sure they’re out there, I’m just grizzled. 

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