I originally thought that being an Asian of Chinese descent would offer me an advantage over the cultural similarities and familiar social Chinese behaviors. As I lived and worked in Beijing for 2 years, I believed this business trip to China would be far from giving me a culture shock. However, spending a week in the small town of Anyue in the Sichuan province proved me wrong. Anyue presents a plethora of differences in cultures, behaviors, and work styles when compared to those in my country, Thailand, or in some other Asian countries. I have highlighted the major differences I have witnessed so far:
ON THE ROAD: Walking through the chaotic streets and alleyways on my way to the office is quite a challenge. The roads are chock-a-block with traffic. There are no traffic rules. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and motor rickshaws believe they have priority above all and thus would not stop or slow down unless you force yourself into crossing the road and pray that it will just be “OK”. Relentlessly honking the car horn is part of the driving style. Simply put, they never take their hands off the horn. This is drastically different from the streets of Bangkok, let alone the rural areas of the country. Noise is considered to be extremely disturbing, and individuals are less aggressive.
AT DINER: Chinese and Thai’s eating etiquette are very distinct, despite our common staple food (rice) and the food sharing habit at the dining table. Chinese eat rice from the bowl with their chopsticks, while Thai use a spoon and a fork on their plate. Chinese toss the waste and leftovers (such as bones and fat) on the table, while Thai behave more (as Westerners would perceive) “politely”, ensuring no food falls off their plate. Thai people, especially women, are taught and trained since an early age to be delicate diners. Slurping and chomping are considered to be impolite in Thailand. In China, the more noise you make, the more you are enjoying your feast!
AT WORK: Working with Chinese requires tremendous patience. Really understanding the Chinese working style helps set less expectation. Successfully scheduling a meeting with the Lemon Bureau Chief and other officers was a task in itself! Meetings are often pushed back for hours with no explanations. Our team is usually informed that an important meeting will take place literally 5 minutes before the start of the meeting. The habit of taking 2.5 hours for the lunch break followed by a nap also distinguishes from the one in Thailand, which typically takes no longer than 1-hour lunch break, and certainly does not have “siesta” time!
Despite the differences in cultures and social behaviors, what I have experienced in China is absolutely invaluable. It allows me to appreciate and understand more about Chinese culture and history. The longer time I spend in this country, the more I discover and learn about its diversity and uniqueness, and of course the more I want to travel in China-one of the world’s oldest civilizations!