Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Foreigners Only!

Expats are being offered a free trip to Shanxi, advertised on ChinaDaily's homepage.

All you have to be is a foreigner, fluent in English, know something about Chinese culture and architecture, and have published something. Being a good photographer is a bonus.

Expats who live in Shenzhen can join the Futian Volunteer program: http://www.futian.gov.cn/volunteers/join/

The only requirements are that you not be Chinese, be older than 10 years and speak basic Chinese. For just that, you can participate in the community by interacting with locals at care centers around the city, take part in events especially planned for expats, attend concerts, play with children and many other activities.

And ChinaDaily is also hostingt an Expat Blogging contest. I participated last year and won several prizes, among them being voted Blogger of the Year. What an honor! Here is my ChinaDaily blog page: http://blog.chinadaily.com.cn/space-uid-1372409.html

Can you believe all of the benefits of being a foreigner in China?

Being an expat in this great country brings all sorts of bonuses. Foreign teachers get paid better than their native counterparts. I enjoy a great benefits package comprising of housing, utilities including internet service, health insurance, retirement insurance, travel bonuses, and the list goes on and on. What sort of benefits package do other foreigners, who are employed in other professions get? One friend, an engineer, is provided everything I have, plus a car and driver at his disposal 24 hours a day.

Really: you can't beat being a foreigner in China.

Of course, you have to put up with the stares and the touching, the unwanted questions and the constant picture taking. Some can accept all of that and some just want to go out and about unmolested. On any given day, I'm on either side of that fence.

We can't really count being away from our home and loved ones as part of the burden of living and working in China because we came here voluntarily. Culture shock also falls under that umbrella. After all, for whatever primary reason we're here, we (mostly) came out of a desire to learn and experience new things, right?

I have to hand it to the Chinese. They take the concept of 'welcome' so over the top that, not only are we expats revered here, but concessions are made to help us adjust and adapt, and even socialize with 'our own kind'. All of these programs, meant for expats only are such a boon for us, so far from everything we know and love (even if being here was our choice). Tell me: does your home country offer such programs? Are they as extensive, as encompassing, as well-meaning and as generous as the ones offered us here in China?

For that matter: are there as many government programs for Chinese elsewhere in the world as there are for people of any other nation in China? Are there government websites in your country exclusively for the benefit of Chinese expats? Are there legions of citizens ready and willing to welcome any Chinese talent your country or organization recruits?

It has been my experience that expats in any other country are mostly islands of their select culture. Outliers of the norm. In America, one can go to Little Italy or Chinatown to partake of 'Big C' aspects: food, festivals and the like. One of my former students, now studying in Australia, has mourned the fact that the Chinese students at his university are housed in a dorm by themselves and are mostly bypassed by any campus organization.

On the surface, that sounds like a kindness: leave countrymen to themselves and let them join in if they'd like. My poor Evan didn't even have an Aussie student show him around campus, let alone around town. He feels isolated and lonely, even surrounded by fellow Chinese students. He had anticipated an experience similar to society in China, where everyone is welcome and everyone becomes a part of the homogenous whole, just like the Chinese try to do with foreigners who live here.

You'd better believe I consider myself so fortunate to have everything from a free apartment to opportunities to explore Shanxi province without a fen's outlay from my pocket. However,  all while reveling in the joy of so many opportunities there for the taking, solely based on my ethnicity, I get a frisson of inequality.

I wouldn't liken expat opportunities in China – those that exclude native Chinese as racism, as some of our fellow bloggers at ChinaDaily might. I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say China has espoused a 'separate but equal' doctrine, as elucidated in America's landmark case: Plessy v. Ferguson. That trial outlined that the country would be divided along racial lines, namely Black and White, and as long as each race had comparable facilities and services, everything would be wonderful. There are no such lines in China, but there is...

A sidestep.

Affirmative Action was introduced in America in the early 1960s, in step with the Civil Rights movement. Affirmative Action removed barriers to employment, education and property rights from all ethnicities and the opposing genders. At that time, women were just venturing out into the workforce, and they were met with lower pay, sexual harrassment and even being barred from work. Women were definitely not welcomed into traditionally male fields. This government program was designed to level the playing field.

On the plus side: educational opportunities and property ownership are equal among race and gender. On the downside: pay for women, handicapped and non-whites is still below average salary for white males.

One aspect of Affirmative Action that one might not initially see as a negative is hiring ratios. This program dictates that every employer, especially a federal employer is to have a certain complement of minorities, including women. Thus, as a maintenance technician, Affirmative Action worked in my favor: I was a female entering a profession traditionally staffed by males. The facts were plainly evident. On the application and test forms, hopefuls were required to mark gender and ethnicity. Upon passing the rigorous exam – I should say: barely passing, I was fast-tracked through the hiring process and started work within 4 months when, according to my male counterparts, it took them at least 2 years to get hired.    

And then, throughout my stint as a government worker, I kept seeing glaring examples of Affirmative Action at work. People, hired or promoted through Affirmative Action who had no skills or ability to perform the duties they were assigned.  

And, that is the point I'm trying to make. Everything China offers us expats is open to 'good' foreigners and those who are not necessarily open to such a perspective. For every foreigner who sees any Chinese character on an awning as proof that they are where they want to be, there are those who would deny and decry even the good about China.

I'd not decry anything. If it must be said, I'd aver that China, at every level, goes above and beyond to ensure foreigners' comfort, safety and inclusion, even going so far as to bar natives from participating in foreigner-only events.  In partaking of these special, foreigner-only opportunities I feel a bit like I did under Affirmative Action: like I'm getting an extra something because of an aspect of myself that I have no control over. It doesn't feel right or fair... does it?

With this article I hope to offer a different perspective for those who might feel China is racist for barring natives from certain activities and organizations. In my opinion, leveling the playing field – offering expats something other than the job they came here for is much more than anyone should hope for.

We'll see who agrees with me when I go on that free trip to Shanxi with other expats. And I'll have a whole new trip to write about for you, too!

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