Remember Marco Polo Syndrome? Well, Marxy of the excellent Japan blog Néomarxisme has recently written about a parallel phenomenon:
>…all foreigners with interest in Japan hate all the other foreigners with interest in Japan. The Colonialists all like their ex-pat buddies and pubs, but the Japanese-speaking foreigner contingent is in constant battle with themselves, vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration. I call this the “gaijin complex,” and I’m only finally finding my way out of it now after a long period of affliction and convalescence.
It’s very interesting to me that the phenomenon in Japan involves “vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration.” That’s something that few expats in China attempt. Sure, there are those with the obscure knowledge (especially political), but all three?
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of creature the “China expat” evolves into. With China’s continued economic development, will he resemble his cousin in Japan someday?
Seems we all just keep struggling to be seperate and unique or together and the same. Humans are odd. I think many of us, myself included, forget that many millenia of people have been studying these same languages, cultures, or whatever. Like even this century was the first age of global discovery? On Japan, Lafcadio Hearn, 100 years ago, already had Japan nailed. He understood the language, culture, religion, and even made excellent predictions about Japan’s future. Even he though was preceded by several centuries of European Japanophiles whose work he no doubt benefited from. Japan’s been going in and out of fashion for how long? How many times since the Chinese first started interacting with them more than a thousand years ago? Of course “scholars” and wanna be scholars have been searching for the tedious minutia of knowledge of about Japan since those good ole days. Imagine the young monks or scholars sent to Japan or the young Japanese sent to China, sitting around chatting, showing off and competing against each other with their newly aquired info. Every country has this and has had this since humans first started using our brains for more than just survival.
That threat of comments is long and, well, in a word (not) rather intellectual cum grittily urban cum modern cum post-modern. Those people really do know a lot about Tokyo, and about Japanese pop culture. It’s all just so different from the experience I’ve had in China, I don’t know how to relate to it.
I think that all which has been said about the Marco Polo Syndrome so far, and what the linked article describes as the Gaijin Complex, do overlap to some degree but also diverge significantly. I think all that was said about MPS is that certain expats do not want to meet with or mingle with other foreigners in China, whereas those commenters freely use the word “hate” in describing GC. Moreover, most people seemed to be saying that MPS is based on the assumption that you’re not going to like other foreigners, the assumption that their views or goals or reasons for being in China will be different from your own. But Marxy seems to be saying that GC is a hate for those very people (Japanese speaking “non-Colonialists”) who are most similar to you.
threat -> thread
(not) = not in a word, but rather in several words
It seems that comparing two different countries makes me say very jumbled up sentences.
I guess since I’m not hanging out with a lot of punk-ass, scenester fanboy, psuedo-anthropologists, my initial experiences of gaijin here in tokyo have been very positive. many of my colleagues are very invested in japanese culture–they are raising families here, speak the language fluently, etc., and among us there’s none of that snarky one-upsmanship you’ll find in territorial-to-the-point-of-hostility expat communities, where obscure knowledge and social penetration is common currency.
i don’t think that the evolving chinese expat will ever resemble the gaijin-complex expat being described. since chinese society is in many ways more open to foreigners than japanese society, there won’t be as much competetion among the laowai to see who can get the most access.
that previous post was me. russell.
huh huh huh. you said ‘penetration’. huh huh huh.
Seems like people like to think Japan belongs exclusively to them. Interesting ‘phenomenon’.
Oddly enough, I’ve never really thought about it, but I guess I suffer from “laowai complex” here in China.
I don’t hang out with other foreigners, in fact, I try to avoid them at all costs.
I don’t go out for western food ( I can usually cook it better myself) and I don’t usually acknowledge other foreigners on the street unless they acknowledge me as well.
I even get a kick out of watching other foreigners get taken by merchants in the markets.
A week or so ago when I was in Xi’an, I made a bet with my wife and her brother that they could get foreigners to do anything they wanted. So, I sent them across the street where a few Laowai’s were hanging out and while pretending to speak back English, they managed to talk them into posing for some really funny photos.
Could it be that I have actually been assimilated and now I like to toy with foreigners too?
Will I start running down the streets shouting HELLLLLOOOOO! in the near future?
I would hope not John, but in my opinion there is a significant difference between the Gaijin and the Gweilo. No scientific evidence or any proof whatsoever but its my perception that the Gaijin tends to be romantacize Japan MUCH more than the Gweilo does China. Its an infatuation with the exotic to a degree thats not generally present with foreigners in China. A veritable cottage industry has sprung around gajin obsession over cultural trivia and minutae (tea ceremonies, geisha, samurais, anime, etc). Thus the gajin complex if you will, is I believe an offshoot of this phenomenon and the competition among gaijins is fueled by the desire to immerse themselves in the exotic orient.
The reasons for the difference in immigrants is due to the difference in western perceptions of China and Japan. Japan, much more than China represents the romantacized image of the orient in the popular imagination. This is due primarily to two main factors. China is still dirt poor and its hard to wax poetic about obscure cultural practices when everyone around you is in the daily competition to survive and prosper. Secondly China is still nominally communist, and for generations of Americans growing up since the end of the second world war, communism brings with it a torrent of associations. Those that are relevant to China are most prominently modernity and emnity. Communism implies a disconnect from the past while at the same time it engenders anxiety and hostility from the West.
China is a society in dramatic transition as opposed to Japan and until it stabilizes, the Chinese and the Gweilo will be more concerned about the world around them than the banalities of culturl and society.
Very interesting ideas, but do you disagree that more money in China would change everything? I think the culture (and, by extension, the rabid asiaphiles) follows the economics, and the economics will help bridge the gap between any significant differences that exist now. The fact that in the past few decades the richer China has gotten the less communist it has gotten sort of falls in line with your communism aversion theory as well.
Oh, and btw… on this blog we’re laowai, not gweilo. 😉
Personally, I’ve NEVER encountered the Marco Polo Syndrome in China. Maybe because I’m ethnically Chinese, but even with foreigners who weren’t Chinese, I never felt they were avoiding other laowais. From what I could see, laowais mostly hang out with each other, far more, in any case, than with the Chinese. Very few laowais even bother to learn the language well (I know I didn’t!), though a great many do know a lot about Chinese history. But let’s face it, reading “The Search for Modern China” is a lot more pleasant than figuring out the frigging tones! I’ve met a bunch of laowais in China, but outside Japanese (who have certain linguistic advantages) and Africans (who HAD to learn the language to survive), John is the ONLY guy I know who could speak good Chinese. Most Western laowais I met spoke little, if any, Chinese. My Danish boss had been in China for like 4 years, and she could, I swear, only say, “Nihaoma?” Then she bitches cuz her students aren’t learning English fast enough. Haha. So I don’t see laowais bragging about their “linguistic abilities” at all.
And for “societal penetration,” I think for most laowais, it’s a shallow penetration. Case in point: the number of same-sex Chinese friends laowais have. I mean, I’m sure a lot of male laowais have Chinese girlfriends, but that’s because of hormones and not any “societal” curiosity on the laowais’ part. And I’m sure, in 90% of these relationships, they’re speaking English, not Chinese. And I’m not saying I’m any different. I have made only ONE lasting male Chinese friend in China–he was one my students–and that was only because he was a pervert like me. Haha. However, I think it’s a bit different for female laowais; I can see them having female Chinese friends–friends with whom they would speak in English, though.
In any case, I didn’t see the Marco Polo Syndrome/Gaijin Complex at all in China. In fact, I saw the direct OPPOSITE. For most laowais, IMHO, their China experience is just one long vacation.
In response to ‘big sausage’, I hear what you are saying, and I agree on some points. BUT most of my foreign friends, and admittedly there aren’t many speak rather good Chinese.
I must also add that I spent my first year in China as the only foreigner in a small dirty town. I’d studied Chinese before and had the tones and pronunciation down pat so I had a slight advantage.
I am married, and no I didn’t come here in search of women, and we speak Chinese, my wife doesn’t really understand much English.
There are more foreigners here who can speak Chinese than you realise, but they are, unfortunately, still a minority.
BUT most of my foreign friends, and admittedly there aren¡¯t many (foreign friends), speak rather good Chinese.
I guess I think that there IS quite a lot of the “whose got the more street-cred” in China among the Laowai, at least in Haidian in Beijing, where it’s teeming with foreigners learning Chinese. I was always really amused by the skinny nerdy white guys that would walk down the streets, very consciously avoiding my polite attempt at eye contact, in order to try and maintain some semblance of their little world of ligitimate claim to somehow being in a China untainted by others like them. It’s BS, of course, and I find it kind of rude that they would abandon their own normal social culture and deny a polite nod and eye contact that they would normally give me if we were surrounded by westerners instead of Chinese.
It may not reach whatever heights you refer to about Japan, however, simply because China has thrown much of it’s cultural baby out with the bathwater, and it’s hard therefore to compete as you can in Japan, simply because most Chinese don’t really have any connection to tradition, obscure knowledge etc. either.
I wrote all that crap, though sincere, at the top and all I get is some subtle mockery from Todd? What a waste.
Gordon — yet you are visiting sinosplice — a veritable internet community of Laowai — in order to meet your laowai interaction needs???
Even feeling that I have MPS I still need some interaction with people who kind of understand where you’re coming from, you know, you can laugh at all the crazy stuff Chinese do even though you pretend its totally normal when you are trying to impress other Laowai who you don’t know well and you want to be better than them. You still need someone to kind of complain to right?? Or at least analyse — that’s why sinosplice is like therapy for me…
Taiwan thankfully is remarkably free of MPS. Yeah, I guess there are FOBs who get all fussy when they see another white face and it destroys their vision of being this solitary wanderer in a foreign land, but there’s still remarkably little one-upmanship. I’ve thankfully yet to meet anyone who brags about their understanding of Mazu temple culture and their fluency in Hakka.
And the occassional few times I’ve wanted to indulge in Marco Polo Syndrome myself, I’ll do the exact opposite of what most people suffering from MPS would do. For instance, if I meet a mixed group out at a bar, I’d mention, “Oh yeah, I’ve only been here several months” and then only speak with the locals in Chinese, which is probably better than the foreigner’s who has been here for five years and only studied on the side.
I think you’re onto something there.
It’s not that I don’t like interacting with other foreigners. It’s just that the ones I seem to come across are usually tourists and they tend to be a little too cocky and disrespectful for my tastes.
I’m not usually one to make eye contact with another person and then refuse to acknowledge them with at least a nod, but most of the other foreigners that I come across don’t have a problem with it.
I came to China for a little emersion in the culture and the language and hanging out with a bunch of foreigners would only defeat the purpose. However, like you said, it’s nice to be able to release or have conversations that go deeper than the usual “do you like Chinese food? How long have you been in China?..blah blah..
I feel like my English skills and vocabulary have suffered dramatically since I’ve been living here because if I speak in English, I have to do it in the same screwed up manner they do if there’s any hope of them being able to understand me.
I guess that’s what we call “Chinglish”?
oooh..there I go rambling again..
Hey, Kikko Man, I was talking about the comment thread on Marxy’s site, not your enlightening comments 🙂
When I was a teacher in Dalian, I had the opportunity to hang out with foreigners but tried to limit such socialising. Yet I regularly read laowai blogs, and I noticed the irony at the time. But I think the blogging world and the expat community are quite different. Not only are bloggers more interested in China (while some people in the wider expat community are, quite frankly, not), you can also seek out the discussions you are interested in, and exchange views with more people.
In comparison, indiscriminately choosing friends just because they are foreign means that your social life will probably revolve around sitting in bars listening to them bitch about how their school has screwed them around yet again, or how the principal had the nerve to complain because they were 15 minutes late for a class which they hadn’t done any preparation for anyway. I’m not saying all foreigners in China are like that, I’m just saying that there are enough like that to make me wary.
What I’m trying to say is that, at least for me, reading blogs is an intellectual activity, while hanging out with friends is a social activity. Intellectually, I want to exchange my views with other foreigners living in China (although not exclusively – I do keep a chinese blog, after all), while socially I’d rather hang out with local people.
Actually this is a good point – where do expats go in China to have intellectual experiences? I didn’t live in China long enough to find a good place to have good discussions – the Expat community has their own thing going, and in their off-time the expats I know were more prone to drinking and hip-hop than discussions. The universities? The Chinese students I’ve met (only about 10 or so) haven’t been all that intellectually stimulating – smart but not particularly willing to delve into open honest discussion. So where do people get some good academic discussions?
This brings me to another irritation with China – finding real people that want to talk about things that got me interested in China in the first place. It’s all mostly ancient culture, and no one i’ve ever met in China has shown any interest in it at all. In fact, I hear Japan is more an authority on some areas of ancient Chinese culture than China is.
Granted, there are people who ‘teach’ foreigners about China’s wonderful cultural heritage, but such classes are a joke – very superficial. Where are the intellectual experiences?
Funny you should mention it. I’ve learned more about China from my Chinese History, Language and Political Science professors in the States than I’ve learned from anyone in China.
The only thing I’ve learned in China, about China is “guanxi” and all the negative things that I didn’t learn about in the States.
On occassion, I catch myself suffering from the so-called Marco Polo Syndrome, and I tend to suffer from it because I’m trying to learn Chinese. In order to learn it quickly and effectively, I need to be immersed in Chinese culture, not expat bar hopping culture. But I think another reason why I’m reluctant to socialize with foreigners is because nine out of ten foreigners I meet in China are very ignorant of the country they’ve decided to spend a year of their lives in. That comment alone tends to reflect that the Marco Polo syndrome is alive and well, and I’m starting to come across as possessive but what the hell . . . What gets me is the arrogance that comes across, in particular the misinformed value judgments; they really rub me the wrong way. I know that the longer I spend in China, the harder it is to know the country, and the harder it is say anything, especially anything that could be considered legitimate. That would include comments about ignorant foreigners, and even so called isolated expats who suffer from the Marco Polo syndrome.
As I moved to China from Tokyo, I have a few things to say about this subject.
First, this is about the billionth time some gaijin has made this discovery. Way to go, Columbus. It’s one of the stock topics, like “you can do anything at a convenience store” and “it sure is irritating that the trains stop at midnight.”
Most of my gaijin acquaintances in Japan were decent at Japanese, and not braggarts about it. But there are a few in any crowd…one guy in particular moved into the same gaijin house as me at about the same time. Over the months, this guy just weirded out. He started wearing traditional clothes (which look totally retarded on gaijin), and he one day he PRETENDED HE DIDN’T SPEAK ENGLISH. Whatta dipshit.
By contrast, I’ve never met a single laowai like that. Sure, a few people are really into culture and language. But they’re not weird about it. Perhaps things are worse in foreigner-heavy cities like Beijing or Shanghai.
I confess that I usually totally avoid eye contact with other foreigners outside of social situations. I have an electric moped to get around town, and I love getting the eyeball from other laowai when I’m out riding it, especially from obvious traveling businessmen. Having a moped marks me indelibly as a local. A car or motorcycle is one thing, I could have driven in from somewhere else, but a short-range vehicle can only be used inside town. Is this vanity and foreigner syndrome? Sure it is. But I justify it to myself by being normal when I meet laowai in social situations. And if some laowai flagged me down and wanted to know something or other, I’d stop and help him out. But I think this is mostly due to my native culture (read: mama drilled it into my head) of being polite and helpful to strangers.
My (original?) observation is that most foreigners in Japan are there because they want to be there. Most foreigners in China are there because they were sent there. I fell into both categories…I was happy in Japan but then the company had me move here because it was cheaper than flying me in once a month.
they may be going Marco Polo in Haidian, but in Chaoyang us foriegners need to stop partying together and actually meet a few Chinese people. How do you make Chinese friends anyway?
This post was one of the contributors to my ranting post. I suppose it was long overdue and now I feel my blood pressure coming back to normal. 🙂
I’ll agree with Laowai to some extent. In my experience, a lot of the Chinese I know are simply too defensive/nationlist to even have a discussion “about China” in a direct and open way. I really hate to say that, but that has been my personal experience. I don’t generalize from that experience to form a general law, but I have found it frustrating. Of course, I do know one or two Chinese who aren’t like that at all, but they are definitely exceptions in my experience. Maybe I have just been unlucky.
I very rarely get involved in political discussions with Chinese–or, for that matter, Americans. You won’t change most people’s minds so why bother? The only time I remember talking to a Chinese about Chinese history was right after 9-11 when she told me she didn’t support America going into Afghanistan. Her reasoning: all war is wrong, sort of like the ubiquitous “War Is Not The Answer” bumper stickers in America (I always wanted make my own sticker that’ll say, “War Is Not The Answer–EXCEPT for ending the Holocaust, slavery, etc., etc.”). Anyways, this Chinese girl and I babbled on for awhile, then I got tired of her obstinacy and asked, “Do you think the war the Communists had with the Nationalists was right or wrong?” That stunned her, and she said, “I don’t want to talk about that!” It pretty much ended the discussion. Haha.
It’s interesting you brought up Americans, DXC, because reflecting on it, you’re right – most Americans don’t discuss things well either. They’ll discuss, but then when you disagree with them they get angry. And then, if they’re right wing they’ll say you’re a commie and tell you never to mention Bush again or they’ll kill you (happened to a british friend of mine) or if they’re left wing they might utter the words ‘redneck’ or say something equally as irritating and look smug.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled in Europe!
Anyway, obviously these are the awful extremes and not to be representive of the entire populace.
What irritates me about China isn’t the not wanting to talk about China part, it’s the unwillingness to be flexible, and to entertain another’s point of view when discussing something. I found it really tough having any sort of stimulating conversation about anything at all if it was political, historical, sociological etc. because whenever the topic is in those areas the conversation just gets shut down by the Party Line. Maybe it’s because there’s only one right answer in China? And so people just don’t let themselves challenge it?
Gordon, right on about the Chinglish thing. I called my parents after 3 weeks in a village with only one guy that spoke English very slowly and without any tenses etc and they thought I’d had a bump on the head or something! You do need some foreign contact for language maintainence and processing your experiences I think.
Ah this is all a bunch of wild speculation! We need a real survey with some objective numbers. Before seeing this I was of quite the exact opposite opinion. It seems to me frongers in Japan don’t learn jack of the local language, whilst in China, it is only in retrospect that I can admire the progress everyone was making. There were plenty of Koreans who came and started from scratch, and reached real communicational fluency in a semester. But even my American friend, who we teased quite a bit for his somewhat mediocre abilities, blew the socks off, by a few order of a magnitude, any Westerner I have met in Japan. (Excluding those who’ve been studying 6 years etc.. it is ridiculous to need so much time.)
And don’t even get me started on Kanji! I feel a lot of emotional resentment towards my teachers, and especially my classmates, whilst sitting in what is supposed to be a solidly intermediate class, and the teacher is still accompanying every basic BASIC Kanji with that disgusting furigana. (That is when she bothers to write the Kanji at all. If she thinks it is “hard”, you can forget about even seeing it.)
But to be honest, I don’t know what is with Kanji in Japan these days. Can you imagine going in the bookstore in China, and over the title on the SPINE of a book, seeing small pinyin telling you how to read it ? If most Japanese cannot read these characters, it is no wonder! There is no motivation to remember it when you don’t even have to check a dictionary for the reading.
Failure to learn Kanji is purely a psychological phenomena. Most people from Western countries (and Nepal) coming to Japan decide that it is impossible before they arrive, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
As for Mr. Rolly’s polly comment about the dude who acted as if he didn’t know English, I hope you can expound a bit! As it stands, I’m a bit offended. I mean how many people do you know that can say they didn’t blow a considerable portion of their time abroad bullshitting with the English speaking sell-outs ? It takes guts… with my own best resolve, the best I did was to tell my friends in China I was not going to speak a word of English for a week. Ultimately I ended up not speaking a lot of Chinese either that week though 🙁
BTW We need a spot for off-topic comments and rants. I want to tell about the dream I had about John last night! Well, nightmare. I was back in China teaching my beginners class, lecturing entirely in Japanese (yeah, I thought it was Chinese in the dream), and I couldn’t understand why I kept stumbling over my words so badly. (My Japanese sucks.) None other than JOHN himself was the new principal of the school, and he stepped into ‘observe’ my teaching… I got more and more nervous and stumbled more and more over my words as I slowly began to crack — seeing his menacing face… then I woke up.
My 2 cents…
Polarizing conversations are a very common experience in my brief time here in China. Not only conversing with local Chinese, but also with the various ‘westerner’s’ I have been in contact with. I haven’t truly been able to converse with the average joe on the street here, as my language ability is next to nought. Most of my interactions with Chinese nationals have been with professionals in my area of expertise, many who have been educated at length at local or overseas institutes. I find the bulk of them are willing to discuss their opinions in life here in China, and their ideas about the Government, society, its pluses and problems. Only a few locals I have conversed with show no willingness to consider other ideas, and I find them to be no different to any other close minded individual I have found in my life.
Also, my life as an expat was brought about primarily by a job opportunity, and not strictly to learn language and experience life in the middle kingdom and meet its people. I must add that the latter is an added attraction though, and I do wish to engage with people I meet everywhere and explore this fascinating country (and indeed the world).
But I do believe that expats are sometimes treated unfairly by other westerners here that are here for cultural immersion or find such an environment as part of their vocation. I work long hours in a professional job in a highly-technical English language environment. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to even learn Mandarin survival language skills, so don’t treat people like me too harshly for our lack of knowledge. Beyond my work, spending time with my partner/family takes secondary priority, and thus limits my opportunities to learn a Chinese language.
Making people a focus of ridicule due to a lack of expertise or unfamiliarity with a topic is poor form in my opinion, and I believe a sign of a closed mind.
I experience the Guangjin syndrome/Marco Polo syndrome each day in my life in Shanghai. However, it is hard to know with any western face whether you actually speak the same mother tongue here, and I have been caught on occasions with this assumption. It might not strictly be about avoiding fellow foreigners, but also about avoiding potential discomfort.
Let people be, your standards and path might not appropriate to everyone…
Justin, there’s a world of difference between speaking Japanese to your Japanese friends, and pretending you don’t speak English to your foreign friends, after they know dang well that you speak at a native level. How’d you get offended…I wasn’t talking about you!
Yeah, I’d have “Japanese day” with my girlfriend, when I didn’t speak English all day. And I’d speak Japanese to my Japanese friends, although I frequently deferred to their wishes and spoke English with them, since they thought it was cool to speak English. But when you’re living in a foreigners’ house, and hanging out with foreigners, let’s all speak the international foreigners’ language, mmmkay? It’s a great relief to turn off Japan for a while, and just shoot the shit. If you don’t want to speak English, that’s fine, I guess…but don’t say “I don’t speak English” in Japanese! Puh-leez!
As for “blowing your time bullshitting”, it’s all a matter of your priorities. Not every foreigner comes to Japan with the idea of becoming more Japanese than the natives. Some people do, like the nimrod I spoke about. Some people want to learn for business, or to be able to go to the post office or talk to girls. People live in America for twenty years and never learn a word of English, and they get along perfectly well.
Koreans have an unfair advantage, as their language is related to Japanese. There were only three non-Korean foriegners in my Japanese class, and we found it difficult to keep up with the fast pace set by the Koreans. No furigana on the whiteboard there, rest assured…and this was a beginners’ class.
You’re missing one crucial element. Chinese people spit.
It looks like markdown (or was it textile?) is going all mad-cow on my blockquotes.
The problem was you didn’t leave line breaks to clearly delineate paragraphs. A blockquote should be in its own paragraph, separated from any preceding or following paragraphs by a blank line.
外人コムプレクスに対して少しだけ訪ねたい事が、有るのです。 私は、日本に 六ヶ月も住んで要るけど彼の訪ねている事葉、非常に間違って要ると思います．なぜだと説明すると、私の体験によると、皆様は割りと助け合ったり、一緒に色々と日本の文化の習慣を学ぶ苦労をお互いに悩みながらお友達似よ区なって楽しい生活を出来ています。 ですから多分此の大変な思い出は、あなた竹が、個人的に 体験しただけだと思います。
I hate hommies who try/want to get closer to japanese and chinese culture. I even discourage them to learn the languages, telling them that it’s difficult, etc. When I hang out, I always go to places where there are no “gringos”, gaijins, gwai-los, farrangs and so on. If I see any, I walk away.
If you ask me why I do this, I simply don’t know. Maybe a jealous feeling about something I really like.
“Hisae says that Japanese are also annoyed to see other Japanese in London.”
“Here in Berlin, where there are fewer Japanese, they’ll tend to talk to each other, ask how long they’ve been here, etc.”