Opinion:Building the Great Wall of Friendship

09:15, August 04, 2011      

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Chinese and foreigners are not making friends enough according to a news article published yesterday. It says some expats live in a Beijing bubble and don't bond with local people. The study also recovers the old scapegoat of "language" as the main obstacle, but I'd say individuality is the new Great Wall preventing this multicultural affair. Furthermore, the capital's grand wish of becoming a world city is at stake because of this. Foreigners share the blame for it, but Beijingers need to color up their friends list and reach out.

The article is feebly based on an incomplete survey that reflects the opinion of 40 percent of the South Koreans living in Wangjing. The analysis is narrow, not revealing what questions were asked to foreigners and without results organized by age or gender. But it's safe to say that when the study expands to Chaoyang and Shunyi districts will show that more foreigners living in town can't find a Chinese friend in their phone contacts beyond the local and compulsory acquaintances of neighbor, co-worker, translator, real estate agent and lover (with more or less strings attached) - and these don't make it to the friends roll. This is even more disturbing for non Asians who unlike South Koreans don't even share some kind of geographical, physical, cultural or language features with Chinese that can help them break through the Chinese community.

If more and more Chinese speak English and more foreigners know Chinese, than what's the problem? Individuality is what sets the stone for isolation. Considering that we're talking about affluent Chinese urbanites, hiding behind cultural customs and the fear of befriending aliens no longer fits Beijing, where the privileged Chinese drive cars, drink Starbucks, club until 6 am and marry foreigners who prefer to ride a bike. Most local Beijingers wine and dine at Western places, hang out and have the same purchasing power [if not more] than the foreigners. So there's no excuse for not speaking up, reaching out to people of a distinct culture and trying new things that don't just include karaoke and the company get together. Many foreigners gave the first step by coming over and settling in Beijing despite cultural challenges and pollution [just to mention a couple], so it's likely that most of them want to add up Chinese flavor to their lives.

Beijingers can be as hospitable and fun as they are proud and arrogant. But if they want their city to be a cosmopolitan melting pot, then they must know that an open mind and a bold spirit are requirements. My friends and I have sang at the karaoke, dressed up for a qipao party, ate leg-wiggling scorpions. We made English mistakes and committed unforgettable faux pas in public; we kissed Japanese on their cheeks and cried in front of our Chinese bosses. We've also insulted Chinese people or stepped on their toes out of ignorance and we confess we have already unfriended some of them because we're not talking here about a caravan of love where everybody gets along with everybody. But local Beijingers can be certain that if we're still around, then there's still space to make friends. If friendship is the salt of life then cross cultural friendships are the spice in it. When you're away from home, friends provide you with a new family, tremendous fun and life training. But only local friendship can provide a foreigner with that spectacular feeling that it can also belong to a new country and culture. A smile and body language also go a long way; so we just wanna see Beijingers put on a bikini and dance some samba.

By Maria Salvador Source: Global Times


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