Change can be reciprocal. In my case, I have changed a lot since I first entered China.
Sometimes I am amazed on how much I have adapted over the past years. I have been willingly following the Chinese expression 入乡随俗 (ruxiang suisu): When in Rome do as the Romans do; or wherever you are, follow the local customs.
I have never thought it was difficult to adapt to Chinese live. It just came naturally, and since my other half is Chinese as well now, it is easier than ever.
When first coming to Niuji village, one of China’s more rural places, where traditions and old customs are still alive, I was put before a new challenge: Should I stick to my own customs, traditions, and behaviour? Or should I simply adapt to whatever is accepted here and make life easier for everyone? I decided to go with the last one. After all, it was me who was an outsider.
All those years I never run into trouble. Most of the customs and traditions I learned to accept and some of them even appreciate. But there are still a few thorny topics, which make me furious whenever confronted with. One of them is the treatment of animals, especially dogs.
Having a small dog at home, and being a dog lover, it is heart-breaking to see how they treat those poor creatures here in the village. I remember being at a wedding (again) and seeing a half-starved dog limping into the courtyard. He was obviously looking for food. Dirty and filthy, with one insured leg, he tried to get to whatever leftovers where on the floor, but everyone started kicking him, and the kids started to make a game out of hitting him with sticks… No one said anything! This is just one example out of hundreds!
However, even though our best friend’s life in Niuji village is still very hard, things have changed greatly since about two years. All of a sudden people started buying expensive dogs, some to show off, some bigger ones to keep the house safe from unwelcomed guests. Conditions also have changed. You see fewer starved, lonely dogs on the streets.
But what has shocked me (in a good sense) the most, is, when my father-in-law one day came home with a little puppy. First, I thought it was a present for me, as he knew how much I loved dogs. But when I told him, I wouldn’t be able to take care of a dog now, he told me that actually he wanted to keep the dog.
Since then things have changed dramatically in our home. Where before my father-in-law would laugh at me when I told him about keeping the dog clean and giving him a bath once in a while, he will now bath him twice a day. Where my mother-in-law would be disgusted by a dog licking her fingers, she now takes hours to play with him and let him bite her feet. They have even started asking me about dog training, and telling the neighbours how great a well-behaved dog is. They finally realized that fluffy fellow is actually a precious new family member.
We still have to work on a few things, but my parents-in-law have changed. They are now open to suggestion and don’t just put them of as crazy foreigner talk. They see the benefits and we slowing manage to immerse two different cultures, and take the best of both.
I am grateful to be part of this journey. Not just did I learn a lot about myself and cultural differences, but also did I learn to adapt the best of a new culture, and mix both into something new.
Did you ever had some similar experience where living in a different country did not just change you, but also changed the people around you?
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