Advice for Chinese Immigrants Living in the U.S. and Traveling the World
I'm the Asian American husband AddingOil and my wife is JiaYou, a recent immigrant from China to the US. We met and married in Shanghai while I was working there for 7 years, and now we reside in New York City. We run the blog TheNomadAtHeart.com to share our experiences of living and traveling in Shanghai, New York City, and around the world.
It puts everything in perspective. We only have a finite time on this earth. Even for those who believe in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or another religion where the immortal soul continues into an afterlife, coming face to face with death stops us in our tracks.
Although we may have near death experiences throughout our lives – hopefully few and far between – we most likely will face it the form of an elderly relative’s passing.
This is what happened to me, when my grandmother passed away this past spring at the incredible age of 104. She lived through two wars and was a refugee each time as a result. The second time, she moved to the U.S. and started life anew, a stranger in a strange land.
In contrast to China, Americans and many other Westerners put the elderly into nursing homes paid by the government once the effort of care by family members becomes too great. In Asia, the elderly usually rely on their adult children for comfort and economic means of support. It shows the emphasis placed on youth and vigor to affect the future, as opposed to age and experience to reflect on the past. It’s hard to say if this is right or wrong. It’s just the value system in place here.
Outside the Chinatowns in main urban centers of the U.S., it can be difficult to find a Chinese immigrant or second generation Chinese community for newcomers. But, in fact, in more suburban areas there actually are Chinese communities – they’re just harder to find because they are more spread out.
As non-intuitive as it sounds, the most common and strongest of these communities is the Chinese church; they are the main civic and social community centers for recent immigrants and their children.
You don’t have to be Christian to go to one – in fact, like all Christian churches they have a strong sense of evangelism and want non-Christians to come. But if you only want community and never want to even hear/talk/ask questions about Christianity, it’ll eventually become uncomfortable for you.
Some of you may be curious about some of the details of how JiaYou and I met, our life in Shanghai, and how we navigated the USCIS immigration process. So here are some highlights and some tips!
How We First Met
JiaYou and I met quite randomly. I had just finished at a private Mandarin language school near People’s Square and was looking for a new apartment in the Xujiahui area of Shanghai before starting my job as a project manager at a China markets research firm.
One of the more peculiar practices in American and other Western cultures is the custom ironclad rule of tipping in certain individual consumer level transactions. Despite being “voluntary,” the consequences of not tipping at all or even just tipping below what is considered acceptable would probably lead you to receiving poor service in the future or an irate waiter running after you as you leave.
Tipping in this sense is definitely not standard in China, but to put it into the Chinese context, it’s best to think of it as the red envelopes stuffed with money (hong bao) that you are expected to pay government officials or your doctor/surgeon to simply do their jobs. JiaYou would probably take issue with this, but I think it’s actually quite similar.
One of the more subtle differences between New York and Shanghai (which can be generalized to Western and Asian societies overall) is the relationship between motorists and pedestrians.
In the U.S., pedestrians are treated as the equivalent of an endangered species. They are to be protected at all costs (admittedly, this is probably related to being a highly litigious society), and at times coddled (which is very much the case on the West Coast). In fact, in many East Coast cities, such as NY and Boston, pedestrians can even have an arrogant demeanor, assuming right of way without regard to their physical safely. If you honk at them when they are not walking with the light, they’ll actually glare at you and act indignant!
Happy Chinese New Year! (or actually, Happy Spring Festival, which is the more precise English translation of 春节快乐！)
This is more so a Flashback post, as we didn’t do much authentic Chinese celebration here in the U.S. other than making dumplings and giving the red envelopes (or hongbao) with money to my nephews and niece. Hopefully next year JiaYou can comment on what CNY is like in NYC’s Chinatown! Continue reading “Chinese National Holidays: Embracing Ambivalence?”
One often talked about cultural difference between American and Chinese cultures is being proactive. As an American, it’s easy to place a high value on being proactive and to denigrate those are not as being timid or weak of heart.
Just consider old adages such as “The early bird gets the worm,” and “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and the classic Latin “Fortune favors the bold”. They attest to this value American and Western societies in general hold that it is better to take action and bear the risk of failure in order to gain the greater prize.
This is JiaYou’s first Black Friday shopping experience, and it wasn’t the enjoyable, fun-filled day that we were planning. But she had her first encounter with STORE CREDIT CARDS!
Admittedly, we have never been eager or die hard shoppers, but in this case we were looking forward to taking advantage of 50% off sales for my wife as we shopped for clothes at a name brand clothing chain.