About having a BCD - Bad China Day

What an exciting time to be in China. Wherever you are, it is fascinating to be part of and witness this momentous transformation. But when confronted to the extended cultural difference, there are times when even the best of us lack patience and understanding with our Chinese hosts who make you repeatedly shake your head, drop your jaw and widen your eyes. We all have them, those days when the thrill of living in China is less than thrilling. This is what us laowai – foreigners in Chinese- call a ‘bad China day’ –or BCD-.

Most of you who lived or travelled to China are familiar with the BCD. For those of you wondering, this is the acronym to use when everything in China is ‘eleventy million’ times more complicated than it should be anywhere in the world. A BCD is usually a result of a few factors, the first – and most obvious- is that you probably don’t speak Chinese, and therefore, can not ask for what you want. The second results from a nonsensical logic that tends to be applied to some daily practices. Although there are immeasurable variations, let’s look at the classic features that a BCD entails and that usually ends in a snowball effect.

Let’s say your day started off with the common jackhammer outside your window. The workers got a fresh start at 4.30 am and interrupted your slumber with deafening shaking vibrations that jolted you out of bed. You went back to sleep only to wake up late for work because you didn’t put money on your electricity card, therefor your alarm clock didn’t go off. On your way out, you find your landlord on your doorstep and you wonder how long she’s been standing there. After 10 minutes of polite conversation, she finally demands the ‘property maintenance’ fee, the 50 rmb a year for taking away the trash and sweeping leaves and cigarettes butts from the parking area.

At lunch, they refuse to serve the dish you order every single day of the week because they assure you that it doesn’t exist. This item, while not being on the menu, is only made up of two ingredients : eggs and peppers – both of which are in 50% of the other dishes. You order something else and try to avoid listening to other people discussing the ‘laowai’ skill at using chopsticks.

After lunch, you’re taking a stroll and though you’re wearing regular clothes, a person elbows their friend, points at you and giggles  – three times-. You ignore the first two times but as third one stares at you as if you were from outer space, you just stand in front of him and stare as well. It does make you feel better until people around start laughing and saying : ‘laowai this, laowai that’.

During a meeting with Big Boss, a simple problem that should take 5 minutes to solve. takes hours, like cracking the genetic code. Although you’ve been working with them for months, most of your colleagues –who know you speak Chinese- still talk about you when you’re in the same room. Even if you’ve repeatedly proved them you have a fairly good level of written and spoken Chinese, they convinced themselves that you must have just learnt how to say/read certain phrases.

After work, you get stuck in someone’s sweaty armpit on the subway for 40 minutes and get face to face with a lady picking her nose while she’s staring right at you while doing it. Outside the station, you managed to get splashed by a mud puddle by a 90-year-old lady on her dirt bike with 80 kilos of cabbage tied to the back. You waited for a taxi for 45 minutes only to have it stolen away – and without remorse, I might add- but 5 different sets of people. When you finally got into one, the taxi driver didn’t take one look in your direction, instead, took a huge hoooork out of the window. Your phone rings but you’re forced to hung up quickly because the driver’s radio is blaring Chinese drama. He honks the whole way –as if the horn will magically make the other cars move out of his way-. Once at destination, he
conscientiously checks all your bills, even those of 1 yuan.

Almost at home, you stop by the electricity recharging machine which the bao’an –or doorman- of your building assured you this morning was working. Of course, you end up swearing at a broken machine. But you don’t loose time and rush to the closest bank where they tell you ‘no no no no’ several times, even though you speak Chinese to them. You’re sent to another bank –the right one to charge electricity in your card but the lady the lady at the entrance –the ones that presses the button and hands you out the ticket to wait- assures you there is no time. You bargain there are still 30 minutes before end of day but she just repeats : ‘come back tomorrow’. No electricity.  You try your luck charging the hot water card but the man welcoming you is not very warm and says abruptly : ‘only Fridays, only fridays’. Too bad, it’s Monday, you’ll have to wait.

On your way back, you realise that you have no shampoo because last time, you bought some mysterious kind by accident that turns your hair into stringy broom bristles and makes you look like Janis Joplin on crack. Once in the supermarket, one the four shampoo aisle ladies comes over to help and you try to ask what the shampoos are for.
She explains to you several different things, none of which you understand and you wonder why you even bothered. You make your way to the check out where three ladies send you back to the shampoo area. The shampoo aisle lady grabs your arm and shows you to a counter where someone takes your shampoo, and fills out a pink, blue, and green receipt. She points to the other end of the toiletry area and you shuffle over to the next counter, receipts in hand. The lady at the other counter then takes your blue receipt and after you give her the money, she stamps it, pointing you in yet another direction. You take the stamped blue receipt and give it to another woman who then stamps your pink sheet and returns you to the original woman so you can get your bottle. At this point you are exasperated and whiny and are annoyed by the two ladies waiting at checkout to quadruple check your receipt.

It’s already 9pm and you know the birthday dinner and birthday cake are already over. You send an apologetic text message to your friend only to find out you don’t have any more credit. You call the ‘xiaomaibu’ – little shop- downstairs and order a phone card, some cigarettes –Zhongnanhai brand please-. The guy shows up an hour later with 2 packs of Malboro and no change. You go through your Ikea box where you keep the small change and start counting the 5, 2 and 1 mao bills. It takes ages but the young guys doesn’t seem bothered. Before leaving, he asks if you can take a picture with him. You find an excuse and as you close the door, he screams ‘bye bye’.

You decide to go grab some food at Macdonald’s, hoping to get a comforting  piece of western culture. You wait 15 mins and when comes your turn, a teenage girl starts ordering. You tell her to go to the back of the line but she looks at you with a face that seems to say ‘ ??!?’. She finally spits up the three words every laowai dreads to hear : ‘ting bu dong’ – I don’t understand. This time you’ve had enough, you grab her by her blue high school uniform and pull her to the end of the line. And you go home, empty-handed.

You are cursing the powers and wondering why this day happened. But all in all, we love living here because with China comes contrasts : we would probably be bored anywhere else and irritated with stagnant cities that are not in constant motion and chaotic. In the end, we are here and I, like other foreigners coming to China, we’re wondering if Chinese living or travelling in Europe or the American continent have ‘Bad Abroad Days’ too.  

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BCD to me is a normal occurrence and pure bad judgement. China unlike some western and some other Asian countries is one of the most welcoming countries in the world. I personally know many people who have been there and they tell you that a laowai is looked at in a curious way and not a discriminative one. Anf for the language misunderstanding, I think the Chinese believe their language to be too hard that non Chinese cannot speak it to perfection.
Think about what it's like being Chinese in Europe, with cultural differences, and racism on top of that. Or just go home.
Nanook, that happens a lot in the US too. Go to the Mbidwest and as soon as one hears your accent, they start showing all their acting talent. It is priceless to have a blond chick shout in your ear three times more than necessary in a bar. Not very complicated questions either ;) Great post!
True,a bad day in China can be dangeros to your nervous system. How about those chinese talking to you with hand gestures even though you proved them you can speak fluent chinese?

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