A French colleague returned from the Philippines this Friday and coaxed a few of us out for drinks. I assume that my Chinese colleagues also go out for drinks, but up until now all after-work socializing i have been exposed to has been segregated. I don't mind going out drinking with the expat crew, but i sometimes find myself isolated in the conversations, because although i am quite plainly an expat too, my experience is different.
I think the aspect in which we most differ is that i don't seek out the company of fellow expats.
At some point the guys started talking about some discussion "on the groups", and i just looked baffled. Turns out they were talking about WeChat groups. Then it was their turn to look baffled. How can you survive here in China without being "on the groups"?
Aside: One of the biggest apps here is WeChat. It's what WhatsApp might have evolved into if it hadn't been bought by Facebook. WeChat is essentially a lean text messaging app that has been jury-rigged into also supporting mobile payments, photo/story sharing, group buying, direct marketing, government services and more. It's owned by Tencent, one of the biggest software companies in the world, and is used by almost every netizen in China.
WeChat is also where expats host "groups" to shoot the shit and plan get-togethers. Apparently there are several in Shenzhen. I know about one of them, because i was added to it by a (Chinese) bartender at the expat bar i frequented in Shekou. I guess you can join more through word-of-mouth and personal connections, but i left the group after about a week because i was not interested in the drivel. I follow a few special interest communities here on LJ and occasionally comment elsewhere too, but i don't participate in any location-based social media. If i want to meet people in my neighborhood, i will just go outside and meet them. But probably i won't, because i already spend my work life interacting with people.
Let's not get into the fact that i also like to keep a wall between my personal life and my work life, and in a city with so few foreigners any expat i meet is liable to swiftly connect back to someone i know from work.
But, because i was drunk, i didn't explain my reasoning like that. I just said "i don't want to make Pony Ma even richer than he already is". Which appears to have become my fallback excuse for anything and everything i don't want to do.
I mean, it's no secret that i almost exclusively eat at street vendors and greasy spoons because i think chain restaurants undermine local business and casual dining restaurants in general are agents of gentrification. I tend to say no when invited to any location whose price marks it as a pursuit of the privileged class - which in China consists of every single foreigner in the whole country, plus the couple hundred million urbanized Chinese who have "made it". I do occasionally splurge (for example: buying coffee imported from Yunnan province by way of America, which makes it a tremendous luxury) but i don't drink pricy liquor or wear pricy clothes or drive a private vehicle or own property...
...and i barely use the app that a billion people use every day because me lurking on a group full of expats is going to generate some kind of advertising coin for Tencent. And of course that's morally worse than having Mobike selling my movement data or Alibaba selling my payment history or fucking Facebook and Google still tracking my ass all over the internet in spite of the Great Firewall. I mean, this is some grade A nonsense. I could sit on a WeChat group all fucking year and it would still make Pony Ma less money than buying a single bag of coffee makes Howard Schultz.
So really it's all a front. I do care about social justice, and i do consider it with almost everything i choose to consume. But let's not pretend i'm some paragon of virtue. I choose to make compromises for convenience just like everyone else. Getting on a high horse about capitalism is a laughably poor excuse for avoiding the barest minimum of social networking. In reality i avoid social networking because i am an introvert.
Something that people who aren't introverts don't really understand is that for some of us, socializing is extremely exhausting. This is the reason it takes me days or weeks to answer people's text messages or emails. This is why i never, ever pick up the phone. Ever. It's why i rarely meet up with friends. Not because i dislike their company or conversation, but because it costs me so much energy that it leaves me with nothing left.
Work already leaves me with nothing left. My colleagues think i'm crazy when i say i'm an introvert because i am always "on" in the office - chatting, debating, mentoring, dancing about, joking around... And they know that in my personal life i like to explore new places and chat to strangers... What introvert could be like that? I guess their image of an introvert is someone terrified of social interaction. That's not me. I can do it. I just don't find it rewarding, if it's an obligation. I know it's my obligation to my colleagues to socialize with them, so i do it. I know it's also an obligation to friends and family that i socialize with them, so if i have enough spoons left then i will do that too. But it sucks me dry. I am only truly free when i am left to my own devices.
I mentioned this to R the other day, and i realized we are good friends because neither of us has any expectation of the other. When we send messages, there is no expectation of an immediate response, or even a response at all. I currently have several text messages sitting there from other friends that i haven't replied to for 10+ days because i know the moment i reply they will take it as an invitation to a real-time conversation that i will feel guilted into taking part in. I don't like that pressure, i don't like that stress. So i just don't reply at all.
I won't join an expat social networking group. Not because i am antisocial. Or even because i think a lot of expats are douchebags. And, let's be honest, it's definitely not because i am taking some kind of bullshit stand against "the man". It's simply because i don't have the energy to be involved with it.
I went out Friday night. I got drunk. I met the obligatory Chinese wife. I heard all the hot takes about Trump's proposed tariffs package from people who do not follow the news like i do and who definitely do not understand macroeconomics. I heard the usual lamentations about how Africans and Muslims are destroying Europe's culture. Ah, China, haven of conservative expats. But we drank together and they marveled that i had never gone to the apparently famous shopping malls of Shenzhen and i shook my head wondering how they had lived in China for years and never come across 热干面. I swear sometimes it feels like there's more cultural exchange that goes on between me and fellow expats than me and Chinese migrant workers.
Anywho, it was fine. I had a blistering hangover yesterday. Went out to buy groceries. Looked at the local food delivery apps for the first time and was shocked to find that the prices are 1.5x what the same places charge to eat in. So i decided that ordering delivery would also be bourgeois. Then i cooked water spinach and my new favorite specialty of dry tofu with peanuts and Sichuan peppercorns and doubanjiang and i drank my very expensive coffee and watched NXT and gave no shits.
And now it's Sunday and i am still done. I am emotionally drained. I am socially exhausted. I don't want to leave the house, even though i know if i headed up to a mountain it would clear my head. I feel like getting from here to there would already have too much social interaction, just giving a wave or nod to people on the streets. I know tomorrow morning i'll be back at the office and will have to do it all over again. I just want to hide in my bed and play video games and eat tiny bananas and pickled bamboo.
I am in the limbo. The Looming Tower kept reminding me of my life in 99/2000. That's exactly when i started full-time work. I mindlessly slogged through it then too, just trying to earn enough cash to pay for surgery, to get out of Australia, whatever. I gave up on my teenage dreams of writing music. I've tried to escape the drudgery and follow a different path a few times since then, but it never pans out. I think this ennui is just what being a grown-up is all about. I've had several good jobs in my life - good pay, good colleagues, good learning experiences... but they're all still work and work is fundamentally boring.
And, if you're as exhausted by social interaction as i am, work is also going to make the rest of your life boring too.
I guess this is when other introverts would spend their spare cash on home entertainment. Maybe i should get a drone. Or a domestic robot. A subscription to WWE Network or Marvel Unlimited. I should probably just get the internet connected as a first step. Except, you know, that would require me to chat with a rep and set up an appointment. Sigh.
I'll just update LJ instead.