High Context Culture.

Shortly after our arrival in Shanghai we had some cultural training. We were told that China fitted into the category of a ‘High Context Culture’ (interestingly France is a little like this – but not Australia) where messages are conveyed implicity (whereby meaning has to be inferred via multiple means). This is different from in the USA or in Australia where meaning is actually stated directly through…well…..words. “Chinese generally do not like to give negative answers, say ‘no’ directly or admit misunderstanding”.

I found this extract from Zach Etkind  (www.thatsmags.com) an amusing example of this. He writes: ‘This is verbatim, how the conversation went when I was once fired from a job in China.’ ‘Maybe you don’t have to come in next week.’Ok, how about the week after that?’‘Umm, maybe you don’t have to come in that week either.’Am I being fired?’‘Ummmm yaa, noo, well, I just think maybe you dont’ have to come in anymore’.‘Ok, I’ll go ahead and assume I was just fired. Have a  nice day!

I have found it very difficult to ‘read between the lines’. For example, I missed the implicit message when our lovely and really helpful ayi (household helper/baby-sitter/problem-solver of a few hours a week) told me that “My mother-in-law is sick with sore legs and I have to go help her”. She said that she may come back after the Chinese New Year. She refused to take her wages for the remainder of the month and so I just assumed that she’d be back at some stage. At the time I hadn’t truly integrated that “Much of the non-confrontational code rests on the word ‘Maybe’. The word is seemingly never used to actually indicate that some-thing may or may not happen – instead it’s a massive red flag that something isn’t right.”  (Zach Etkind) And so, well, she didn’t come back.

You might have thought that having lived in China for a nearly 2 years that I would have mastered the art of implicit communication – but I haven’t. Whilst it’s a nice idea to avoid confrontation, I really do appreciate definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’.


Shanghighs‘: A visit from my cousins step-son and his lovely wife.

Shanglows‘: um, pollution…… A visit to the French Consulate (I’ll keep this for a future post!)



Shangunusuals‘:My new ayi announced that she “had to go home to help her sick mother-in-law’. Thinking that I’d mastered the art of implicit communication, I resigned myself to the fact that she wouldn’t be back….but she did come back after a week or so. Oh so confusing!

A 7-storey moving staircase opened last month in the New World Daimaru Department (so my relatives informed me)

Designers said they initially had problems with the technicalities as circular designs are “impractical”which makes you ask….WHY do it?

“Once you’re sick of riding the state of the art escalators, hop on one of the lifts (with buttons that look like jewels) and head towards the top of the building, with a retractable roof that can open up to let in sunshine during days with fine weather.” (TimeOutShanghai)





Back from Guilin

Guilin is a 2-hour flight south-west of Shanghai. We decided to spend the long week-end there – for the national Tomb Sweeping (Qingming) holiday of China which coincided with Easter this year.  We didn’t actually stay right in Guilin but in Yangshuo which is about a one hour drive south of Guilin.

DSC_0480We arrived at our little country hotel in the night and when my daughter stepped out onto the balcony the next morning and exclaimed ‘The air is touching me like silk’ we knew we were going to have a nice time away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai……..

But with a population of 1 372 583 323 – and counting – beautiful locations in China can get a little busy (especially on a long weekend) and the rapid ‘progress’ often leaves me wondering how much more beautiful many of these sites would have been a mere 30 years ago.



Fuli Bridge

With a little effort we were able to escape the crowds (especially along Lijiang River) and endless construction sites. On one of the days we rode bikes for 4 hours to visit Fuli Bridge which was built over 1000 years ago. At one point we had to take a bamboo raft across the river and were relieved to get to the other side as we saw a few bikes needing to be fished out of the water.



A family of water buffalo crossing the river

Another day we took a pretty strenuous (especially for 5-year-old legs) hike in the mountains and actually saw people sweeping tombs: The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for people to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs, offer food and……let off a whole bunch of ear-bursting fire crackers.








It was interesting to witness the tradition, but we could have done without the firecrackers whose sound resonated in the mountains and was much less enjoyable than the magnificent bird song.


These tombs were dotted all over the countryside


The ground littered with firecracker remnants.


A rare and beautiful sight, a traditional building.












In the countryside some traditions remain such as posting pictures of warriors on the front door to protect the home.


Citrus trees were everywhere in the valleys  and the scent of orange blossom filled the air.




The local kumquats were the most delicious I’ve ever tasted in my life.


Bitter melon (balsam pears) stuffed with pork. The fish in the region were particularly delicious especially the famous ‘beer fish’ (which I ate before I had a chance to take a photo)










As with practically all Chinese domestic airline travel, our flights were delayed. The usual reason was offered ‘air traffic congestion’ which is not surprising when only 20% of air space is open to civil aviation and so instead of pilots adjusting their flight paths to avoid bad weather/turbulence, they simply remain on the tarmac whilst passengers eat instant noodles in the waiting area and the flight delays get longer and longer.

Our children were lucky to have an Easter egg hunt at all on the Monday morning because the usual shops for western goods (Marks and Spencer, Carrefour, on-line grocery store, local bakeries) had all sold-out of chocolate eggs and I had quite a hunt myself in order to find some.


In my last post (‘What’s in a name?’) I mentioned that many Chinese believe that the year in which they are born can influence their ‘fortune’. Below are some other common superstitions that are still followed today (more-or-less)  – Note: extracts from yoyo.chinese.com

  • “An aversion to Used or Second-hand Things – In a fast moving economy you’d think there’d be a big market for second-hand goods. However, there’s a superstitious aversion to second-hand or used products”

“Part of it comes from the classic “face” construct, wherein one’s reputation takes a hit if it becomes known that they’re using second hand products.”

“Another part of it is that many believe while being in possession of a secondhand item, they’ll inherit whatever bad luck or misfortune of the item’s previous owner.”

It’s also possibly due – in part -to the fact that new stuff is relatively cheap here?

And then, as things tend to be made so poorly here (low price and quantity versus quality) I doubt much stuff would be capable of being used again. The other day I said to a friend ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ to which she replied ‘Buy Chinese, buy 3 times!’

  • “Aversion to the Number 4 and Affinity For the Number 8” –

“It’s commonly known that the word for the number 4, or “sì (四)”, sounds a lot like the word for death “sǐ (死)”, and thus is considered highly unlucky. A study even proved that in North American communities with large numbers of Chinese immigrants, addresses ending in a 4 sold for 2.2% less than average.”

“Addresses ending in an 8, on the other hand, sold for 2.5% more than average. The reasoning here is that “bā (八)” sounds a bit like “fā (发)”, a shortened version of “fā cái (发财)”, or “to get rich,””

  • “”yuè zi (月子)” a month-long period of confinement for mothers after a child is born. Mothers are not permitted to leave the house for the month, and are prescribed strict treatments of traditional medicines and diets and are discouraged from showering for an entire month.”
  • “chī nǎ bú nǎ.” It means whatever body part of an animal you eat, that part of your body will reap its benefits. For example, if you eat fish eyes, your eyesight will improve.” Speaking of which, my husband and I were quite surprised (and a little repulsed) when both of our kids picked out the fish eyes with their chopsticks one day and popped them in their mouths.
  • Avoiding cold drinks and food – I’m not sure if this would be considered a superstition or not, but most people prefer cooked meals (including a warm breakfast) and drink their beverages at room temperature whether it be tea ….or beer.

Shanghighs‘ (literally): 29 degrees celsius today

Shanglows‘: 11 degrees celsius forecast for next Tuesday.

IMG_5835Shangunusuals‘: a year ago I posted a picture of this art installation by the Huangpu River – which is now a a big tangle of ropes… and lots of fun to ‘hang’ around. I also posted a photo of a lion dance (which frightened my son) at the children’s school last year. Well this year he bravely ‘slayed’ the beast – perhaps the knight costume gave him courage?