Soothe your ‘laowai rage’ at your local China post office

By John Harold Armstrong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/20 18:38:39

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

At semi-frequent intervals in the local press there are appearances of positive stories involving foreigners being rewarded for their contributions to the their adopted city. Almost every edition of a weekly broadsheet or monthly glossy contains at least one photo and accompanying profile of an expat being presented with a Magnolia Lifetime Achievement Award, a citation from some level of government, or a spanking new certificate of permanent residence in return for meeting the required obligations.

These are tremendous personal achievements that the recipients should be justifiably proud of, but I suspect that few people outside of China pay much attention to such news. They do not tend to go viral in the same way that an impromptu subway banquet or a mass arrest for public indecency seem to do.

Let's face it: everyone loves a story about a laowai gone mad cow, and increasingly there is no shortage of foreign residents happy to oblige. In expat circles the phenomenon even takes on the sobriquet "laowai rage" as a companion to road rage or air rage, as witnessed in busy airport terminals across China.

Perhaps because we are more tuned in to the feelings of other foreigners in Shanghai, or perhaps because we know each other's cultural ticks, most expatriate residents can recognize the warning signs and spot an intense episode of this phenomenon well in advance of the actual explosion even if they don't know it yet.

A great many of Shanghai's long-term foreign residents are highly successful in the chosen career field. Any admission that they have failed to culturally integrate, failed to learn the language or failed to master their environment may be seen as tantamount to a personal failure.

Often, the refuge from these feelings lies in alcohol abuse; this is why expat bars in Shanghai do big business. In the absence of accurate medical statistics it's impossible to make a quantitative judgment, however every single healthcare professional that I've spoken with in Shanghai who deals with the foreign community is convinced that the rates of depression and alcohol dependency are far higher here than in their home countries.

Besides a loving and supportive partner, a healthy work-life balance and a fundamental knowledge of Chinese, what is the best antidote to the stresses of life in modern Shanghai and a hedge against the dreaded laowai rage?

I myself prefer to unwind not at a bar or park but at my local China post office. It's a new twist on the old "going postal" expression. My post office is always an oasis of calm in the eye of a frantic storm of commerce. Nobody coming or going from this post office is ever in a bad mood. People may be in a hurry, but they have a confidence that comes only from dealing with a fair and efficient bureaucratic system where catching a train or dealing with large sums of money are never on the table.

My local branch is a shopworn and rumpled office in an unfashionable but convenient part of town. It is usually full of people paying gas bills, thumbing through stacks of envelopes and cheerfully perusing the latest collectable stamps behind the glass counter. The office is overseen by a middle-aged man who is unusually tall and broad-shouldered.

In between greeting familiar customers and dispatching deliveryboys' with parcels, he runs a hand over his gleaming, freshly shaved pate and shifts to adjust his mint-green shirt and tie to ensure they are straight and wrinkle-free. He is a no-nonsense gentleman who runs his shop efficiently with a glance here, a word there and a general demeanor that ensures no disruption will be tolerated.

Unlike China's hospitality industry, where the spending power of expats is a welcome and usually necessary addition to the business environment, China Post is pleasantly free of obsequious behavior toward temporary residents.

In this world of dusty packages thumping on desk, the cheerful opening of arriving parcels, the scent of ink and glue and the subdued hum of shuffling papers, my dragon-phoenix stamp is as valuable as anyone else's and protests at the cavalier treatment of my Taobao purchases are drowned out by the anticipatory babble of customers receiving their long-awaited packages from parts unknown.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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