Friday, May 18, 2012

Haiku for the week

Guests begin to stink
(Like fish, the Italians say);
Hosts turn unfriendly.

This is a proverb I always take care to remind myself of when setting off on an extended jaunt 'back home', knowing that I am going to be dependent on the hospitality of friends for extended periods. I think the Italian wisdom suggests that three days is the limit of tolerability, which is a harsh rule indeed. But I try not to stick around for more than 4 or 5 days at a time if I'm under people's feet, perhaps a week or so if they're out of the house most of the time.

It is starting to seem as though there is a similar principle which applies at the national level - at least here in China. So many of us foreigners who've been here 5 or 8 or 10 years, or even longer (and, in many cases, had thought we might settle here for life - though I was never one of those), have been driven to leave in the past year or two... because the things about this country that most provoke our rage and disgust and despair are actually getting worse rather than better as the years go by. Even the most Sinophile of expats are reaching their breaking point and giving up on the place. Most of my longest-standing friends here have gone already; most of the rest are talking about leaving in the next year or so.

And now the government is going through one of its periodic spells of actively seeking to hound us out of the country: making us liable to swingeing 'social security' contributions, making it ever harder to obtain visas, even instituting a concerted policy of petty harassment against us by the police (though this is only here in the capital so far).

On top of all that, we get this idiot stoking up the always-simmering-below-the-surface xenophobia of the great Chinese public. It was IMPOSSIBLE for a foreigner to get a taxi this morning (one of the four drivers who refused me a ride made a pretty fair go of attempting to run me down).

Oh, and we get the first foreign journalist to be expelled from the country in 13-and-a-half years (one of the brightest and best, too).

And obscene sabre-rattling towards the Filipinos....

I wouldn't count on Chen Guangcheng getting his 'promised' permission to leave the country any time soon, either. [Ah, well, at least I was being unduly pessimistic about one thing. I hadn't been following the news on Chen over the previous couple of days, but he and his family arrived in New York less than 48 hours after I wrote this. An isolated piece of good news in a dismal month for China.]

Yes, it's a good time for foreigners to quit the country. This place is going to hell in a handbasket.

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