Mantrums in China

Sometimes I really don’t get this place. I’ve seen a foreigner’s snide remark result in him getting hospitalized by a group of Chinese guys, and the nastiest fights I’ve witnessed here have been over the most trivial shit, like who would get a taxi, a fender bender that didn’t even result in a scuff, or an extra item on a restaurant bill that couldn’t possibly have been more than 40RMB (about 5 dollars). Taking these into account, you’d think wiping a counter clean in a bank and Shouting in Mandarin would’ve left me unable to write this.

Let me preface this by saying I’m not usually a dick, I’d just had a really rough week. I guess I should also add that the majority of my mantrums have taken place in banks while trying to change money, so maybe I need to reevaluate the way I do my finances. After waiting over 30 minutes to change money for an early morning flight back to America the next day, sitting in that lobby past 5 o’clock when financial institutions close and any chance of going somewhere else had expired, I was informed that foreigners couldn’t change RMB to a foreign currency anymore. I tried to reason with them, explaining the urgency, telling them how I’d done it before at this exact bank, and offering my passport to show them my residency permit in order to prove that I was legally employed. I’d even told the customer service girl what I’d wanted to do when I’d arrived in order to register into the correct que, but apparently that had been completely ignored. None of it mattered; foreigners could no longer change RMB to a foreign currency at this bank. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I lost my shit.

“Does anybody else here a white guy yelling?” Photo Credit:

To lose your cool or show anger, as well as throw a full-on mantrum, is one of most shameful ways you can conduct yourself in Chinese culture due to Confucian values, and well, I lost some face that evening. The people around me froze to watch, and the several security guards, each equipped with batons and mace, meandered my way hesitantly. Maybe I got lucky with the “foreigner card,” or maybe I was just angry enough and big enough to deter serious action, but instead of getting clubbed and pepper sprayed or having the police called on me, the middle aged bank manager calmly came up to me in the midst of verbally throwing down with the women behind the glass barrier, put his hand on my back, and said “calm down, Dad is going to help you.” Translated directly, that’s not actually as creepy as it sounds; Chinese people often refer to each other by age, calling each other big brother or little sister depending on who’s helping who, with children and young adults referring to their elders as uncle or auntie. I guess in this situation, I was the kid; I’d definitely been acting like one.

Same facial expression, and pants

Same facial expression, and pants

I sheepishly watched as Dad called over one of the secretaries and told her to change my money for me using her own ID, and within several minutes, I had the stack of US dollars that I’d come for. I of course had been apologizing the whole time, but my excuses and sorry’s weren’t necessary, the manager just waved them off and said it’s nothing, apologizing to me as well for the inconvenience. Modesty and deference, those are virtues here for the same reason flipping your shit in a bank is shameful, and this guy had just helped me despite how big of an asshole I’d been, even going so far as to break the rules of his job and the laws of his country. When I left, several of the onlookers and employees even smiled at me and waved goodbye, wishing me a good a day. Anywhere else… 3.5 years later and China still baffles me. I should’ve gotten my ass kicked.

One thought on “Mantrums in China

  1. Pingback: Moving Money out of China; the Legal, the Convenient, and the Shady | ESL Wanderlust

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