Tag Archives: society

Rediscovering Germany

Disclaimer: This is a post I wrote about my last return to Germany, almost one year ago. I finally decided to post it, despite its rather negative tone. 

Selective memory is a dangerous thing, isn’t it? Having left my native country Germany nine years ago, and not having had spent a longer amount of time there in almost three years, I had myself convinced that it would be a great idea to move back “home” in the near future.
Yes, I had read all the reports about problems with both right wing radicals and supposed migrants and soaked in the fear mongering, always telling myself it’s the media, no point in taking it seriously.
But take it seriously I probably should have. That is the conclusion I have drawn from my latest visit to the Land of Pretzels, Cars and Kebabs. The day of my arrival, fresh off the airplane, resembled a bucket of ice water being tipped over my head; and not in a “I’m helping raise awareness” kind of way.

In just a short trip that took me through three cities to my final destination, I witnessed fights, altercations or a feeling of being under threat – sometimes all three at once.

Encounters in the Public Space

First off a shouting match between what from their appearance can only be described as probable PEGIDA marchers and the poor conductor, who had pointed out that smoking was not allowed on the platform. In response, a veritable thunderstorm of foul language was unleashed with the conclusion that these specimens announced they could do “whatever the heck they want” to put it mildly. This, so I have been told by a number of old friends during my stay, has become Germany’s new normal. Returning from China in the past usually meant a relaxing and pleasurable experience, with people being rather polite and considerate of others in the public space. It seems incidents such as the above are now not uncommon as the behavior towards other people has changed for the worse.

Cologne New Years’ Aftermath

Next stop Cologne. One hardly has to repeat the events of New Years 2016 that have made the city’s main station infamous. The after effects though are as tangible as they could ever be. There was police everywhere on the premises; you could have cut the tension with a knife. After I asked one lovely policeman for directions to my following destination, he immediately warned me to be on my guard since “there are a lot of thieves especially in the station, and a bag such as yours is particularly easy to grab.”

So I found myself skulking up and down Cologne train station feeling doubly exposed not only due to the easy-to-steal handbag but with a massive and glowing red suitcase that screamed tourist at anyone in a 100m radius. The black one then, next time.

Beggars, Junkies, Alcoholics 

Upon arrival in Bonn, I was about to attempt to purchase an underground ticket, an unnecessarily complex process in the former capital, when something moved at my right elbow. Not registering what was about to happen, I turned to the young man with snake tattoos on his arm and a shaved head with a quizzical look on my face about to ask for help. Now, I cannot say for sure whether this was actually a junky, though he definitely would have fit the description. What surprised me about myself is that such people begging for money was completely normal even when I was growing up in Germany. This is also why train station toilets have blue lights, so said junkies can’t find their veins and shoot up in there; a fact of which I was painfully reminded when I set foot in the local “blue loo”.

At the sight of this stranger however, I was totally thrown. He did then very kindly help me out, but within seconds station security walked up to tell him to stop “harassing” me. He did ask for some money to buy a slice of pizza, even suggesting I can come with him to check he is truly buying food not alcohol. I gave him some change and sent him on his way, musing about how hard it is to fight stereotypical thoughts from entering your mind.

The grand finale to my disconcerting welcome in Germany was the last trip of the day on the underground, where a man in his fifties was barely able to remain slouched upon the platform seating with once again six police men and women gathered around him. Clearly drunk out of his mind, upon being told to get up and leave the station, the man stumbled around so violently he almost ended up on the tracks. After putting on a pair of gloves, one of the police men gingerly tried to lift and steer him, an attempt that desperately failed.

Alcoholism in China

Again, this is not in itself a terribly uncommon sight; especially at German cities’ main stations. But for some reason, it is rare to see a run-down alcoholic on his own in such a state in China. The inebriated might violently stumble around but there will always be friends to support them and get them home – since drinking is such a sociable activity. Generally speaking, it is rare to see an alcoholic homeless man out in the open. Beggars, yes. But these people, most Chinese I spoke to have claimed, are often part of an intricate network, trying to make money, in many cases playing emotional music as they drag themselves through underground carriages trying to look as desperate as possible (which to be honest they often truly are). Alcoholics, on the other hand, often hide in their own homes and are socially sanctioned through a traditional drinking culture closely tied to doing business.

In the end, this was not at all the welcome back I had expected. And it was just the beginning of a row of discussions and revelations in relation to safety, society and employment in Germany, that have given me a lot to think about.

PhD after 25 equals no husband or family? Marriage pressure on Chinese women

Laura. I’m a graduated student. 25years old. I wanna go to Canada get a PhD. But my parents worries about my age. They think I’m too old when I’m finished my PhD degree. Coz I don’t have a boyfriend n 30 is a little bit old for a female to have child. So what should I do?

Intercultural relationships

This was a question I received on my WeChat account the other day and it made me incredibly sad because it points the things about Chinese culture I struggle with the most – the terrible sexism and pressure on young Chinese women in relation to marriage and family.

This message could have been written by any number of my Chinese friends I know from uni, many of whom are still single but all of them face the incomprehension and mighty pressure from their parents’ generation. The belief that if you are not married at 25 as a woman in China you will not find a husband is still incredibly common, so much so that the media has popularized the disgusting term “leftover women”. The men also face pressure but less so.

Many women who struggle to find partners are highly educated and successful because Chinese men tend to marry down, looking for women who earn less and have lower degrees than them. So, to this young woman, deciding to do a PhD at 25 might well be saying good-bye to her prospects of finding a “good” husband. Staying single though means failing at life in China.

The pressure is so much that many women do not want to go home during Chinese New Year because they will face endless badgering about when they will finally get married. This has even led to the emergence of a new market, the “fake boyfriend market”, where young students will rent themselves out to pretend to be a boyfriend in front of the parents to appease them.

In the past, the dating window in which to find your partner was worryingly small. Of course you were not allowed to date in high-school. University was, and for a dwindling number, still is the time for Chinese youngsters to experience their first romance. Leaving women with about five years to find a partner.

However, many couples break up after graduating university; being from different hometowns they often return to their families and their relationship cannot survive. The phenomenon is so common it even has its own term “毕业分手“, the “graduation break-up”. This leaves most women with about a two to three year-window to find the right guy. And you thought you had it tough, ey?

Despite all the negativity, I chose to see the big strides China’s women are making. Here is my response to the young woman.

Hello dear Li!

Thank you for sending me your question. I felt very emotional reading your words, since after almost two years in China, I finally understand the pressure young Chinese girls are under and it breaks my heart.

I personally think if you want to do a PhD you should DEFINITELY do it. Do not have any regrets in your life when you are old. I am certain you will find your right partner, who knows you might meet him in Canada. If you go abroad you will certainly have more time to look for someone because there is no concept of 剩女. Age matters much less, and there is no idea that you are ever really too old to get married.

In most Western societies it is very common for people to get married after they are thirty years old and many have children in their thirties. My mother had me, her only child, when she was 36. Now that medicine has progressed, that is a very common age abroad to have a child. There is a lot less pressure to get married compared to China, if you do not get married or have children that does not mean your life has failed. You can do amazing things with your life, such as have a great and successful career. Your PhD is another step on the road to a bright and independent future.

Even if you stay in China you cannot be sure you will meet a good guy to marry, so it is smarter to invest as much as you can in your own future, and a PhD will help you achieve your own success.

In terms of your parents, I think you can help them worry less by telling them this: even in China the age to get married is slowly increasing. Especially in bigger cities. I have many friends who are your age and older and are not married. One of my friends works in Shanghai and many of her colleagues are over 30 years and still single. I think your situation is very common in today’s China. Your generation has dreams they want to pursue and it is becoming quite common to focus on career but the older generation is not able to understand that times have changed.

Aside from telling your parents that they don’t need to worry because abroad you have more time and because even here in China it is now common to wait, maybe try to explain what could happen if you do not wait. You might just marry some boy you know very little just to please them, and then you might divorce because you find out you are not a good match. I am sure your parents are concerned about your happiness, so hopefully they will take this to heart.

Finally, you can promise that you will attend some events abroad that can help you find a partner, there are many societies at university where you can meet people and with a bit of luck you will meet the right one.

I hope this helps and I sincerely wish that you can fulfil your dream of a PhD in Canada. I wish you all the luck in the world!


Follow my official WeChat account for shortened versions of my blog posts and Q&A’s at “lauranews”.