6 Years On, Still the Odd One Out
I've been living in China for 6 years, and although I have gotten to grips with many of the aspects of Chinese living - navigating my way across busy roads without being flattened by a flock of cyclists, chow-ing down on the vast variety of foods that may not be to my liking - but smiling and making yummy noises anyway, and, although I can't boast to be able to handle the effects of downing shots of China's favourite tipple, 'Baijiu', I have at least learned how to 'keep it down', as it were. But regardless of these many talents/survival techniques, I still find that I am an outsider. Not merely because I look different to a majority of society, but as I get older, my personal life is shining the spotlight on me as the odd one out.
Let me bring you up to speed. During my time in China, I have made the effort to immerse myself into Chinese culture. I have spent hours on end studying the language, I have replaced my western-style diet with Chinese foods and Chinese medicine, and I have a vast collection of close informative Chinese friends. But now I find that many of these friends have settled down and married, some have also had babies and are now basking in new lives of domesticity.
Of course, I am aware that at my age (I'm 30), most people back home in the UK are also thinking of settling down, if they haven't already. In some cases, a 30 year old may even be preparing for his/her second marriage. But at least if I were back home I might be able to find a collection of kindred spirits; that is, career girls who aren't ready for the whole settling down / making babies / moaning about the mortgage kit and caboodle. Here in China, however, hitting 30 without having set a wedding date is considered quite tragic.
Of course attitudes are slooooowly changing. I have a couple of Chinese girl friends who are yet to settle down. Although many of them are content with their lives the way they are, their more traditionally-minded families are at the helm of a vice-like pressure, squeezing them into sealing a deal with any man who ticks the right boxes ('suitable' husband material must have his own apartment, car, come from a respectable family, and earn more than his prospective wife), and thus thwart the increasing possibility of them becoming 'old maids'.
Whereas western women-folk may be able to avoid the likelihood of being tagged an 'old maid' so long as we're snapped up by 40, Chinese women aged 30 are already considered to be pushing it. Much like the term 'old maid', the Chinese have coined the phenomenon, "Sheng nv" - which literally means 'left-behind women'. The term has only become commonly known and popular in the past few years, seeing as in the past, an un-wed woman in her 30's was about as common as a two-headed dog.
As part of Chinese society, it's unsurprising that because of these attitudes, I am also exceedingly conscious of my own single status. I have, after all, spent the best part of my twenties 'growing up' in China, and in some aspects may even be considered quite 'Chinese-minded'. However, having seen the kind of pressures from their families, friends, as well as the rest of society when it comes to finding 'love', I count my blessings that I belong to a country where choosing a fulfilling career over a balding middle-aged husband is quite acceptable, and to a certain degree, even applauded.