The Chinese love their sayings. This one is probably my favorite: 计划赶不上变化 (Ji4 Hua4 Gan3 Bu2 Shang4 Bian4 Hua4).
It means, more or less, that the plans can’t keep up with the changes.
And so it goes in China.
People are always talking about how when you live in China you need to have a lot of patience – patience with adapting to the lifestyle, patience with the language, and patience with finding work. This is all certainly true. But you should also be prepared for something known as Nowism.
“Patience” brings to mind an image of someone waiting with twiddling thumbs, things taking a long time, of general slowness. But patience also means tolerance. It means bearing annoyance. It means carrying yourself with fortitude and calm when faced with situations that may seem completely and utterly crazy to you.
Be prepared for what will inevitably ensue after you’ve been very patient, and then something – related to a job, housing, new friends, anything – happens. More often than not, things happen really fast. Something you definitely should have been informed about in advance (i.e. That you are fired (“Oh, I thought someone told you…”), or that you have a six week vacation starting today, or that you have to sing a song for the entire school via the school broadcasting system) is happening, like, right now. (Above examples all true).
You will wait and wait for a job offer, and suddenly you get a call. Can you be at our office for an interview in an hour? Can you start the job tomorrow?
Oh you can tutor my daughter Cherry? Can you come meet us now?
Headed to tutor little Bobby? Don’t be surprised when you get a text when you are 10 minutes away saying “Sorry. Bobby has piano today. No class. Have a rest.”
It’s Sunday and you have a day off. You aren’t looking at your phone. In the evening you see 29 missed calls from Bobby’s mother. She thought you were coming to tutor even though you never made a plan. She just figured she would tell you…now.
In China, the concept of “plans” is often vague. A close Chinese friend in Shenzhen used to laugh and mock my need for “a plan.” I tried to explain that it was just hard because I wanted to spend time with my Chinese friends, but it seemed that every time they asked to do something, it was 20 minutes before they wanted to meet. I usually already had plans.
So be it. Be prepared for things to happen suddenly. Be prepared to cancel plans with foreign friends to branch out and meet more Chinese people. Be flexible. Say yes more than you say no. When you become better friends with people, maybe you can introduce the concept of “a plan”. See how it goes. In any case, you can always impress Chinese people by just laughing and reciting the phrase that pretty much sums up life in China: 计划赶不上变化.