The U.S. is injecting a good $1.25 million into a new “virtual training ground” for American diplomats who plan on working in China called “The Second China Project.” It's a pretend city in Linden Lab's Second Life that purportedly will help almost-expatriots get used to the environment in the world's most populous nation. While some of the training activities sound useful (for instance, what to give as a gift, how to seat guests), as someone who's lived in this country for years, I can tell you there are things that diplomats should get ready for that the virtual world doesn't even seem to touch on.
• Bargaining. And remember, this is for almost everything, lest you continue the very prevalent racial stereotype that laowai (directly translated: old outsiders) are here primarily to get fleeced. If you're planning on interacting with Chinese people at all, get used to that and the feeling that you got fleeced anyway, no matter how hard a bargain you drove. I recommend trying your hand at the return counter of failing retailers to get an accurate simulation of what you'll be doing in China.
• Censorship. You're not going to be able to surf the web the way you want to surf the web. Though there now is a Firefox plugin that'll help you deal with that. You too can now feel the power of the Great Firewall and wonder things like “Okay, what did the BBC say to anger the CCP this time around?”
•The Air Quality. You've probably heard that story about former President Ronald Reagan, where after he recovered from that assassination attempt and was released from the hospital, he remarked that he wanted to go back to L.A., where he could “see the air [he's] breathing?” If he was talking about Beijing, it would be more like “feel the air I'm breathing tearing up my nose like I just snorted a factory's worth of particulate matter.” No, it's not as catchy. Yeah, it's about as true. In fact, it's so true that I'm going to tell you not to get used to the air quality here—it's not worth the cancer. When you get to your destination in China, get any number of these air purifiers ASAP. (Flickr Credit: Kevin Dooley)
• The Sea of People. Remember how the Bird's Nest stadium seated something like 90,000 people during the Olympics Opening Ceremony and you maybe thought something like “Haha, that's more than the populations of some countries!”? China's full of statistics like that that you'll encounter first hand. For instance, did you know that the Shanghai subway transports more than the entire population of San Francisco every morning during rush hour? Crazy, right? That's China! Luckily, Black Friday is coming up, and being in a Best Buy that morning will give you a feel for being one in a crowd of millions. (Flickr credit: Marc van der Chijs)
• Sad Cellular Options. While jailbroken iPhones are all the rage here in China, we probably won't be seeing the iPhone 3G anytime soon, thanks to China Mobile's desire for full control and the country's lack of a real 3G network. In fact, compared to our East Asian neighbors, we have the most terrible choice of cellphones ever. China seems more willing to focus on churning out iPhone fakes and gimmicks (like this hilarious but useless spaceship cellphone) than developing its own useful, well-designed tech. Oh well, at least the PRC's got an incredibly extensive network – I can use my mobile in subways and in the mountains without ever having to ask “Can you hear me now?”
• Dealing With Rabid Nationalists Raised On The Propaganda Machine. One of the most important things to learn (especially as a diplomat) will be how to smile, nod politely, and present actual facts without being insulting when you're confronted with a Chinese person with a really, really distorted world view. Try to remember that they live in a world where information is one-sided and tightly controlled, the internet police is active on every student message board and the nationalism scapegoat is constantly used. To tell the truth, with all the telecom spying and appeals to voting like a "real American," we're perhaps not too far off from that world ourselves. [University of Florida via Dvice]