This isn’t going to be one of those columns. You know… the serious ones that deal with big issues. This is just going to be me and you talking. About anything that comes to mind. You see after almost 15 years of living and working in Shanghai, the economic hub of China, I’m back home in Jamaica. And trust me, it looks a whole lot different. I’m now in the process of learning about my country all over again.
Here’s an example.
When I left, “wrong up” was still (at least in my mind) a cool way to describe something that had gone horribly wrong. When I used it the other day, my teenaged niece was thoroughly amused. And she quickly pointed out that no, she would not be using the phrase… ever… So, lesson one: as a communications professional and aspiring cool auntie, I need to get up to speed on the local lingo.
While I’ve been away, I’ve held onto more than just outdated phrases. I’ve also been clinging to this image of my country, and now that I’m back I’m reminded every day that today’s Jamaica is very different from what it was in 2005. Everywhere I went in the world over the past decade-and-a-half I would boast to anyone who would listen (usually after receiving poor service) that Jamaica (at least Montego Bay) has excellent customer service because we are so reliant on the tourist industry.
Like any other country, you will find pockets of excellence but you will also find people who should, at all costs, be kept far away from customers.
Over the years I would also agree (with a self-indulgent smile and a yearning for a day at the beach) with anyone who suggested that the pace here is a lot more relaxed than Shanghai, which is a bit like New York on performance-enhancing drugs. But the snail’s pace with which almost everything seems to happen here doesn’t seem quite so quaint when I’m trying to get things done. I have found, for example, that making an appointment in Jamaica is a bit like signing a contract in China: it’s just a suggestion, a guideline, not to be taken too seriously. The most important thing is your relationship with the person on the other side of the transaction.
But overall, I’m absolutely thrilled to be home. It’s the little things… like running into a high school classmate while going through customs at the airport, who greets me by name then explains the process I need to follow as a returning resident (the info online was outdated). It’s reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen for years and picking up right where we left off. It’s the excellent service provided by the security guard at the Registrar General’s Department when I went to update my birth certificate, the professionalism with which the frontline staff at the tax office guided me through renewing my driver’s license, a just-met neighbor who lent me her garden hose because mine is too short. I could go on. And I will… just watch this space.
It’s been both a challenge and a blessing being back home after so long, and I hope these weekly columns where I vent about the former and rave about the latter will be a good way to help me hold onto the last shreds of my sanity. Hopefully, they will also provide information you can use and, at the very least, be mildly entertaining.
Talk more next week.
I’m a marketing and communications professional with almost a decade in journalism. After more than 14 years living and working in China, I happily came home to Jamaica in summer 2019. In this weekly column I share snippets of what it’s like seeing Jamaica — and sometimes the rest of the world — through my eyes.
By Charmaine N. Clarke