3 Months in China… What I Miss and and What I Don’t
(Written by Nick 5/23/2011)
As expected, my first three months in China have flown by. It is a bit strange that a quarter of my trip is over and although it seems to have gone by very quickly, I am completely settled in and comfortable living in this foreign country. It was not a particularly hard adjustment, most likely because I was ready and braced myself for the change.
China is a vastly different place than America. One of the many remarks I received before beginning my journey was that China will “Teach me to love America”. This has proved to be a very true statement, but not in the way I originally understood it. In many ways, my way of living is very similar, if not better than it was back home. I am saving more money working similar hours as before but at a much more engaging and amusing job. I eat at nicer restaurants more often, shop more often, take taxi’s everywhere, and can pretty much enjoy the same luxuries as I did back home. With that being said, no matter the amount of money I am making or how many luxuries I surround myself with, I am living in a still developing communist country. There are many things I took for granted at home that I cannot have here, and cannot wait to get back to. Here is a summary of what I miss and what I don’t miss from back home.
What I Miss
Silence – There is never a quiet moment in China. This is a commonly made statement but it is very true. First, this entire country is constantly under construction. No matter which park, tomb, or temple you are in, or how desolate the location, if you are anywhere near an urban area there is always the soft echoing of power-saws or jackhammers in the distance. The only time when the construction is not audible is when the horns and hums from vehicles are drowning it out. People use car horns here as more of a signal than anything else. If you brake… you honk. If you turn… you honk. If you are going through a yellow light… you honk. If you are bored… you honk. If you are driving… YOU HONK. It is really obnoxious but necessary with the way people drive here. I rarely, if ever, have a moment of true silence so my I-Pod comes in handy quite a bit. I do miss the much more welcoming sounds of nature, lawn-mowers, and children playing outside that I had unknowingly come so used to in the States.
Being able to communicate and read – This is a given. I have been taking Chinese lessons and my ability to communicate is slowly growing. I can get around in a taxi fine, order at a restaurant, and bargain prices for things when shopping. Other than that, I am still pretty helpless when it comes to basic conversation. It is hard because I can’t learn as much about the people and the culture when I can’t hold a dialogue. Also, communicating with my children at school is tough sometimes.
Reading is another one… I am here too short of a time to sufficiently learn how to read. This is more annoying than anything, not being able to tell the name of the restaurant I am in and not being able to read menus. Also, looking at a street full of storefronts, I can’t tell what the stores are without doing some serious window shopping.
A fast internet connection – China’s lack of sufficient internet is unbelievable. China’s average connection speed is less than half of average standard of the entire world. It definitely has the worst internet connection I have ever experienced, far worst than my experiences in Israel, Belize, or even the Greek islands. On top of this, unless you have a way to bypass “the great firewall of China” you cannot access G-Mail, Facebook, or YouTube. To some this may sound elementary, but it is comforts like these that cure homesickness in times of need.
Grass and Trees – As I look out the window of my classroom now, I can see a beautiful landscape and nice grassy areas. The only problem is, most of the nice areas in the city are small designated parks, or rich, upscale apartment complexes (where I am now). Naturally green areas are few and far between. I miss being able to go to Metroparks and I miss thick forests. Shenyang is even considered a somewhat “green” city, so there are more parks and plants here than elsewhere in urban China, but it still seems somewhat artificial and forced… it seems very “China”. (There are even weird IV bags hooked up to some trees to feed them nutrients)
Cleanliness – This is another given. If you can’t deal with just plain dirtiness, than do not come to China. People smell, places smell, and people spit, sneeze, cough, and grunt with no consideration of how close to their face you may be standing. Bathing is viewed as more of a once a week activity, not a once a day activity. Also, it is nearly impossible to buy deodorant in this country. Add those two facts together and you get some smelly people. It is not “body-odor” as we are used to, just a sort of all encompassing smell of China. Sort of like a musty old attic mixed with low quality Chinese takeout. Either way, it does not smell good at all. A good sewage system is something else we take for granted. I won’t go into the bathroom etiquette here but it is widely accepted for kids to go to the bathroom anywhere and anytime. Also, bathrooms always have a rather disturbing scent, mostly due to strange scents coming up through the pipes. This happens fairly often in my apartment and is unbearable at times. I will never ever think a public bathroom in the states is gross. Even a port-a-potty at Geauga Lake or the troths at the Brown’s stadium are nothing compared to what I have to deal with.
Lines – I never thought I would miss standing in line. But when having to battle a crowd of rude, usually smelly, Chinese people for simple things like getting on a bus, you will quickly realize the luxury of order that lines create. I believe that China will never truly be the super power it so desires unless there is a mass “politeness, hygiene, and line forming” campaign. People are absolutely retarded with this sometimes. The train station is a prime example. When taking a fast train to Beijing, 99% of the people on the train have tickets with assigned seats. The beauty of assigned seats is that no matter who gets to your seat first, it is still your seat. Here, before the gate to the train terminal is open, there is a crowd of pushing people, usually with taped up cardboard boxes that they packed in, literally just shoving the person in front of them. Once the gate opens, it is a pure free-for-all for the train. People running, spitting, tripping, smoking, screaming, burping and jumping all the way to the train cars. Once they are inside the train, they will then push and shove their way to their assigned seat. This has even happened to me at airports and on planes. I was putting my carry on in the overhead container and this old chinese man was just sitting there with both hands on my back pushing me. Ridiculous.
Live Music – Ahh, I just miss it. The music scene in China is leagues behind that of the States and Europe. Due to the lack of creativity and style, plus mass government censorship, the only half way decent music scenes are in the 1st tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai) and even so, it is nothing like a major city in the states. Weak!
Family and Friends – Of course I miss all of you. It will be epic being back and seeing everyone again!!
What I Don’t Miss
Food – Ok, of course I get my cravings. I miss cheese and bread the most. Other than that, I eat absolutely amazing food here on a daily basis. From the fresh produce, to the bbq street meat, I definitely have no complaints when it comes to the cuisine.
Television – I don’t miss watching TV. I still watch my share of movies and the ridiculousness on American television is something that is nice to do without. I have a few friends that have American channels, and just watching commercials again makes me realize how addicting and useless watching TV is. The Real Housewives of whatever county and the abundance of cooking (and eating) shows is almost embarrassing when watching them from an outside perspective.
Driving – It is nice to get driven everywhere for such a small fee. Taxi’s and buses are convenient and dirt cheap. A bus fare is $.15 and the FARTHEST taxi ride I would take would be around $3.00. I take a taxi to and from work everyday and ride the buses whenever possible. Having a car is nice, but it does add stress to your life, so a year without a car is a nice break.
Corporate lifestyle – As I mentioned before, I still work a 9-5 but my working life now is vastly different than my 2 years in the professional world back home. I never, ever sit at a desk, get to be outside a ton, rarely use a computer, and the only cube I ever talk about is when I am helping kids build houses in the “block area”. Opening a school has been a great experience overall. I have seen first hand all of the ups and downs of starting a business in China, I have learned to work with and teach children, and have a great group of Chinese co-workers. Add all of this to the great pay and benefits and it will be hard for me to ever go back to 9 hours of desk work a day.
The Dollar – A Chinese Yuan goes a long way. Making 10,000 of them a month to play with children all day is almost laughable. I do not miss having to worry about filling up my car with gas, paying bills, basically the everyday stresses that the bank account balance brings. This is a freedom that I will enjoy as much as possible because I know, no matter what, this will not last forever.
Forks and knives – chopsticks are what’s up! And yes, we are very good at them now.
The Cops – I really don’t like to generalize, but I am not a fan of police officers in the States. They usually are power-high, obnoxious individuals and constantly plant fear in those around them. The cops in China are great! They walk in formation, don’t mess with anyone, and are mostly there for show. They are either directing traffic, or just standing somewhere. China’s harsh punishments do the brunt of the work, just by scaring people not to break the law.
Waiting for Servers – Yes, in China, you just scream “Waiter” when you need something. The word is Fuwu Yuan, which sounds like “Foo Yan”. This is an amazing part of eating out… especially in loud really, busy restaurants. It adds excitement and a genuineness to a dining experience that is unmatched. Remind me not to do that when I get back. Also, getting to scream at waiters AND not leave a tip… priceless.
Being part of the majority – Just being a “foreigner”, I definitely get noticed more and for the most part, get treated better than a local person. For instance, on the train yesterday I couldn’t find my ticket and the ticket checker just gave up and moved on. This would not have happened if I was Chinese. Also, we get great service at every restaurant and are quickly greeted for every shopping experience. Plus, just cause I am white, I get paid about 8 times more than my Chinese counterparts. It doesn’t make sense, but I am not complaining.