Last week I wrote 10 things I’ll miss about living in China, so to keep it balanced I figured I should also talk about things I WON’T miss about living in China. This post could easily be renamed, “Things in China that drive Emily Absolutely Crazy,” but that’s mostly because it’s nearing the end of the school year and I’m ready to go home! Overall, Tommy and I agree that moving to China was 100% the right decision for us, and we’ve had an absolutely incredible year. So please, don’t take this post as me being a Negative Nigel (I really do enjoy China) – but do keep these less-than-awesome factors in mind in case you’re considering taking the leap yourself or are simply getting a little jealous after hearing about our 13-hour workweeks!
(P.S. As I mentioned in last week’s post, if day-to-day life in China posts are of interest to you, check out these older posts: food in China, housing & toilets, Christmas in small-town China, traditional street markets, and teaching English in China.)
1. Missing out on things back home.
Thanks to the magical powers of the internet, we can video chat, call, or text our friends as often as we want! We’re so thankful to have communication (literally) at our fingertips, but as awesome as this is, it just isn’t the same as physically being with family and friends. Being a 16+ hour plane ride away for the past 9 months means that we’ve missed out on lots of family events and hang-outs with friends. We love hearing about them and looking at photos, but we can’t wait to see everyone and make some memories in person this summer!
2. Squat toilets
OH my GOODNESS, how ready am I to be back in the land of Western toilets?!? I talked about the “special experience” of Chinese squat toilets in this post, so I won’t go into the nitty gritty details again. There was one thing I forgot to mention last time – most traditional Chinese bathrooms do NOT have soap, hot water, or paper towels. Yuckkkk. Carry hand sanitizer with you!!
I’ll talk specifically about the language barrier at the very end, but in terms of communication here I mean with people who speak English, namely, the Chinese English teachers at my school. This isn’t a language issue, but rather a cultural different. Chinese people are very direct about some things, but will beat around the bush forever about other things. For example, take this line of questions from my welcome party at the school: “How old are you. So young!! Are you married? Do you have children? Do you want children? Why not? Does your husband want children?” It’s not a big deal to talk about age, family status, and even salary. However, I spent over 2 months trying to get my school to buy me a moped. Each time I asked, they told me they would buy a scooter soon but that so-and-so was out of town and needed to approve it. Sometimes they would even give me specific dates, like “You can get a moped this Saturday.” Finally, after I told them I could not come to English club until I had a moped (due to scheduling conflicts that were difficult while sharing a scooter with Tommy), the school admitted that they were never going to buy me a moped because it was too expensive. It has been a lesson in cultural differences finding out what the Chinese are willing to openly discuss, and what they will give evasive answers for until you realize what’s happening. I completely understand that this is simply part of living in a different country, and that I would expect immigrants to America to adapt to social customs like this. With that said, I won’t miss trying to figure out straight answers to certain questions!
4. Old men spitting & young’uns pooping.
As you may have gathered from the toilet discussion, Chinese people have different ideas about hygiene. This extends to the streets. It’s super common for adults to hack up a huge, noisy loogie and project it anywhere on the streets or sidewalks with stunning arc. And remember how last week I talked about how cute the babies are? Well, I didn’t mention their dark side… Their parents and grandparents encourage them to poop and pee on the streets. They even wear split pants to make the process easier! This extends through toddler age. I’ll never forget the day I walked out of the grocery store and almost stepped in a huge, human turd. Watch your step, people!
5. School music
Because we live on an elementary school campus, we are treated to their daily music routine blasted over loudspeakers. Its opening strains begin at 6:30 am, and the closing bugle sounds at 8:30 pm. The same 7-9 songs (including “Jingle Bells”) and various short command phrases have quickly become the soundtrack to our lives. It’s not all bad, though – you can read more about our Chinese apartment life here!
6. Celebrity status
Okay, so the kids getting super excited is definitely the fun part of this. The part of this that I won’t miss is the adults staring at us and constantly hearing “foreigner!” or “American!” shouted as we walk (in Chinese, of course). It’s kind of funny at first, but if you’re having a bad day it’s a little annoying. We’ve literally been followed around by grocery store workers who refuse to let us buy the type of body wash we want because they are trying to be “helpful” and give us the cheaper (smelly) option. I’ve also had dinner with other English teachers where they are carrying out a conversation in Chinese that is obviously about me. To a certain extent I can understand random people we don’t know doing this, but it really irritates me when someone who I know speaks English decides to talk about me, in front of me, in Chinese. Okay, rant over! 😉
7. Food in Sinan
I talked briefly about some foods that I will miss, but quite frankly Chinese food has not been my most favorite part of living abroad. A lot of it is so spicy that it covers up any other flavors, and if it’s not spicy it’s totally covered in oil. We have encountered some random gems that we’ve enjoyed, but overall there aren’t a ton of southern Chinese dishes that I’ll miss. And I’m VERY excited to be able to buy butter and cheese whenever I like! You can read my more in-depth discussion about food in China here.
Remember the funny weird and misspelled English shirts? These are super popular in Sinan. Also popular are lots of ribbons, random cuts and holes, attached metal rings, poor-quality fabric, and super girly designs. A lot of the clothes are just way too over the top for me. Oh, and I’m anywhere from a women’s XXXL to a men’s XL, so if I do find something I like it probably isn’t big enough! I will clarify that I think a lot of these problems are small-town China specific, as I have seen some common Western brands in the bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
I discussed last week how I love driving a moped in China. The nice thing about a moped is you can weave in and around other cars, and you can explore the city pretty freely. So it’s not all bad!! However, I definitely won’t miss driving in the rain or taxis swerving in front of me and constantly stopping without any notice.
10. Language barrier
This one is on me – I definitely should have studied harder to learn more Chinese. I can speak just a few basics that get me around town, but I can’t read any of the characters. Different languages are just part of living in a different country, so unlike some of these other challenges it’s something we expected. It’s really made me feel a lot more sympathy for new immigrants in America. I’m super excited to be able to read menus and talk to everyone around me again!
**Bonus – the internet!
It’s so, so, SO slow! And you have to use a VPN to get past the Great Firewall of China. Tommy reminded me of this right before I was about to post. Alright, that’s really it this time!