First Month In China

September 29, 2015

Pictures and words will never be able to even scratch the surface to describe how foreign, different, and crazy this country truly is. You learn to appreciate things that you never would have thought to before, such as: going to the bathroom in a western-styled toilet, actually finding Oreos or Snickers bars at the store, or getting to order McDonald’s when all other local food options sound unbearable. You start to begin that paying over 25 CYN ($4 USD) for most things is far too expensive. Culture shock slaps you in the face hard, but not as hard as those random whiffs of putrid food, trash, and unknown smells you get when walking down the same streets that kids just went to the bathroom on. You play charades every time you try to talk to a local and feel like an idiot because you can’t speak the language of their country. You also have a 98% chance of getting hit by a vehicle every time you go outside. China is so nuts, but it’s growing on me. I’m so grateful to be experiencing life on the other side of the world.

Dividing my first month’s experience into five primary topics, I will do my best to convey what life has been like during my first month here.

Food:

Two words: Coco and red-bean-pastries. Two of my most favorite things to eat and drink in China! Coco can probably be compared to Starbucks. It’s not coffee, but it’s an addiction- and a cheap one at that. At 10 CYN ($1.60 USD) per drink, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can get one whenever your tummy and pallet feel like it. For the first couple of weeks, my favorite drink was “chocolate with pudding”. It basically tasted like rocky road icecream in a drink form… need I say more? As for the red bean pastries, they’re served at breakfast pretty often (but you have to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn 7 am to get some). When I do force myself to wake up early and my efforts are rewarded with these heavenly buns of deliciousness, my entire day is completely made. Waffle balls are to die for and the noodles are also great, but nothing is as great as McDonald’s and Burger King.

I just got back from Suzhou where I came across the cutest café called “Unico”. They had macaroons (34529347520 times better than any I have ever tried in America) and french hot cocoa, all to be enjoyed in the most cozy and comfortable ambiance. Of course I speak of the great foods to take my mind off the majority of the not so great: Chicken feet, stinky tofu, fish, vegetables, plain white rice every single day, and the random meats of unknown animals. Going grocery shopping at the local market saves my life too.

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Travel:

Before China, I hadn’t had too much experience traveling, and internationally especially (besides Mexico, but that’s so close I won’t even count it). I had not yet dipped my toes too far in the travel pond, so naturally a horrific thought slipped into my mind: “What if this trip makes me hate traveling? What if it’s not what I thought it was? What if it isn’t worth the hassle?” Now after experiencing more and traveling throughout China, I can say that all I want is to travel. There aren’t too many things I feel that I know for sure about myself being a confused young adult, but to travel, experience life in different parts of the world, and see everything that this beautiful Earth has on it is something that I know I want whole-heartedly.

Traveling in China includes train, bus, taxi, and metros in the bigger cities. Then there’s flying if you need to get somewhere far, fast. The first train we went on was the “K-train”. It’s cheap, it’s smelly, and it’s unreliable, but it always gets us where we need to go. EX: It cost us $4 USD to travel from our city to Shanghai on the K-train… HOLLA. But on the way back, a 30-minute ride ended up taking us 2 hours. It’s hit or miss but it’s the way of travel. Taxis rock, but they’re expensive for China, as opposed to taking a bus. However, busses are a mess, take forever,  and are almost not even worth the hassle, so taxis are still my favorite way to go despite price. When in bigger cities, like Shanghai, the metro is 100% the way to go.

It’s also pretty sick when you realize that you actually ARE capable of fitting all of your belongings for an entire weekend to another city in your one backpack… the minimalist lifestyle at it’s finest.

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Every day living:

My normal-ish day (Mon-Thurs):

Morning:

a) go to breakfast, then come back to my room to sleep or

b) wake up late and not move from my bed for hours until I need to get ready for lunch and teaching. As of late, it’s been option B.

11:00 am: Lunch. (never as good as breakfast, but sometimes decent)

12:10 pm: Teach my fourth graders.

2:30 pm: Teach my devilish second graders.

5:00 pm: Go to dinner. Dinner is worse than lunch and most definitely breakfast. I usually settle for some rice and small portions of one other option, then break into my food stash in my room.

6:00 pm: meetings or culture class (Mon-Wed)

7:00pm: FREEEEDOM! Go to the night market, run some errands, lay on my bed and do absolutely nothing, read on my kindle, write in my journal, socialize, practice my Spanish… the list goes on.

Weekends: VACATIONS! So far on the weekends, I’ve been to Shanghai twice, and now Suzhou. I love leaving Changzhou to explore new cities in the country. The one weekend I did stay in town, I was attached to my bed for an entire three days. Do I regret that though? Not one bit.

It’s almost humorous how little everyday things in the US take on a bigger significance here in China. Going to the bank or supermarket becomes a nice little outing. Going into town becomes the greatest adventure. It’s interesting that even though I am living across the entire world right now, in this crazy strange country, with people I barely met a month ago but who already feel like family… I still feel like myself and it still feels like I’m living my day-to-day life most days, just somewhere different.

Shopping:

I don’t go shopping too often in the states, because 1. It’s expensive and 2. I rather spend my money on experiences rather than things. I thought that mindset would carry over into China of all places. Everything in China is SO CHEAP, which makes shopping irresistible.

I swear it’s because everything is so damn inexpensive that I think I can buy any and everything.. “It’s such a good deal! I’ll never get something like this this cheap again!”, my dumb and naïve mind says. After this weekend in Suzhou, where I bought WAAAAAYYYY too much stuff (in my defense 87% of it was souvenirs for family)… I’m buckling down on my spending! Pictures are the best souvenirs and they’re free, right? (At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself). All in all, China is the shiz for shopping.

The People & Environment:

China is 110% crazy and there is absolutely no doubt about that. The people are some of the kindest I’ve ever met and are always willing to help. Many of them are also patient with us foreigners, which is way appreciated. The locals always smile when we pass by and some even say “Hello!”. The Chinese are also always taking pictures of foreigners. China is dirty: children do their business on the streets, there’s trash everywhere, and it has this crazy significant smell. However, there are some parts (like Suzhou), which prove how beautiful and lovely China can be. I’d like to blame the careless and irrational driving behaviors of the taxi and bus drivers on the fact that they may be under the influence- but honestly… that’s just how they drive. My life feels threatened every time I enter a vehicle, but at the same time there’s a certain trust there because I know they know what they’re doing.

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