I could just call you China, but everyone gets to call you that.
Your nickname – The Middle Kingdom – seems a bit, well, formal. (And, umm, scary. I mean, Middle Kingdom sounds like some place with lots of angry trolls.)
I think we’ve kind of moved past the formal stage, don’t you think?
I mean, I did move in and everything!
I’m writing this letter to tell you how much I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the past week and a half.In fact, I’ve been really surprised at how well we’ve gotten on together.
A lot of people warned me that we wouldn’t be right for each other. Some told me you would be too busy and hectic for me. Some said you’d be too difficult and challenging. Others called you pushy and ill-mannered. Even others badmouthed you saying you were dirty and disorderly. A few even said you were “crazy.”
But what do those people know, anyway?
After all, we have so much in common! You’re the biggest country in Asia. I’m no dainty butterfly myself. Your favorite color is red. I look good in red. You’re a communist. I’m all about sharing the wealth. (Admittedly, I don’t have much wealth to share these days… and when I do have wealth, I’m usually sharing it with my local Starbucks, but still… I get you. Money doesn’t matter. People do. And lattes — lattes matter a lot.)
Okay, so we did have a little tiff last week when I first got here. You were all jealous and wouldn’t let me talk to my friends on Facebook and Twitter. But we got through that, right? (Or at least I got through it with the help of my friend, VPN. You haven’t changed — you’re still the jealous type. But can I really blame you for wanting me all to yourself?)Anyway, Big C, there’s something I need to tell you.
You see… well… I don’t mean to scare you or anything… but…
I think I’m in love.
Okay, okay, don’t get that look on your face! You can’t deny that you haven’t felt something, too, can you? I mean, I see the way you look at me – all wide-eyed and in wonderment when I’m doing the cute little things that I do like, umm, shop for groceries or walk down the street or eat food.
Yep, I’ve seen you staring at me. Don’t try to deny it.
Sure, this might just be the “honeymoon stage” of culture shock people are always talking about. But, seriously, what do those people know? Besides, if this were our honeymoon, that would mean you would have already bought me a ring. (Hint, hint. I did move in and all!).Let me assure you, I don’t throw the L-word around lightly. I’m not the type to fall in love quickly.
I lived in Japan for three years and certainly developed a fondness for it, but we had our differences. (Mostly when it came to important things like whether or not I should be able to buy pants.)
Thailand and I enjoyed a fun on-again-off-again relationship, but it was never anything serious. (After all, this is Thailand we’re talking about here! Do you know how many backpackers, travelers and other expats I had to share that country with? Sheez! I don’t like to spread gossip – but T-land gets around, if you know what I mean.)
Laos was fun, too, but seeing as I could only get a month-long visa there, it was never meant to last.
And, Malaysia, well, I could never have a meaningful relationship with a country that doesn’t believe in pork. (Sorry, Malaysia! You were fantastic and all, but if given the choice between you and bacon, I’m going to have to choose bacon.)
You may be wondering what you’ve done to make me love you so much so fast.
Well, here goes, China, these are the reasons I’m crushing on you right now:
My couchYeah, so I know I mentioned my new couch and posted a picture of it in my last blog post. But I really feel a couch like this needs a second mention… and a second picture… from a new angle.
I mean, check this beauty out!
I didn’t have a couch for the entire year that I was traveling in Southeast Asia, and I really did feel there was a void in my life. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about this (okay, I do… I mean, when am I not being overly dramatic about anything?), but it seriously felt like a piece of me was missing. (Granted it’s possible a piece of me was, in fact, missing. Given the amount of time I used to spend on my couch in Japan, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my body parts had fused itself to the upholstery, and I accidentally left it behind when I moved.)My couch isn’t the only perk of my new apartment.
I have a nice big bed and a huge TV. (Okay, so I don’t actually watch the TV as I don’t have any English-language channels. So it’s more like just a huge reflective surface. But, hey, who doesn’t enjoy a huge reflective surface?).
I also have my very own washing machine, which means I no longer have to wash all my clothes in a bucket like I did in Chiang Mai. So what if the washer stretches out all my t-shirts so the necklines are off-the-shoulder and the hems now reach down to my knees? At least I don’t have to worry about wrinkly, pruny, clothes-washing hands any more!
And the best perk of all (besides the aforementioned couch): it’s all rent-free! Yep, that’s right, because I live in university housing, I don’t have to pay a dime for my lovely new digs. (Not that I wouldn’t pay good money for that couch. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t?)
My jobI’m going to admit something super dorky right now: I missed having a job.
Not that I didn’t enjoy unemployment — trust me, I loved it. I’d dare to say that I was born to be unemployed. You know all those people who say they’d be bored if they didn’t have a job? I am proud to say I am not one of them! I can always find plenty of things to do with my free time – like napping… and staring vacantly into reflective surfaces… and more napping.
But, the fact is that I am the kind of person who gets absolutely nothing done unless I have a schedule. In the past week that I’ve been teaching English full-time again, I’ve not only managed to get all my work obligations completed, but I’ve also managed a number of other productive daily tasks – like working out, writing more regularly and not staring absent-mindedly into the surface of my television screen.Plus, my new job rocks.
I only teach for sixteen hours a week.
I don’t have any early morning classes.
As I teach the same writing class to four different groups of students, I can reuse my lesson plan for all four groups, which severely cuts down on my planning time. And I don’t have to work at all on Fridays – like at all.
If I can’t afford to be unemployed, I’d like to have this work schedule for the rest of my life, pretty please. (Future bosses, take note!)
Besides all of that, I’ve really enjoyed working with the students, who are second year college students planning to study abroad in North America. They are, for the most part, quite eager to learn English.
Plus, since it’s popular in China to pick English names (and not necessarily ones any English-speaking person would consider a name), I get students with names like Tinker, Winner, Tiny, Pixy and Fish. You can’t get much more entertaining than that! (For me, at least. They don’t seem to find it all that entertaining. For example, when Fish didn’t show up to class on Thursday, I joked that he’d be “in hot water” when he got back. Ha ha ha! Get it? A fish? In hot water? Funny, right? Yeah, the students didn’t think so either… hence I was the only one laughing… for approximately two minutes… hysterically.)
The peopleIn the past week and a half that I’ve been in China, I’ve had at least half a dozen random strangers come up to me, smile and start talking to me.
Unfortunately, the majority of these strangers start talking to me in Chinese – a language I am woefully unprepared to have a conversation in unless our conversation consists of me saying “hello” and “thank you” over and over again.
Despite not knowing what these people are trying to say to me, their friendliness and openness have made me feel very welcomed here. (Granted it’s entirely possible that these people are not welcoming me at all… but telling me to get lost. But, hey, until I actually learn what these people are saying to me, I choose to think they’re saying something friendly and welcoming like, “Welcome to China! You are very beautiful. And, wow, you can already speak two whole words in Chinese. You must be a genius!”)
In addition to their friendliness and openness (which, admittedly, may all be imaginary on my part), the people in the part of China I am in have a certain devil-may-care attitude I find quite refreshing… especially in regards to fashion. It’s quite common to see women dressed in their pajamas at the market. My students show up to class in everything from tutus to sweatpants to acid-wash jeans. Once, a young man walked past me on campus wearing giant furry gorilla slippers. Any culture that openly embraces the wearing of pajamas and fuzzy slippers in public is alright by me. (And, heck, maybe those people who keep on coming up to talk to me are actually complimenting me on my lovely collection off-the-shoulder, knee-length t-shirts!)
The foodTo be honest, I wasn’t quite sure I’d like Chinese food.
Having grown up in a less-than-racially-diverse suburb in New York State and then having gone to college in the Midwest, there weren’t a whole lot of Chinese food options available to me — aside from the ubiquitous Chinese buffet. (Which I pointedly stayed away from as I tend to associate buffets with my very first job as the Salad Bar Girl at a Ponderosa Steakhouse… which I tend to associate with horribleness.)
When I got here last week, I happily discovered that Chinese food is so much more than shoveling sweet and sour shrimp from a trough. (In fact, I haven’t had to shovel a thing from a trough yet! Whee!).
Around the corner from the campus where I work, there is a small farmer’s village which is chock-a-block with noodle shops, family-style restaurants and street vendors.
My favorite, by far, are the street vendors, who sell everything from freshly grilled ears of corn to crepes to fried dough slathered in sesame seeds.
Not only is their fare delicious, but it’s also a cinch to order from them – even with my limited Chinese skills (unlike restaurants which actually expect you to do fancy things like read a menu).
All you have to do is walk up to their cart; say “hello” a few times while grinning stupidly until the vendor has noticed you (and, usually, a crowd has formed). Point hungrily at whatever it is they happen to be dishing out. Hand over a wad of cash (because you haven’t actually learned what any of that funny money means or how much things should actually cost). Get your change. Say “thank you” a few times. (At this point, you might want to add in a few more “hellos” to the crowd, too). Walk away with your new treat (usually while cramming said treat directly into your mouth). Show up at the next cart and repeat the aforementioned process.
Dinner is served! Easy peasy!
Aside from the wonderful street foods, China also has all manner of wonderful snack foods.
Like cool and refreshing cucumber-flavored potato chips…
Cool and refreshing lime potato chips…
Cool and refreshing vanilla ice cream Oreos (which actually did have a weird “cooling” after-taste to them)…
And cool and refreshing bacon! (Okay, maybe not so cool and refreshing… but it was delicious. And it was real bacon – not like the wimpy ham strips that Japan tries to pawn off as bacon in its grocery stores. Japan, if you’re listening, you should be ashamed of yourself! Ham is not bacon. Canada, you might want to take note of this, too.)
The challengeIt isn’t all couches and potato chips and pajamas in public here in China. It is, as many people warned me, a challenge to live here – especially compared to Chiang Mai.
I loved Chiang Mai — it was a very comfortable place to live.
A lot of people spoke English. (And, if all else failed, I could speak four whole words of Thai – four! That’s double my knowledge of Mandarin — double!).
My neighborhood boasted a Mexican restaurant, a pizza place, an international grocery store, a Starbucks and countless other coffee shops and more convenience stores than you could shake a stack of Pringles at.
There was a mall with a cinema (and the best karaoke place in town!) within walking distance.
My television actually had channels I could understand.
I had lots of friends.
Aside from my lack of a couch, life was good… and easy – almost too easy. (If there even is such a thing as too easy. Is there? Nope, I didn’t think so.)Life in China is definitely more of a challenge.
I will, most likely, need to learn more Chinese to be able to get around and travel independently.
My neighborhood doesn’t have any restaurants that serve stuff with cheese on it.
Yesterday, I had to take a bus for twenty minutes in the rain to get to the closest Starbucks. (A bus! For twenty minutes! In the rain! To get to Starbucks! Talk about hardship — now I know how the Pilgrims must have felt.)
But it’s been a fun challenge, so far.
After all, no one said love would be easy.