Last year right around this time, I wrote a post entitled “10 Things I Learned After 10 Months of Traveling (with pictures!).” That post was my way of wrapping up my big ten-month tour of Southeast Asia, which had included a whopping grand total of, ahem, five countries. Because, apparently, I travel at the speed of continental drift.
Being a fan of tradition, I thought I’d do a similar thing this year.
But I could only come up with five life lessons from the past ten months that I’ve been in China.
Probably because I’m not really the type to get older and wiser at the same time. You see, I’m not particularly good at multi-tasking. Or learning from my mistakes.
Besides, it’s really kind of hard to learn important life lessons when you spend most of your important life lesson learning time on your couch.
And “Rotate your couch cushions so as to prevent butt dents” is, apparently, not an important life lesson. I know because I asked people on Twitter.
So here goes:
1. Don’t believe everything everyone says about a country.I had heard a lot of horror stories about China before I came here.
People spit everywhere.
The traffic is crazy.
People are pushy.
The food is full of bones and gristle and unidentifiable animal parts.
The bathrooms will traumatize you for life.
I’ll admit I was scared to come to China. Like, really, really scared. In fact, it took me an entire year of traveling through Southeast Asia before I felt I was suitably prepared.
Then I got here.And, hey, you know what, China is really not that bad. Really.
(Dear Chinese Tourism Board, please feel free to use that as your new slogan.)
Okay, sure, people spit.
And, that’s not your imagination, the traffic really is out to kill you.
Yes, there is smog and your lungs will probably die a million deaths because of it.
You’ll have to learn how to use your elbows to get anywhere in this country.
And, okay, I have picked a few bones and unidentifiable animal parts out of my teeth.
And, the bathrooms… well, let’s just say, I’ve learned to hold it.
I am not fond of these things.But I have become terribly fond of China — much to my own surprise.
And it’s not just because of the dumplings.
Okay, maybe, the dumplings do have something to do with my feelings for China, but they’re not the only things I like about this country.
Heck, I like China so much, I even started a blog series about all the things I like about my life here.
And I haven’t even mentioned dumplings once.
China is really not that bad. Really.
2. Don’t believe everything everyone says about you.One of the reasons why I really didn’t think I’d like China was because my friends kept telling me, “Sally, you’re really not going to like China.”
Geez, thanks, guys.
You see, I’m not exactly known among my friends as the type of girl who likes to rough it.
And, as I mentioned before, China kind of has a reputation for being a bit rough.I’m also not exactly known as the type of girl who likes to deal with lots of people all at the same time.
I get anxious in large crowds.
I like my personal space.
And I need a lot of alone time. Like, a lot of alone time. Heck, I can barely hang out with friends or family members for longer than five hours without plotting someone’s murder. (Ha, ha, just kidding, guys. Really.)
And, as you might know, China kind of has a reputation for having lots of people.
While I’m sure my friends meant well with their warnings, I am happy to report that they had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.
So there, guys.Okay, while the rough bits about China don’t get to me as much as I thought they would, I do get, admittedly, a bit overwhelmed by the crowds and chaos at times.
Like when I need to use some form of transportation during rush hour.
Or when I’m attempting the Olympic feat of going grocery shopping the day before a big holiday.
Or when I’m walking on the sidewalk and I almost get run over by a vegetable truck, which also happens to be on the sidewalk as vegetable trucks are totally free range in this country.
Luckily, I have a very nice apartment with a couch that looks like this:
So, if I need a little break from the overwhelming, near-death experience that is my life in China, this is where I go to escape it all.
It’s kind of like a fancy, schmancy island retreat.
They even serve drinks here.
Unfortunately, none of the drinks come with those mini-umbrellas, though.
Someone should really start working on that.
3. You can make friends anywhere… but you should probably get off your couch first.In last year’s wrap-up post, I bragged about how I had made tons of new friends during my year of travel.
I was all like, “Look at me! I can make friends on a farm! I can make friends on a boat! I can make friends with a goat! I can make friends anywhere!” (Okay, so I didn’t actually make friends with a goat. As goats are notorious gossips.)And then I moved to China.
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to make friends here considering there are tons of people in this country, right?
But, to be honest, I haven’t met many people in my area that I’ve really connected with.
I’ve made a few new friends at work.
And I’ve met a few bloggy friends including MaryAnne of A Totally Impractical Guide to Shanghai and Fiona from Life on Nanchang Lu, who both live in Shanghai, and Jeannie of Nomadic Chick and Lillie of Around the World “L”, who were both traveling in China this year.
But that’s about it.
Admittedly, this is mostly my fault.
It’s really hard to meet new people if you never leave your apartment.
(But, really, by now everybody who’s anybody should know that my apartment is the place to hang out. I mean, come on, now. There are drinks. And a couch. And I’m there. What more could you need?)
4. Sometimes the biggest challenge is realizing you’re just not up for a challenge.I challenged myself a lot in 2010.
I quit my job. I quit the country I was living in. I quit my collection of shoes.
I did a whole bunch of things that scared the bejesus out of me. I lived on my own in a Thai jungle. I waded through python-infested rice paddies. I lived on a boat despite my fear of water-bearing vessels. And I stayed in a dormitory hostel for an entire night. With drunk, loud people. Who weren’t all wearing pants.
It’s like I was a superhero or something.This year?
Not so much.
When I arrived in China, my plan was to stay for six months and then move on.
But after settling into my new job and my new neighborhood and my new couch, the idea of picking up and moving on sounded really hard. Even the thought of traveling somewhere felt a bit too, well, challenging.
And, challenging myself was so 2010.
Besides, even superheroes need to take a little break from acts of derring-do to go hang out in the bat cave for a bit.
5. Change is good. But routine is also pretty darn good, too.This past year wasn’t a year of big change for me – well, aside from the whole moving to China thing and the starting a new job thing and the gaining ten pounds from eating way too many dumplings thing.
Other than that, it’s been a pretty routiney year for me.
I got back into the groove of teaching again.
I got to know my neighborhood, checked out all the local grocery stores and figured out the local bus routes.
I found a favorite pork sandwich place, a favorite crepe sandwich place and a favorite noodle place on campus. And I don’t even have to order when I go in there now because they know exactly what I want. It’s kind of like Cheers. Except without the alcohol and saucy barmaids.
I joined a gym and went religiously for a month and then promptly stopped going.
I found a running path that I like in the local park (even if I usually end up walking it instead of running it).
And, yes, there is now a butt dent in my sofa cushion so deep it could easily house a family of Hobbits. (I’m telling you, guys, “Rotate your couch cushions” totally is a life lesson. Don’t listen to what those people on Twitter will tell you.)Despite the lack of big changes, it hasn’t been a bad year for me.
After all, I’m not really a changey kind of person.
I am, what you might call, a creature of habit.
I love a good rut.
In fact, I like routine so much, I have a routine for my routine. Like, if I go to the park, there is a set way I have to go through the park. I can’t even think about going through the park a different way or I get all discombobulated and I worry that my brain might explode a little bit.
I’m pretty sure this is a sign that I have mild OCD.
Or that I have a very delicate brain that is always on the brink of explosion.
Either way, I try not to tempt fate.
But, then, the other day, I did something totally crazy. Totally out of character for me. It’s possible I was on drugs.
I took a different route.
And it looked like this:
Not too shabby, huh?
I’ve had a pretty good routiney year, but I think it might be time for me to change things up a bit.
Or, at least, time for me to rotate the cushions on the couch.What life lessons did you learn in 2011?