5 Things I Learned After 10 Months of Living in China (with pictures!)

January 2, 2012

Happy New Year, y’all!

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.

It’s smoggy.

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.

I swear.

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.

See guys?

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.

Me conquering the Great Wall. See? I can rough it. (Okay, so I'm actually just standing in front of a mural at the KFC.)

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.

Roughing it again in Shanghai. With a nacho platter & beer. I was practically camping.

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.

MaryAnne & Jeannie: Bloggers gone wild.

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.

I know.

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?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On January 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm Val said:

    If your posts were made of chocolate I’d happily drown in this sweet vat of words. 🙂

    In 2011 I learned that writing like a Hallmark-Mills and Boon hybrid is not a good thing. But I had to indulge myself one last time. 🙂

    I also learned that I will never be rid of my opposing personality traits, like the overwhelming desire to finish up bottles of body wash and packets of cereal – which is constantly at war with my penchant for new types/flavors because I get bored way too easily.

    Lastly, that sentences should really have easily identifiable punctuation more than once every 50 words!

    Happy new year and to you and the new look blog. Love it.

  2. On January 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm Allyson Newburg said:

    I love your site! I can certainly relate. I’ve cycled 3000 kms through Southeast Asia, but still am not brave enough to stay in a dorm room at a hostel 🙂 High five to you!

  3. On January 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm Bessie said:

    Can you please go to the Great Wall of China so that photo of you at KFC isn’t the only image I’ll get to see of you or maybe you’ve done this already, and I’m just terrible at the internet.

    I’m so happy for you that you’re enjoying it there & leaving your mark! (Even if it’s just in your couch cushion…) Much love & miss you miss sally!
    Bessie recently posted..How to get tea like a local in Myanmar

    • On January 2, 2012 at 11:27 pm Sally said:

      I have not gone to the Great Wall — it’s definitely on the itinerary for 2012. As lovely as the Great Wall of KFC was it would be pretty bad if I left China without visiting the actual Great Wall.

  4. On January 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm MaryAnne said:

    Woohooo! I’m famous! And I look like a total lush in the picture with Jeannie! Awesome. I wonder if my life lesson has anything to do with attempting to maintain a shred of credibility…

    I must say, I do like your lessons as they are ones I totally relate to. Inertia and hermitude are not inherently negative states of being!
    MaryAnne recently posted..Nothing to Say Here (The Solutions Edition): Put A Shirt on That Pig!

  5. On January 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm Theodora said:

    In 2011 I learned: how to ride a motorbike for real, how to speak (some) Chinese, how not to break a motorbike too often, and that travel really suits me. Also that I’m more patient while I’m travelling.

    More to the point, how bloody great to see a post about how lovely China is. I’ll be adding my tuppence hapenny in a tick…
    Theodora recently posted..2011: A Year In Random Numbers

  6. On January 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm Kim said:

    In 2011 I learned that when you start to live your dreams the universe conspires to help you. Happy 2012 to you!
    Kim recently posted..A Look Back at 2011 and A Look Forward to 2012

    • On January 2, 2012 at 11:20 pm Sally said:

      I love what you just said. It’s so true. And something I need to remember when I’m hyperventilating with worry about some crazy ass thing I’m about to do.

  7. On January 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm Kathy said:

    Love this post Sally! I am so glad you are happy you stayed. My life changed so much in 2011. Retiring from teaching high school mathematics was a big step and even a bigger step going to Wuxi to teach English. Little did I know that I would love it there and would miss it as much as I do. Happy 2012! Keep on writing!!

    • On January 2, 2012 at 11:20 pm Sally said:

      Kathy, This place really does have a way of growing on you, huh? I never thought I’d be here 3 semesters, but I’m glad I’m sticking around. You should come back!

  8. On January 3, 2012 at 12:30 am Sarah said:

    Geesh, Sally.

    You sure know how to make others’ accomplishments seem totally insignificant what with you actually learning things and stuff. (But for reals, I’m secretly just jealous.)

    And it’s okay to move at the speed of continental drift. I mean, Super Pangea didn’t just happen over night…
    Sarah recently posted..The Time with Becoming a Cliché in Thailand: It’s Easier than you Think!

    • On January 3, 2012 at 12:41 am Sally said:

      And, I think you just gave me my new superhero name. “Is that a really slow moving bird? Or a plane stopped in mid-flight? No! It’s Super Pangea!”

  9. On January 3, 2012 at 1:48 am Christine said:

    Ohhhh I’m loving your sparkly new site–and this post!

  10. On January 3, 2012 at 2:39 am James in Phnom Penh said:

    My life lesson for 2011? It’s all about the planning. Spent all year planning a 3 month trip around the world that went off without a hitch and was better than I ever dreamed it would be. Planned to arrive in Vietnam in January and not work for 3 months but then accepted a 2.5 month job in Bangkok where I am now. But then, seriously, over to Vietnam and no work for SIX months… Until the next good thing rolls around… sigh.

    • On January 3, 2012 at 4:14 am Sally said:

      I need to adopt a life lesson from you. I really need to be better at planning!
      Good luck with trying for unemployed! Don’t let the siren call of a short contract get to you!

  11. On January 3, 2012 at 2:42 am David S. Wills said:

    I like your comments on China because they exactly echo my own sentiments. I was scared of coming here. I’d even been to Beijing once before, and although I liked it I didn’t think I’d like living here. But yeah, in spite of all the bad stuff… It’s an amazing country. I’d personally go as far as to label it my favourite place, and one I’d like to live in for many years. I’d say that the people are the best thing about China. They’re incredibly friendly, even if they do try to run you over and jab you in the ribs to get on a bus.
    David S. Wills recently posted..Learning Chinese from Prostitutes

    • On January 3, 2012 at 4:13 am Sally said:

      I’m telling you, China should really think about adopting my slogan! And, I’m with you on the people. While I haven’t made tons of Chinese friends (my fault again… because my Mandarin SUCKS), people have been so friendly to me and are much more open than in other countries I’ve been in (Japan for example — the people are great there too, but so shy).

  12. On January 3, 2012 at 3:14 am Rachel said:

    A friend of mine was teaching in China and left because he hated it so much – so your reassurance that it’s really not that bad is appreciated! I plan to go… you know, eventually. After I finish my year in Korea and then an unspecified amount of time in Southeast Asia.
    Rachel recently posted..Travel Photo: Ocean City, Maryland

    • On January 3, 2012 at 4:11 am Sally said:

      You’ll be just fine in China. Trust me! I think what helped me was that I was already pretty familiar with Asia by the time I got here. And while there are a lot of differences between China and the other countries in Asia I’ve been to, there are also a lot of reassuring similarities. I think if this is the first country I had ever visited in Asia I might be a bit freaked out. But I’ve found it surprisingly easy to settle in here. As my couch will attest to. 🙂

  13. On January 3, 2012 at 6:48 am Erik said:

    Thanks, as usual, for all the good laughs. I hope 2012 is full of fun & a little fear, too. 🙂

    Oh, and the wife had a couple of drinks on NYE (a rare occurrence for sure) and they had mini-umbrellas. I saved one because I thought it made a cute keepsake of her rare drinking night. I just pulled it out and you know what– it says “MADE IN CHINA” on the underside.

    So there is still hope… 🙂
    Erik recently posted..Photo of the Day- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

  14. On January 5, 2012 at 4:06 am Candice said:

    I think you should write a book, please.

    This all kinda makes China sound wonderful.
    Candice recently posted..Photos of Me Riding Things

  15. On January 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm choi kum fook said:

    It seems you have getting more and more interesting and love in China. May be, because, China is a huge country, giving you a lot of things to see, to write, to inspire, to compose, a larger stage for you to perform.So you must stay longer,signing more assignments,in China.Miss Sally! Good Luck!

  16. On January 6, 2012 at 1:48 am Heather said:

    “Every time you share a blog post a unicorn gets its wings.” OF COURSE I would find this on your blog 🙂

    Just now catching up with your posts from the last couple of weeks! I love the shiny new look, btw.
    Heather recently posted..Merry Christmas from Home

  17. On January 6, 2012 at 8:27 pm Rose said:

    I think you have made friends with a goat. My goats haven’t stopped talking about you since you visited last winter. They are total gossips!

  18. On January 7, 2012 at 8:09 am Ali said:

    Wow, I took a 2 week break from my RSS reader while Andy & I traveled around New Zealand, and I came back to *FIVE* posts from you?! I was glad for the laughs 🙂
    Ali recently posted..Vang Vieng – Not Drunk on a River

  19. On January 8, 2012 at 3:52 am AL said:

    I just came back from traveling around China for almost a month, and I must say that I kind of miss it, all its good and bad. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts, and now more than ever, I look forward to reading your take on the Big C. Cheers!

  20. On February 21, 2012 at 6:06 am Ceri said:

    This is such a great New Year’s post. And I totally agree with them all. Haha. I’ve only been here for three months and it feels like that’s what I’ve learned too!
    Ceri recently posted..Return to Blogging (with a Vlog)

  21. On April 9, 2015 at 11:26 pm Brandon @ Green Global Travel said:

    Really fascinating post. Thanks for sharing. It looks like you learned a lot during your time in China!


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