5 Things I Miss About China (Even though I don’t remember liking them when I lived there)

August 11, 2012

It’s been a little over two weeks since I returned to the States.

I keep on waiting for the reverse culture shock that everyone talks about to kick in, but, overall, life is pretty darn good.

I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging out with my family. Especially my niece and nephew, who follow me around and call me pretty and totally believe me when I tell them that dusting furniture is a “fun new game.”

I’ve also been slowly catching up with my friends in the area.

And not-so-slowly catching up on my margarita-consumption.

These two things are related.


Yes, this margarita was the size of my head. But I have some catching up to do!

I’ve even started running again after having taken a month off while traveling. And, while I miss the pretty pagodas in the park where I used to run in China, I have to say the view from my new running path isn’t too shabby either.

Cornfields and blue skies. Yeah, I could get used this.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time back in the States (and the margaritas!), I do occasionally find myself missing some things from my life in China.

And not really the kinds of things that I expected to miss – like, say, easy access to dumplings or my couch.

Hello there, old friend.

Okay, maybe, I do miss my couch now that I think about it.

But the things that I really miss are things I don’t even remember enjoying that much when I was living there.

Maybe it’s true what they say about distance making the heart grow fonder.

Or maybe distance just makes your heart all wonky and forgetful and unable to remember simple stuff like what you used to like and what you didn’t like.

When I start missing pork floss, then you’ll know I’ve completely lost it.

A cookie stuffed with pork floss. It even makes cookies taste bad. And I didn’t think that was possible.

5 Things I Miss About China (Even though I don’t remember liking them when I lived there):

1. Pushing & Shoving
The first time I went grocery shopping in the States upon my return, I was shocked at how polite and orderly everyone was.

Nobody barreled into my cart. Nobody cut ahead of me at the produce weighing stations. Nobody rammed their cart repeatedly into my back at the checkout aisle in an attempt to get me to move along faster.

Instead, my fellow customers waited patiently as I took forever to weigh my bananas.

They didn’t once attempt to mow me down while I stood staring in awe at the cheese.

Oooo, cheese.

And when one person did bump into me with her cart, she turned around to apologize. Like it was some kind of accident and not a strategic attempt to get me out of her way. Or to kill me.

This was all quite the contrast from China, where grocery shopping is considered something of a blood sport.

I once had a woman hit me in the head with a really long stalk of celery because I was taking too much time weighing my vegetables. I can only imagine what would have happened if she had been wielding a more dangerous vegetable. Like, say, a turnip.

Of course, pushing and shoving didn’t just happen at the grocery stores in China.

If you want to get anywhere in that country, you’re going to have to jostle a few people out of your way . Or a lot of people out of your way.

It really all depends on how many people are in front of you. And in a country of 1.3 billion people, there’s always going to be someone in front of you. Even in places where you wouldn’t expect someone to be in front of you, someone will be in front of you.

Just a quiet day at the beach in Qingdao

When I first arrived in China, I can’t say I was a big fan of being regularly manhandled by complete strangers.

But after a while, all the pushing and shoving kind of grew on me.

For starters, pushing and shoving can be an excellent way to relieve stress and frustrations. It’s kind of like kick-boxing or karate  — except I didn’t have to wear a fancy outfit or go to a fancy gym. All I had to do was hop on a crowded bus and start shoving at people.

It also made me really appreciate my size. While it can be hard being a bigger girl in Asia, I found that weighing twice as much as your average Chinese person can really come in handy when it comes to barging to the front of a line. Or blocking people from barging in front of you.

Plus, pushing and shoving makes doing stuff super efficient.

I could easily get through the grocery store in less than an hour there – despite the fact that the grocery stores usually lacked any time-saving devices like conveyor belts at the registers or, say, signs I could actually understand.

Whereas grocery shopping in the States takes me, like, five hours. Sure, a lot of that time is spent gawping at cheese. But, I’d say I spend at least half an hour every trip waiting for some dude to decide what kind of yogurt he wants and move the heck out of my way. If this were China, he would have had a celery stalk upside his head in no time.

 2. Staring
Like pushing and shoving, staring is really not something I appreciated that much when I first moved to China. Mostly because it was almost always directed at me.

My usual posse of gawkers

But the good thing about living in a country where staring at people is perfectly acceptable is that you get to stare at people, too. And nobody cares. Because, chances are, the people you’re staring at are totally staring back at you.

After a year and a half of living in China where I got to stare at people all the livelong day without having to worry about getting punched in the face, I find it really hard to stop myself from staring at people here. Especially when people are doing stuff that just seems to scream “STARE AT ME! PLEASE!”

For example, I went to an event the other week where a friend of mine was performing. And sitting across from me was a man dressed in a full-body hotdog costume.

Do you know how hard it is to not stare at a man in a hotdog costume?

Do you?


Because I’m telling you guys, it practically killed me.

And then as soon as I left the event, I went to dinner where I ordered this:

I’m blaming my near-death, trying-not-to-stare experience.

3. My cell phone
This was my phone in China:

I could use it to call or text people.

And that’s about it.

This is my phone in the States:

I can use it to do, like, a million different things. I’m pretty sure I could even get it to make me lunch.

That is if I could actually make it work.

It took me at least thirty minutes to figure out how to answer a phone call.

Every time I try to send a text, I end up with a long line of random consonants because my fingers are too big and they keep on pressing the wrong letters.

And all the photos I’ve taken so far have mysteriously vanished into some kind of 4G purgatory.

And before you get all smart with me and tell me to read the instruction manual already, I assure you I have tried to read the thing.

Oh, how I have tried!

But it doesn’t really give instructions on things that I want to do like, say, be able to answer my phone or figure out where the heck all my photos are. Instead it gives me tips on how to do this:

Really, Verizon, really?

What the heck is a media mogul? And wouldn’t I actually have to be able to answer my phone to become one of those?

 4. Limited menu choices
Everyone’s always talking about the out-of-control portion sizes in America, but what about the out-of-control menu sizes? Seriously, you guys, the menus in this country are longer than most country’s constitutions.

I went to a restaurant with my family the other day where the menu was easily twenty pages long. Just the pizzas alone took up five pages. And they all sounded awesome because they were all covered with extra cheese or bacon.

It made me kind of miss the days when I could just pop on over to my local pork sandwich place, where all they served was pork sandwiches, and the only real decision you had to make was how many pork sandwiches you were going to order.

Pork sandwich. Maybe I’ll take one. Or five.

Don’t get me wrong.

I love me some pizza.

But I’m really, really horrible at making up my mind. I mean, there’s a reason why I’m thirty-six, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Decisions are hard, people. Especially when you have to decide between extra cheese or bacon.

It was practically Sophie’s Choice. (In case, you’re wondering, I chose bacon. I think Meryl Streep would approve.)

5. Not being able to understand anything
People ask me all the time how I managed to survive so long in China without speaking any Chinese.

Sure, learning the language of the country you’re living in can be super helpful.

But being a complete idiot also has its perks.

For one thing, I never had to overhear conversations I didn’t want to overhear.

Like the one I overheard the other day at a café between two women regarding the one woman’s upcoming bladder surgery.

Call me squeamish, but “urethra” is really not a word you should be allowed to say in public. Unless you’re at some kind of bladder surgeon’s convention.

And you really shouldn’t combine it with other words like “leakage” and “pelvic floor.” Especially while in a place where people are eating. Or where people are trying to eat, but they’re too busy gagging. Because you won’t shut up about your urethra and your leaky pelvic floor already.

I’m sure while I was in China, I sat next to people talking about their bladders and bowel movements every day.

But because I couldn’t understand the conversations that went on around me, I got to float about in a bubble – a big bubble of blissful ignorance which would only occasionally burst open.

Kind of like a bladder with a faulty urethra.

Oh, I’m sorry.

You weren’t trying to eat lunch right now, were you?

Have you ever found yourself missing something you never thought you would miss? What was it?

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

  1. On August 11, 2012 at 12:43 am Jeremy Branham said:

    Here’s what I am reading from all of these – life wasn’t necessarily easy in China but it was simpler. Maybe that’s what you really miss the most?
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Hiking Mt Tamalpais, wrong turns, and visions of Ewoks

  2. On August 11, 2012 at 12:44 am Erik said:

    It’s interesting that you have found so many things you miss- I suspect you’ll be finding many more things over the next few months.

    I only spent a month in New Zealand, but what I miss most are the people, and I knew I would miss them. I also miss the candies and cookies I got there that do not seem to be available here.
    Erik recently posted..Postcard Friday- St. Andrews, Scotland

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm Sally said:

      I haven’t started to miss Chinese food yet… probably because I’ve been too busy eating all the food I missed while I was in China. But I’m sure I’ll start missing it soon.

  3. On August 11, 2012 at 12:50 am Cita said:

    I love your blogs.. You make me laugh n cry all at the same time..You write soo WONDERFUL.. Im sure you hear that all the time.. But sincerly, You r my Friend.. xoxoxo

  4. On August 11, 2012 at 12:51 am Priya said:

    I love eavesdropping on other conversations. It’s one of my greatest joys. Haha, did you really get hit in the head with celery? Funny, and a little scary. Only thing that I can think of is the few times that I did visit India, I really missed taking a hot shower and the cheesy foods I love. And few other things 🙂
    Priya recently posted..Finally a Post about My Mariah Carey Obsession

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm Sally said:

      The conversations I keep on overhearing are either boring or gross. Maybe in Chicago people have better conversations that are worth overhearing. Just one more reason to visit!

  5. On August 11, 2012 at 12:54 am Mary said:

    I am sure you miss all the daily adventures of not speaking the language and then having to run errands or navigate a transaction. When I got home from Japan, I slowly slid into a funk about how EASY life is in the US because I speak English and am from that culture. In Japan, even getting ramen from the stands by the train station was an unpredictable event (though I did it at least twice a week!)

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm Sally said:

      Yeah, I was really worried about this before I left China, and I still kind of worry about it — that life will be too easy and therefore too boring for me here. I think it will happen soon enough… until then, I’m just trying to focus on the margaritas!

  6. On August 11, 2012 at 12:55 am cosmoHalliton said:

    I’m still living in China, but when I do leave, I’m sure I’ll miss the Chinese food most of all. Things like dan dan mian, mapo dofu and xiao long bao that are unheard of in the States. Real, honest-to-goodness Chinese food is delicious! Why US takeout joints persist in selling bland chicken and broccoli is beyond me. I have not once eaten broccoli in China. But I do pop the stir-fried green beans like they are potato chips.
    cosmoHalliton recently posted..Let’s Get Reél

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm Sally said:

      I’ve been so busy eating Mexican & Greek food (the two foods I really miss living in Asia), that I haven’t had much chance to think about Chinese food. But I’m sure I’ll be missing it soon enough! Especially those pork sandwiches. They were GOOD.

  7. On August 11, 2012 at 1:29 am DebbZ said:

    Someone hit your head with celery? Whoa, that’s kinda rude :p
    DebbZ recently posted..Alaska: The Salmon City of The World

  8. On August 11, 2012 at 4:18 am Sarah Somewhere said:

    I totally get this,especially not being able to overhear conversations – sheer bliss!!!!! Just spent three weeks in China and I gotta say even in that short time I kinda got used to the shoving and staring, ’cause it meant I could do it too!!! It’s kind of strange to feel so free in a country that is meant to be so controlled. Bring on the cheese I say! Great post 🙂
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Last Days In China: The Highs And The Lows

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm Sally said:

      Totally agree. I lived in Japan for 3 years before moving to China, and I felt much freer in China than I did in Japan. There’s much more of a laissez faire attitude in China it seems — people just seem to kind of do their own thing. Of course, this could just be my outsider’s perspective, but I just loved how everybody was kind of a cowboy there.

  9. On August 11, 2012 at 5:06 am Fiona said:

    I just knew it. No sooner are you back in your own country than it hits you: you really DO love China, it was just hard to know that when people were hitting you in the head with celery.

    Did you know celery is a vegetable that protects you from evil spirits?

    What she was thinking to herself was ‘Poor foreign lass, weighing vegetables is really tough for her in a country where she doesn’t speak the language. I’ll annoint her with this stalk of celery to protect her from evil-doers and bad taxi drivers.’

    Really, she had your best interests at heart.
    Fiona recently posted..Restaurant Chinglish Goldmine

  10. On August 11, 2012 at 6:36 am Susan Bryson said:

    I can so relate with you on so many things, (I am an expat American living in Ireland). There are some MAJOR differences between Ireland and the States, and I find myself kind of giggling to myself almost everyday about some of the things that people do over here, that would not happen in the States! Thanks for the post and the laughs….especially love the part about the staring thing…how funny!

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:10 pm Sally said:

      I lived & worked in Dublin for a summer a long time ago, but I don’t remember many major differences… besides the obvious ones of the accent and the prevalence of Guinness. I’d be curious to hear about the big differences you’ve encountered.

  11. On August 11, 2012 at 7:11 am Runaway Brit said:

    Although I imagine it wasn’t too much fun for you at the time, I LOVE the fact that you were hit over the head with celery! That has really made me smile this morning 🙂

    I totally identify with all of these points, many of them are the same for me. I still miss Vietnam every single day and I’m with you on the pushing thing. When EVERYBODY else around you is pushing it gives you the right to do the same. Perfect for when you get to the bus/train just as it arrives and there’s a whole bunch of people in front of you. Here in Europe I would have to stand up for the whole journey. In Asia I can use my considerable height/weight advantage to push my way to s seat 🙂
    Runaway Brit recently posted..It’s hard to avoid brands – even when you travel

  12. On August 11, 2012 at 11:30 am Greg said:

    My wife says not having to overhear conversations was her number 1 thing she missed when returning from China. Great post!
    Greg recently posted..Expat Arrival

  13. On August 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm Lane said:

    It’s strange how time changes our perception of things. What we loved and miss is actual Shanghai Dim Sum.
    Lane recently posted..Cadillac Ranch: The Man Behind the Wheel

  14. On August 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm James said:

    Same thing happens around my vegetable weighing station in Saigon. People zoom in from all directions and it’s a crazypants free for all. Good thing I have my Death Stare down to a science.
    James recently posted..Photo of the Week – Vietnamese Embroidery

  15. On August 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm Laura said:

    Very funny and sweet! It’s amazing how easy it is to be sentimental about places we’ve left. “In love with the back of her head” is the way a friend of mine puts this emotion.

    Looking forward to more adventures!
    Laura recently posted..Snapshot Friday: Epic Fail Ephesus Turkey

  16. On August 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm debd said:

    sally, i’m feeling a little unbrave about an upcoming adventure in indonesia. all i have to do is get from the plane to baggage claim, then find the shuttle to my hotel. as i write this i realize that i can just follow everyone else as far as baggage claim and ask one of my fellow travelers where to get hotel shuttles. see, you’ve helped me tremendously. thanks, deb

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm Sally said:

      You’ll do just fine! I find looking like you actually know what you’re doing makes you kind of feel like you do. And when that fails, just follow everyone! Have a great time in Indonesia! That’s one place I really need to get back to see.

  17. On August 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm Uncle Ed said:

    Your top picture is absolutely priceless, it is now my desktop background. I miss walking to school in south Fort Wayne from my grandmother’s house on Thompson Ave. The trains, the river, walking by my friends’ houses, looking at the bars and groceries and pharmacies, picking up acorns, watching Dr’s and nurses going to work, trellises and parks, mansions and gardens, talking to people about their anomalies, “Why do you have a giant 4′ calcite crystal in your yard?” Cement chemist, who knew?

  18. On August 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm Michael LaRocca said:

    You’re so good at writing my thoughts that I could just retire.

    I still bicycle over here. The only difference is, I stop at red lights and give hand signals now. How’d that happen?
    Michael LaRocca recently posted..Michael’s Manuscripts (updated July 27, 2012)

    • On August 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm Sally said:

      I really want to keep up my bike riding while I’m in the States… I’m just a bit worried that I may start cruising through red lights and going up on the sidewalks after the “anything goes” approach to bike-riding in China. I may even wear a helmet. Crazy.

  19. On August 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm jan said:

    I started laughing when I read about the celery incident. This laughing is not an unusual reaction for me – I recently went to a restaurant here in my home town where the owner’s wife was so rude when serving our table that I got a fit of the giggles.

    Giggles are not becoming or expected of a woman of my years. On the other hand if there had been celery to hand, I could have used that!
    jan recently posted..Fantastic Friday – Framed – Castelo dos Mouros Ramparts

  20. On August 11, 2012 at 8:01 pm Selly said:

    It’s amazing how many things you take for granted when you’ve lived somewhere for a while and how you suddenly miss things you never missed before. I actually never really thought about if there is anything I miss about Germany but I could probably come up with a million things I’ll miss about Ireland if/when I leave here.

    • On August 12, 2012 at 10:11 am Sally said:

      I’m always thinking of the stuff I’m going to miss from a place when I leave… I guess this is the problem with always leaving places. I’ve even started thinking about the stuff I’m going to miss when I leave the States… and I have no plans to leave yet! It’s possible this is a sign that I have some kind of problem.

  21. On August 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) said:

    Amazing! Loved this post so much… Currently getting over jetlag, so I have been very stabby and grumpy the past 2 days or so, so I can totally understand missing unreserved pushing and shoving. From my understanding, that is not done here in Japan, so I am doing my best to find other ways to channel my sleep-related aggresion!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..We Made It!

    • On August 12, 2012 at 9:59 am Sally said:

      Pushing & shoving is totally acceptable in the packed trains in Japan. So I suggest boarding the Tokyo or Osaka subway at rush hour and push away! You’ll be feeling less stabby in no time!

  22. On August 11, 2012 at 10:05 pm Andrea said:

    I experience most of these things in Korea…and I simply can’t imagine ever missing them! Even after almost a year, the pushing and shoving still makes me furious…and I feel like a horrible person when I attempt to push and shove to get on a bus!

    • On August 12, 2012 at 9:58 am Sally said:

      I’m telling you, once you start pushing, you’ll never look back! It really is a great stress reliever. And I always liked surprising people by pushing back… I think they didn’t suspect I had it in me!

  23. On August 11, 2012 at 11:29 pm David S. Wills said:

    I will be leaving Asia next summer and was talking about some of these things with a friend last night who is lucky enough to NOT be leaving. It’s weird but I will honestly miss some of the stuff that I first hated – being stared at and not understanding anything. In America this summer I felt invisible. I think I now need people staring at me just to remind me that I exist. And with the menus… I agree, also, because I get so fucking bored of being able to understand stuff. I like a little adventure in life and sometimes that comes from pointing at a menu and just hoping for the best.
    David S. Wills recently posted..Hefei in the News

    • On August 12, 2012 at 9:56 am Sally said:

      You could understand the menus here? I can’t! There’s too many ingredients listed that I’ve never heard of… and I can never remember the difference between taquitas and chimichangas and all the other deep-fried semi-Mexican foods that are out there. So half the time whatever I order is just as much of a mystery to me as it was in China!

  24. On August 12, 2012 at 1:18 am marje said:

    Your posts have the lethal combination of funny and informative. I love the ones I’ve read so far; and I intend to keep on doing so!

    I lived in the states when I did grad school over five years ago already, but still there are things I miss … probably has something to do with the memories attached to them.

  25. On August 12, 2012 at 9:18 am Waegook Tom said:

    Eurgh, I get what you mean about not being able to understand anything! I wish I hadn’t learned as much Korean as I have because I can totally understand when people are talking about my unsightly sweat patches. Mostly because they point at me whilst they do.

    I totally get you about the supermarket as well. In Korea, it’s a mission. In. Out. Try not to push the old ladies who shove me about down an escalator. In the UK, I’m the guy who gawps over the cheese and the yoghurt and then just buys everything.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..My Top 3 Travel Memories

    • On August 12, 2012 at 9:54 am Sally said:

      Wait. I’m not supposed to push the old ladies out of the way? But they started it!
      And, yeah, I totally remember the moment that my Japanese was kind of good enough that I could understand (some of) the conversations that were going on around me (or at least the really basic ones). I think that was also about the time I decided I needed to leave Japan. All the mystery (and blissful ignorance) was gone!

  26. On August 12, 2012 at 9:56 am Ceri said:

    The last point = Ewwwwwww. :S

    I don’t miss anything about being home but I know that the minute I head back to the UK, I’ll miss heaps of stuff about Mexico. I do love that you’re missing things like staring and pushing though. Maybe you should try to incorporate it into US culture and lead by example. 😉 (J.K. – I really don’t want you to get punched.)
    Ceri recently posted..Reasons I Love Mexico: Crazy Weather

    • On August 12, 2012 at 10:13 am Sally said:

      But in China I had size on my side… I think if I tried pushing & shoving in the States, I’d easily be demolished. Best to keep that kind of activity to countries where I’m bigger than most of the population.

  27. On August 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm kyle said:

    I agree, understanding stuff does suck, especially commercials. I liked watching commercials where it was like “bla, bla, bla, bla” and then a picture of toothpaste. Now I have to listen to how my toothpaste choice defines my life. It just adds stress.

    Also, don’t bother trying to shop on your own, yet. It’s ridiculous. I wanted to get spaghetti sauce, but I just gave up because there were seriously like 300 choices. The first couple of times that we went grocery shopping, we had to take someone with us and point to things that were good.

    On the other side, there’s bountiful cheese and hummus.
    kyle recently posted..Missing Asia

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:24 am Sally said:

      I’ve already gone shopping by myself a few times, but I like your idea of bringing along someone to help out. I think I need someone to help me to navigate my cable channels. Every time I turn on the TV I become way too overwhelmed by my options.

  28. On August 13, 2012 at 1:30 am Furio said:

    What about Qingdao beer?

    I became used to its waterly taste (I suspect “waterly” is not a real word but my English is not very good looking so anyway…)

    I think the day I will leave China I will start to cut my beer with water so that it will taste as Qingdao.

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:23 am Sally said:

      I did enjoy Qingdao especially when it was really hot out. But I do have to say I’m enjoying all the microbrews and specialty beers in the States. Yesterday I drank a lemony one. YUM!

  29. On August 13, 2012 at 7:35 am AnnaI said:

    I miss the ability to freely jaywalk in New York. I used to hate it when I was living there, mostly because I had to drive. Yeah, I know… driving in New York City, LOL! But it takes all kinds, right?
    Oh, and this whole reverse culture shock they keep talking about? A myth. Just something bloggers blabber about to make themselves feel important and relevant after they finished their worldly adventures. 😉
    AnnaI recently posted..Obon is here

  30. On August 13, 2012 at 7:44 am Sid said:

    Bargaining … At first the concept of bargaining is strange, esp if the guy chases you down the street, screaming bloody murder. But now that I’m back home and everything is so expensive … Definitely wish I could walk into a store and say, “No, I don’t think those shoes are worth R1000. I’ll give you R500 instead.”
    Sid recently posted..Things I’m looking forward to once Ramadaan ends … road trip, anyone?

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:21 am Sally said:

      Oh, I definitely don’t miss bargaining at all. I’m so horrible at it! I am very non-confrontational, and bargaining feels way too much like arguing to me. Plus, I never know how much things should cost so even when I bargain, I still get charged too much!

  31. On August 13, 2012 at 9:06 am Jacob Yount said:

    Another spot-on post, Sally. I’ve been back in the States over 7 months, after 10 years of living in China and I too enjoy a good ol’fashion stare-a-thon. I miss sitting down in a restaurant in China, ordering my food, and then settling down and just glaring and gazing across the room; many times making direct eye contact with people, young or old…it didn’t matter.

    Nobody felt alarmed, shamed or conspicuous, just good, clean staring. How staring was made to be…

    People here in the States get uptight about it. I think they all could use a good “stare”.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories.
    Jacob Yount recently posted..Before Mass Production Starts

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:20 am Sally said:

      Totally. I don’t know why it’s such a bad thing to stare in the States. Especially when I feel like there’s plenty of attention-starved people out there who would just love to be stared at. Maybe we’d have a lot less reality television if people allowed themselves to stare at each other… we’d get all the attention we needed on the streets, so we wouldn’t have to go on TV!

  32. On August 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    I love when you can understand another tourist but they don’t think you can becasue “what are the odds another tourist would speak your own language” … I love that. Can’t do that at home.

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:19 am Sally said:

      Well, in Asia most people (including tourists) assume that if you’re white, you speak some form of English. So I very rarely got away with listening in to other tourist’s conversations without them knowing it. Although this did happen in Portugal while I was there. I was sitting next to a British couple at a restaurant there and they spent the whole time talking about me in English. AWKWARD.

  33. On August 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm Ava Apollo said:

    Well I finally see the staring thing in a positive light. Thanks for that. The whole pushing and shoving deal must be more in China than Taiwan. I completely agree about having to overhear conversations. I used to be able to kind of tune everything out in Taiwan, and that was mighty nice.
    Ava Apollo recently posted..Wednesday Getaway: Capture the Color

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:17 am Sally said:

      I can’t say I miss people staring at me, but I certainly do miss being able to stare myself. Maybe I’ll have to just wear sunglasses all the time so I can pretend I’m not staring.

  34. On August 14, 2012 at 4:53 am Taryn said:

    This is a great list, pretty much sums up the things that bug the heck out of me about living in China. Hope one day when I’m back home in Canada I’ll miss them too 🙂
    Taryn recently posted..On Cockroaches, displacement, and diarrhea: an update on our flood situation

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:14 am Sally said:

      It is surprising what you end up missing. I remember leaving Japan and missing mochi (pounded rice cakes) terribly… even though I had hardly ever eaten them when I lived there. Weird.

  35. On August 14, 2012 at 5:53 am Daniel McBane said:

    When I was in China I probably complained about the pushiness of the people more than I complained about anything else, but now that I’m back in Germany, I’ve been running into an average of five people a day who are simply begging for a nice hard shove into traffic to get them out of my way.

    And I’m with you on the pork floss (worst name ever for a food item, by the way). It’s been over 4 years since I lived in China and 1 since I last visited, but there has not been a single second where I’ve craved pork floss.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Journey Into the Cloud – Visiting Downtown Chongqing

    • On August 14, 2012 at 11:12 am Sally said:

      I’m reading a book now by a food critic that says you have to try every new food 8-10 times before your body will accept it and not think it’s totally gross. I’m starting to feel bad for not giving pork floss much of a chance. I’m pretty sure I only tried it 4 or 5 times… and all of those times were by accident. If only I’d held out a bit longer…

  36. On August 15, 2012 at 12:04 am choi kum fook said:

    It wouldn’t be surprised, as the Chinese volunteers at the farm said; The population of China now is over 1.4 billion, mostly are scattered in urban area.So you may have a bit “lucky” experienced these Pushing and shoving occurrence in city.The peak and famous of these occurrence is ” The Spring Festival Movement” in public transport!I am very sure you had come across it!
    People do usually miss something of the past. Like me, use to miss volunteers after they have leaved the farm and vice versa. May be I was kind and helpful to them during staying in the farm.(I was not blown my own trumpet). They all returned by mean of email or Facebook with praises. Hehe!

  37. On August 15, 2012 at 5:21 pm Sabina said:

    Actually, one of the things I most miss is the last you mentioned – not being able to understand anybody. Even while still out of the country I really enjoyed people babbling on about me without me really having to listen to what they were saying because I couldn’t understand it anyway. Now that I’m back home in the States, I understand every word everyone says – and it’s annoying. Most people you walk past in grocery stores, gas stations, etc. are saying only the most inconsequential things. Give me a foreign language to listen to any time!
    Sabina recently posted..Coffee or Tea? Drinks Around the World

  38. On August 16, 2012 at 11:15 am Laura said:

    Haha, I love this. I laughed about the pushing and shoving, because my friend and I nearly got shoved off a ledge by a Chinese tourist in high heels while inside a cave in Vietnam. I didn’t realize though, that grocery shopping was so fierce. And, I totally agree about tuning everyone out. The other day I was at a cafe listening to 2 people discuss whose ‘breath stank’. It was just annoying banter. “Your breath stank” “No it aint mine that’s your stanky breath, you been eatin those damn onions”

    But I do find that the things that annoy me in Kenya are the things I tend to miss when I leave- like overcrowded, crazy transportation situations and being told that my shoes are dirty. It all seems endearing once I’m away 🙂
    Laura recently posted..The Roles We Play in Life

    • On August 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm Sally said:

      Omigosh, I think I would have had to shove someone if I had been listening to that stanky breath conversation. That’s possibly even worse than the urethra conversation… okay, maybe not.

  39. On August 17, 2012 at 5:24 am Elaine said:

    This is so great. I often think, “I’ll really miss this about Zagreb when I finally go back to the US.” But who knows what I’ll actually miss once I’m home. I should make a list now and compare!
    Elaine recently posted..A weekend on Dugi Otok

  40. On August 20, 2012 at 10:28 am Susan Bryson said:

    I see many differences between the two cultures (reactions, norms, mores, perceptions to money, infrustructure, etc.) Here are some examples: Situations like people that just stop their car in the middle of the road because their mobile phone rang, or their friend is landscaping his garden (this really frustrates me to no end but if I honk, I look like the rude person, even though they are obstructing traffic and I nearly get hit head on by a car!!!!).

    Also there is no such thing as “doing things in a timely and efficient manner” (can’t even start on this one!). Then there are the times, when you are sitting in a movie theater, watching a movie, which is slightly out of focus, yet, no one goes up to complain…the Irish don’t like to complain directly to the correct source, they would rather put up with “thing” and then complain about it to their neighbour etc.

    There are some good things and some really frustrating things, but all in all a good experience of living in a very friendly and safe country.

  41. On August 23, 2012 at 2:29 am Naomi said:

    I picked up a few habits in Asia that I had to curb once home, like picking my nose in public!, but I’ve kept up the staring, perhaps with a bit more subtlety though….

  42. On August 26, 2012 at 1:15 am Simon said:

    I haven’t been to mainland China per se but I did just get back from Hong Kong – which was eye-opening for me in terms of how pushy some people can be! Haha, it really shocked me. In London people push on the Tube a fair bit but we usually let people off first; in Hong Kong it was like it was every man for himself in any given situation – whether it be grocery shopping or catching the bus!
    Simon recently posted..Highlights of a Croatian sailing trip

    • On August 26, 2012 at 11:02 am Sally said:

      Man, if you thought Hong Kong people were pushy, you’ll have to check out people in the Mainland — MUCH pushier, in my opinion. And there is no such thing as letting people off first. Every time I took the metro in Shanghai, I’d basically have to use any luggage or personal items I had on me like a battling ram so I could get into or out of a car.

  43. On August 31, 2012 at 1:57 pm Ayngelina said:

    Pork floss, how can it be bad?
    Ayngelina recently posted..Food Friday: Portland Food Carts

  44. On September 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm Angela said:

    Oh I didn’t realize you had left China! I left about a year ago, such a trauma, although I’ve enjoyed the past year traveling around, I miss Shanghai so much!

  45. On September 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm Michael said:

    It’s been over a year since I’ve been in China and I missed all of those things during the first few months back. Now I’ve adapted to the American ways but sometimes in legit Chinese restaurants or in Chinatown in NYC, I get all nostalgic.

    I found the menu selection in China to be huge though. We’d go into a restaurant and they hand us book full of things to order and the kitchen was usually so small. I never understood how they were able to cook so much with so little and with such diversity.

    • On September 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm Sally said:

      Oh, I’m sure the menus were huge, but seeing as I couldn’t read Chinese, I never bothered with them. Plus, most of the places I went to were little plastic-tarped numbers that didn’t have fancy stuff like menus. 🙂

  46. On September 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm Leah Travels said:

    It always takes me awhile to get used to being back in the US. I’ve never lived overseas for as long as you have, but I know after simply one month in China, I was rather used to the stares and pushing. And being able to actually read signs when I got back was disconcerting. I know exactly what you’re talking about, except on a much smaller scale. I still miss the stares.

  47. On October 23, 2012 at 1:13 am Juliana said:

    These are some interesting thing to miss from your trip to China. It gives a different look into China’s culture.
    I know I wouldn’t be able to understand anything if I went to China. Here’s a funny story about others who didn’t understand everything, but recognized Bon Jovi when they heard him!

  48. On November 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm Sven said:

    I spent six months living in China, and probably what I miss most is the brutal honesty of the Chinese people. If you think someone is pretty, you say it, if you think someone is ugly, you could certainly say that too. It doesn’t seem to matter. I remember when I first got there, people told me every day that I was very handsome, but a little bit fat (by the time I left, I was no longer a little bit fat – much more walking and much less eating). One day, after being ill and under a lot of stress for about a week and a half, my students commented that I looked much uglier than usual…then they asked why I had many red spots on my face, and “English, how to say, what are these spots”. I explained that I had pimples (or zits) because I was stressed, and they get worse when under stress. No American (except maybe a close friend or family member) would ever comment on your having more pimples than usual, and hence, looking ugly! I didn’t mind at all though, because when the pimples went away, they told me I was finally handsome again. I absolutely loved teaching there and will never forget my students, they taught me so much!

  49. On November 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm Lewis said:

    I love this blog post. I moved back to the states 3 years ago from China and it took me a bit longer than you but I’m started to feel the same nostalgia for China you’re writing about. My wife is Chinese and we live in California(plenty of Chinese here!) so I haven’t had the opportunity to miss Chinese food nor ever will I suppose but the bit you wrote on grocery shopping was so spot on I had to stop myself for cracking up at work. I remember my first trip grocery shopping in Shenzhen I nearly had a panic attack and was literally shaking by the time I left. Twenty store employees screaming about sales on soy milk and oranges, aisles full of people pushing and shoving each other while screaming on their cell phones. Seriously, in the whole time I was there I can’t remember hearing anyone talking to someone at less than 100 decibels. But wow, as soon as you get to know people there they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. The way Chinese people treat strangers compared to their friends and family are in such stark contrast it still amazes me but I guess it goes with the size of the population.

    People in China work hard and have busy lives but unlike a lot of Americans they always find time to slow it down, have a beer with friends or a late night box of noodles on the street and catch up. You can strike up a friendly conversation with a police officer or a baoan on the street and they don’t look at you like you’re a criminal (Try doing that in NY or CA!). If you can speak even the lamest broken Mandarin people will always tell you how awesome your Chinese is. The price of nearly anything you buy in China is negotiable which in the beginning sucks because you start with the laowai price but as time goes on and you get a little more savvy becomes a fun game to see if you can get a better deal than your friends. Shopping for counterfeit clothes and electronics in China is way better than buying the legit version in the states because if you get it stained or if it breaks, who cares, you can get a new one dirt cheap because of your freshly developed haggling skills.

    After 3 years of being back home, having a normal office job again, having regular access to wonderful cheese, Mexican food and my own car I still can’t stop myself from feeling the itch to go back there to all the pollution, pushing and shoving, crowded buses and having to always check the change someone gives you for counterfeit RMB. I must be crazy but I love that place too 🙂 Thanks so much for writing this!

  50. On August 29, 2014 at 9:46 am Evelyn said:

    Great post! Will share it with all my Shanghai sisters 🙂 When I moved to Michigan from China, I missed the difficulty of getting things done. Everything was easy and convenient, something I thought would be a relief, but I actually found it overwhelmingly dull.
    I also missed the fact that in China, bizarre stuff (at least bizarre when viewed through a western lens) happened every day.

    • On September 6, 2014 at 1:11 pm Sally said:

      I can see how moving back to the States could feel dull after living in China, but I’m trying to fight that. I think living overseas taught me to really explore every chance I could get — poke around new shops, try out new restaurants, take weekend trips. So I try to do those same things here. It helps that I live in a new-to-me town and state, so that keeps me interested in exploring and doing new things.


  1. Our favourite digital nomad blog posts - 12 August 2012
  2. unbrave girl | That Time I Took a Raft Cruise on the Li River
  3. unbrave girl | That Time I Took a Raft Cruise on the Li River | Best Cruise Guide
  4. If Only I Had Travelled When I Was Single I’d Have Had A Blog Like These! | Life Changing Year

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge