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

September 9, 2012

After writing that post a few weeks ago about all the stuff I miss about living in China, I thought it would only be fair to write a post about the stuff I don’t miss.

You know, because I’m all about balance. Except, of course, when it comes to dessert.

Balance, schmalance.

Much like the stuff I miss, the stuff I don’t miss has been kind of a surprise to me.

It’s not the obvious things — the things I thought I would be happy to leave behind, like the crowds and the crazy traffic and the smog.

If anything I find myself kind of missing those things – well, not the crowds or the crazy traffic.

But the smog did make for some pretty photos. Which always made all those pollution-induced respiratory infections I suffered feel kind of worth it.

Kind of.

Ooo, pretty.

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

1. Itty bitty, overpriced toiletries
On my first day back in the States, I went to the local drug store and bought a bottle of lotion bigger than my head. I had to use both hands to lug it to the cash register, where I was shocked to discover how cheap it was. The thing weighed as much as a two-year-old child, but it cost about half as much as the teeny weeny bottles of lotion I used to buy in China.

Guess which sunblock I bought in China. Hint: it’s the really small one you can hardly see.

You see, the cost of living in China may be cheap.

But the cost of moisturizing (and conditioning and sunblocking) was ridiculously expensive.

I have always been a quantity over quality kind of girl when it comes to toiletries.

What can I say?

I go through a lot of toiletries. I attribute this to the fact that when it comes to lotion and sunscreen and other skincare products, I have a pretty large surface area to cover. And I have hair that needs at least a gallon of conditioner applied to it daily to prevent me from looking like the Bride of Frankenstein.

This look doesn’t come easy, folks. Trust me.

I don’t care if my lotion is chock full of pomegranate extract and honey from some rare breed of Himalayan, albino bees. My conditioner doesn’t need to smell like organic ylang-ylang oil. And my sunblock needn’t have some fancy French name I can’t pronounce.

But I would like it served in a bucket, please.

It’s possible I have gone a bit overboard stocking up on oversized toiletries since my return to the States.

Do you know how hard it is to swig mouthwash out of a bottle that you can’t even lift?

And do I really need five hundred cotton swabs? Honestly, there are only so many times I need to clean my ears in a day. But that was, seriously, the smallest size box they had available at the store.

In America, cotton swabs apparently grow on trees. That’s why you can buy so many of them.

Luckily, the back of the box provided some helpful illustrations on other suggested uses for my new monster stash of swabs. Apparently, I can use them to type with when my fingers get tired.

Prevent carpal tunnel! Type with swabs!

And I guess they’re also really good for combing the hair of babies. Now, I just need, like, 500 babies and I’ll be good.

Anybody know where I can get lots of babies for cheap?

2. The gym

I can’t say I’m a big fan of gyms in general.

Because it’s a gym, you guys. The kind of people who enjoy gyms are the kind of people who wear yoga pants to do yoga and not just to sit around their house all day.

I think we can all agree I’m not those people.

Not my happy place.

So I was kind of surprised when I went back to the gym in the States for the first time, and I actually almost enjoyed myself.

Nobody stared at me while I got dressed in the locker room.

I didn’t have to dodge children playing hide-and-seek among the weight machines like I used to have to do on a regular basis at my gym in China.

And I didn’t have to spend thirty minutes on the treadmill breathing in cigarette smoke from the gym’s smoking lounge. Because, my gym here doesn’t have one of those. I know, crazy, right? I mean, where are all the middle-aged guys going to go to smoke their post-workout pack of cigarettes? Or, you know, just go to hang out and smoke cigarettes even though they never bothered to work out?

Gym smoking lounge: I do not miss you. Even though you were kind of swanky.

3. Living with my coworkers

I’m currently living at home.

With my parents.

And it’s awesome.

I swear I’m not just saying that because my dad reads my blog. (Hi, Dad!)

But because it is awesome.

You see, I’ve always felt living with your parents is one of those experiences that you really can’t appreciate until you’re older. And wiser. And realize that there are worse people you could be living with.

Like your coworkers.

You see, in China, I lived in university housing, which had its perks.

Like, you know, the fact that it was free.

And the fact that was my couch.

Hello there, beautiful.

But the one big downside to this was that I had to live with my coworkers. No offense to any of my coworkers or anything. I worked with lots of lovely people.

But, think about it, guys.

Think about the people you work with right now. I’m sure you work with lots of lovely people, too. But you probably also work with a few people that you’d rather not see past five o’clock on a Friday, right?

Now imagine you had to live with them.

All of them.

All of the time.

Even that creepy dude in Accounting who chews really loudly and always says weird things about your shoes.

Yep, even him.


I told you living with my parents is awesome.

4. My job

Don’t get me wrong. My job wasn’t bad in China.

I had a cushy four-day work-week and lots of vacation time.

My classes were long, but I wasn’t expected to keep office hours or sit at a desk for hours on end.

I had a lot of freedom as far as what I got to teach and how I got to teach it.

Sure, the classrooms looked like something straight out of Little House on the Prairie, but at least the electricity would usually work. Kind of.

And my students were pleasant and, generally, well-behaved.

But they weren’t particularly excited to be there.

You see, I worked at a low level, private university – basically a last resort for students who weren’t able to get into a prestigious, public university or a higher level, private university.

All of my students had spent the majority of their childhood studying for the national college entrance exam – only to fail it. Understandably, they weren’t too eager to spend another four years of their life studying, but they didn’t have much choice. Many of them told me they had been forced to go to college by their parents. Even the students who wanted to be there were often forced to study a major they weren’t interested in.

While most of them would dutifully show up to class, they weren’t particularly keen on being there.

And, well, to be perfectly honest, neither was I.

Two weeks ago, I started a new job — teaching academic writing to international students at a university here in Buffalo.

So this happened. Yay!

And, for the first time in a long time, I’m excited to go to work.

Partly because I work with a really awesome bunch of people. And I’m not just saying that because some of those awesome people read my blog. (Hi, awesome coworker people! I didn’t mean what I said up there about living with my coworkers. I would totally want to live with you guys. All of you. All the time. That’s not creepy, right?)

And partly because I work for a university that has abundant resources and excellent facilities. Like, I’m pretty sure all the classrooms come with heat. And I won’t be forced to wear gloves while I teach this winter. That’s going to get exciting.

But mostly because I work with such an energetic, engaged bunch of students.

This week one of my classes spent thirty minutes debating the merits of journal writing versus brainstorming as an effective prewriting technique. Then, they almost got into a fistfight over the best way to outline a paragraph.

I could have cried it was so beautiful.

5. The attention
I really thought I would miss all the attention I used to get in China — the stares, the honking cars, the random strangers shouting “hello” at me on the street.

At the very least, I thought I’d miss visiting famous places and having everyone ask to take a photo of me like I was part of the attraction.

What’s that you say? You want to take a picture of ME? Well, if you insist.

Sure, other people might find all that attention disconcerting, but this is me we’re talking about here. I have a blog where I write entirely about myself. And post pictures of myself in a pink pleather cop uniform.

Umm, yeah.

It’s not as if I don’t like a little attention, you guys.

After getting all that attention for so long, it’s been weird to return to the States and feel anonymous once again – but it’s a good weird.

I kind of like being able to blend in a bit even with my Bride of Frankenstein hair.

I can take a walk down my street without worrying about cars swerving because the drivers are too busy staring at me to watch the road.

I can go to the grocery store and not have any of my fellow shoppers stop to inspect the contents of my cart.

And last weekend I went to Niagara Falls with some friends, and not a single person asked to take my picture.

Which, admittedly, was the teensiest bit disappointing.

I mean, when are you going to see two wonders of nature like this together ever again? Probably not anytime soon.

Get your cameras, folks. This may not happen again in your lifetime.

Have you ever found yourself not missing something about a place — especially something you thought you would really kind of miss? What was it?

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

  1. On September 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm Edna said:

    I nearly choked on the cotton swab photos. And everyone knows the best way to outline a paragraph is hamburger style.
    Edna recently posted..Bastille Day: My strangest day in Paris

  2. On September 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm Lillie - @WorldLillie said:

    Love this!!! Hilarious as usual. Forwarding it to my friend who just got back from two years in Chongqing!
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..Our Wedding Was on a Reality TV Show! Details Here.

  3. On September 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm Steve said:

    I’m pretty sure that if you need an injection of attention into your life, all you’d have to do is show up at a blogging conference. I’d totally stalk you there to get my picture taken with you (Unless you’re in your pink pleather outfit…that things intimidating!).
    Steve recently posted..TripAdvisor’s Strangest Complaints

    • On September 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm Sally said:

      I’d love to attend a blogger’s conference, but I’m also totally intimidated by the idea. I think I’d need my uniform just to give me a little courage…

  4. On September 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm Selly said:

    Fabulous post, witty as always. Was going to sleep but had to read this first. 🙂

  5. On September 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm Lindsay said:

    Love it!

  6. On September 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm Priya said:

    Outlining a paragraph is serious stuff, yo!

    Did you lived with your coworkers or they just lived in your building? And Sally, I mean really, why didn’t you adopt 500 babies while you were in China?!

    Um, I want to see the Bride of Frankenstein. I put in my request now… next to the flossing youtube video. And don’t worry, when you visit, I’ll take lots of pictures of you : )

    P.S. I STILL can’t believe that there was a cigarette smoking lounge your gym in China. Who’s genius idea was that?
    Priya recently posted..Why Every Single Lady Needs an Imaginary Boyfriend (Even If She Doesn’t Want One)

  7. On September 9, 2012 at 10:50 pm DebbZie said:

    Thanks for the info, Sally !
    Now I’m learning to type with cotton swabs. A bit tricky but it works :p
    DebbZie recently posted..Canada: Alcoholess Drunk In Summerhill Pyramid Winery

  8. On September 10, 2012 at 12:18 am cosmoHallitan said:

    I’m not going to miss all the attention either. As a blonde with skin so pale it’s almost translucent, I am photographed A LOT. It’s amusing and sometimes fun when I get to meet someone nice (hello to all my friends in Xinjiang Provence!) but sometimes it’s very time consuming. If I pose with one person, three more line up to take their place. And what are they doing with all these photos anyway? Is there a weibo site dedicated to pics with foreigners?
    cosmoHallitan recently posted..Snapshot: Cats of Shanghai

  9. On September 10, 2012 at 5:54 am Katherina said:

    What a great post, Sally! I just returned from China on saturday (many blog posts to come on that!), and must admit, it felt really weird to be asked to be taken pictures with. Even weirder, sometimes I spotted chinese teenagers taking pictures of us without permission, with their mobile phones. I wonder if I’m now on chinese facebook somewhere…
    Katherina recently posted..September Challenge: Where’s North Again?

  10. On September 10, 2012 at 7:19 am Bob said:

    Great read as always, Sally. I like the fact that I don’t have to ever live in China to know what it would be like. But I would recommend that you still wear gloves n Buffalo…it’s cold outside.

  11. On September 10, 2012 at 9:43 am dave said:

    Great post. I certainly can relate.

    Maybe a 6th thing: Being reminded that the culture/country is 5,000 years old.

    I’m so tired of hearing this. I’m always tempted to reply: “Oh yeah, then why are the kids are still pooping in planter boxes and there is never any soap in the bathrooms?”

    but I hold my tongue.

    • On September 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm Sally said:

      Oh, yes, I always loved the “China has an ancient culture” response to simple questions like, “Why don’t we have heat in this building?” or “Why are all the windows open? It’s the middle of winter!” Yeah, I’m pretty sure I won’t miss that, either.

  12. On September 10, 2012 at 10:29 am Carmel said:

    I’m just confused…yoga pants are NOT designed for sitting around all day watching tv? I thought they were so comfortable and stretchy so you could eat and drink all you want without feeling like you’ve overdone it. Hmm.

    I know my blond friends were not too sad to leave the “sss sss” noises and “eh, rubia!” cat calls from the construction workers in Spain.
    Carmel recently posted..Mom’s birthday dinner

    • On September 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha, I just put on my yoga pants the other day & noticed they were kind of coming apart at the seams. I guess they’ve been getting a good workout & it hasn’t been at the gym — that’s for sure!

  13. On September 10, 2012 at 10:36 am Emma Lander said:

    This is excellent. I particularly like the cotton buds for tired fingers 😉
    I was in China this time last year and went to the Forbidden City, it was more than a little weird when every where I turned people were sneakily trying to take photo’s of me. I preferred it when they just asked!!
    Emma Lander recently posted..…Helsinki

  14. On September 10, 2012 at 2:19 pm Daisy said:

    Looking at the comparison photo of sunscreens, my first though was, “Wow. That cap is really orange.”

    Then I realized that “cap” was actually a full bottle of Chinese sunscreen.
    Daisy recently posted..I passed my doctoral defense!

  15. On September 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) said:

    We’re currently hanging out in Hong Kong (eating our body weight’s worth of dim sum) waiting for our mainland China visas and now you have me worried about this pricey teeny tiny toiletries! The ones here in HK are cheap but HUGE (like way too big for me to reasonably bring them in my backpack), so how expensive are we talking for shampoo, conditioner & bodywash? Nothing fancy, just the cheapest stuff!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Celebrating Obon in Matsushima

    • On September 11, 2012 at 8:00 am Sally said:

      Well, it all depends on what you buy & where you buy it. Sunblock & face cream & any cosmetics are definitely the priciest of the toiletries. A lot of stores even have those anti-theft tags on their sunscreen — that’s when you know the prices are crazy! You can usually get shampoo & conditioner at decent prices (as long as you don’t want something too fancy), but the bottles are usually pretty small especially in small, local stores. And lotion can be kind of a toss up — usually it’s pretty expensive, but you can find some cheaper store brands. I’d recommend shopping at big Western-style grocery stores or Watson’s for those kind of goods, as you can usually find a bigger selection & better prices.

  16. On September 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm Jessica Hill said:

    Oh wow – I just got settled in China, and I’m living in a very similar situation, though my couch pales in comparison! I’m going to keep my eye out for the creepy shoe guy in the building – I’m sure he’s hiding somewhere – and hope that the campus gym doesn’t have a smoking lounge.

    Good luck on the new job – I hope you’ll post about that too, as it seems I’m following in your footsteps. I’d love to hear all about what I’m getting myself into after this year in China 😉

    • On September 11, 2012 at 7:55 am Sally said:

      Ha ha, I’ll try to have an awesome future for you. And have fun in China! I’m sure you won’t have any trouble getting yourself a creeper who says weird things about your shoes.

  17. On September 11, 2012 at 12:24 am KopyKatKiller said:

    Great post. I just found your blog and I enjoy your style very much. Keep up the good work!

  18. On September 11, 2012 at 7:50 am Sid said:

    I went to Italy years ago … 2007? Anyway, at one point some woman stopped and stared at me. And then she started muttering and stroking her cheek. Since I don’t speak Italian, I can only imagine that she was saying, “You have the most beautiful skin ever. Are you a model?”
    Sid recently posted..A lot like love – wedding picture 2 & 3

  19. On September 11, 2012 at 8:34 am Julia said:

    A smoking lounge?? In the gym?? Oh crazy China…what will you think of next?
    Also, as for the toiletries, I totally agree on quantity over quality. I would slither around all day wearing too much body lotion if I could, but alas, I have also found that toiletries in certain foreign countries are very expensive. A major downside for me and my skin, but a plus for sitting on plastic furniture 😉
    Julia recently posted..Oh Italy: I Love You, I Love You Not

  20. On September 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    Is it weird that I get Chinese tourists askign to have their photo taken with me … here?!

  21. On September 12, 2012 at 8:37 am Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories said:

    Public transport. The crowds didn’t really bother me so much when I was in China (maybe because I lived in Tokyo before moving to Shanghai), but now that I’m in Germany I really enjoy the luxury of breathing on the subway, not to mention occasionally even getting a few minutes with not a single person pressed up against me. I even got a seat the other day!

    And it turns out exiting the subway is a lot easier when other people aren’t getting on at the exact same time and in the exact same space. Plus Germany doesn’t have little old ladies that spend all evening sharpening their elbows so that they can jab them into my ribs during the morning rush (although we do have big old ladies that will swing a purse at me for riding my bike off the bike path).

    • On September 16, 2012 at 11:17 am Sally said:

      I didn’t have to take public transport everyday in China, as my commute was all of a 5-minute bike ride. (One advantage of living on campus!) So I oddly kind of miss Chinese public transportation, especially since my hometown in the States doesn’t really do public transportation so much. I have to drive everywhere here, which means I have to actually pay attention to where I’m going & can’t just stare at people the whole time. Bummer.

  22. On September 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm Naomi said:

    I’m impressed. you got the couch AND the pleather outfit pictures into yet another blog post. I’m sure going to miss seeing those photos!!

  23. On September 14, 2012 at 7:56 am Dami said:

    Hahaha enjoyed reading this

  24. On September 16, 2012 at 7:27 am Laurence said:

    Mmmm. Ear potato harvesters.
    Laurence recently posted..In photos: from the Facebook page–edition III

  25. On September 16, 2012 at 11:42 am 50+ and on the Run said:

    As an occasional blonde, I had the same experience throughout China, as did my giant 6’5″ son. Amazing how many people wanted us to hold their babies. Makes you wonder how many Chinese family photo albums you are in, doesn’t it?
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..Sunday Haiku XXX

  26. On September 16, 2012 at 11:44 am 50+ and on the Run said:

    As an occasional blonde, I had the same experience throughout China, as did my giant 6’5″ son. Amazing how many people wanted us to hold their babies. Makes you wonder how many family photo albums you’re in, doesn’t it?
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..Sunday Haiku XXX

  27. On September 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm ChinaMatt said:

    I remember going through the missing/not missing China phase after returning to the states. I was the opposite on the teaching part–I had a great experience at nice grad school in China, which was so much better than teaching at an urban community college.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..Hiding Beneath the Clouds

    • On September 17, 2012 at 10:15 am Sally said:

      Teaching at a grad school in China sounds great, but I really did miss the diversity of students. That’s what I love the most about teaching in the States — being able to have a classroom full of people from all over the world.

  28. On September 17, 2012 at 9:36 am choi kum fook said:

    Miss Sally, Your posts are coming out more and more fabulous and marvelous!I am impressed most of this post was cotton swab. As you stated,beside common uses, it could be used as for typing instead of big fingers, as combing for babies, other than that,any other functioning? Miss Sally, you really have creative minded brain! Ha!Ha! Finally, have good luck and good days in your new job! Congratulation!

  29. On September 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm Ceri said:

    Living with parents or living with coworkers? Uhhh, think I’ll just go live in a box somewhere. Neither sound that appealing. Hahaha.

    But I’m glad you’re happy to be back home, hun. 😀 That is a big arse load of moisturiser! Holy hell!
    Ceri recently posted..My Name is Ceri & I Have a Parasite in my Stomach

  30. On February 13, 2013 at 4:22 pm Dania said:

    Ah no, you went to Niagara Falls, if only I had known I live pretty near there, I would have –
    yeah…I’m acting creepy.
    I noticed that you have curly hair just like me! Woot. :3 I’m middle eastern so it’s like double the volume of normal people, and it’s…very curly.
    A couple tips I learned to manage my hair, was, a) “comb” your hair in the shower
    b) while your hair is damp – insert conditioning products then wrap it up in a braid, or wrap of some sort.
    and c) avoid exposure to hair during bad weather.
    There is no alternative for that last one, unfortunately. Frizz galore!
    How about you?
    Dania recently posted..I love this version of “A heart full of love”.

    • On February 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm Sally said:

      While my hair is very curly, it’s oddly very thin and fine (in Brazil the hairdressers would marvel over my “baby hair” because everyone has super thick, nice hair there). Because my hair is so fine it dries out really quickly. So I actually condition my hair everyday, but only shampoo it about once a month. I know, weird, right? My hairdresser was kind of mortified when I told her, but it totally works for my hair.

  31. On July 1, 2013 at 6:55 am Jacqueline said:

    Wow! You had me at cotton swaps, but true love happened at the smoking rooms at the gym. Seriously, why does this happen? my gym is in a basement which only compounds the smoke stench. hahaha. I recently moved to Shanghai and started my own blog but I look forward to reading through all your previous posts to see what I’m in for. All of these ring true so far! Your writing style is hilarious and even your comment feedback is witty! (no pressure. 😉 ) wishing you continued great luck!
    Jacqueline recently posted..Being the Worst Shanghai Tour Guide: A How To


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