4 Years & 4 months! How Did That Happen?!?


Alien Permit

I have been in China for 4 years and 4 months often wonder how did that happened? There are days it seems like yesterday and others like 40 years. There is a saying that goes like this, “In China, anything is possible. Nothing is easy”.  It is not easy. It is really hard and there are days it is really, really hard. What makes it so hard? The language, the differences in culture, working, thinking, and problem solving.  Going to the bank, all the paperwork, fapiaos, chops, and government rules and regulations. Spitting, snot rockets, public urination, overall sanitation, hygiene,  pollution, sidewalks uneven and can make you fall down, and sidewalks not for walking but for driving bikes and motorbikes. Food with heads on it, lack of lean meats, and expensive imported food when you can get what you want.  Even with all that crazy, everyday it has been a wild ride, the most exciting time in China’s history and an experience I do not regret. So here it is…

My top 10 list of things that I like about living in China after 4 years & 4 months (in no order just my stream of consciousness and after being considered an Alien of course, Wonder Woman (I hear there was a blonde one before Ms.Carter), Miranda from the Devil Wears Prada (I don’t know how to take that) and just my overall celebrity status in China) :

1. Not having a car. I love not having a car, the car payment, the gas (I can’t remember the last time I pumped gas, wonder if I will remember how?), hassle of maintenance. We take public transport everywhere, primarily the metro or walk.  Taxis are a pain, traffic is really bad in Shanghai and I don’t find taxis convenient because of it. The drivers also don’t understand what I am saying although when they repeat back to me it sounds exactly the same to me. Most drivers aren’t good, they make me car sick, and you are risking your life (although I do that walking the street each day- I feel more in control walking).

Lesson: I think we will try to have 1 car when we move back to the US. Lets see how long that will last but we can try! I do miss the convenience of having a car for shopping it is nice to be able to load up more than a days worth of groceries at a time. In China, we can only buy what we can carry.

2. Changing view of the “American Dream” and consumerism. Now don’t think I am going crazy, I am still materialistic and like nice things and gadgets but maybe more selective. We have downsized. From no cars, no house to a small one bedroom one bath apartment. When I want things, I go for quality versus quantity and try to think if I really need that in my life? It is a work in progress I have good days and not so good days. It also helps we are not bombarded with ads and commercials for the latest “stuff” because we don’t watch TV here and if we did it would be in Chinese and not stuff I am interested in.  Also stuff just costs more here with the taxes. Cosmetics have something like a 100% mark up, electronics although made here not cheaper here. I don’t buy clothes in China, they don’t fit me and when I am back in the US I do get some things because it is all so darn cheap and I just can’t help myself but since China’s water and lack of good quality washing machines kills clothes (I am sure when the ayi uses dish soap in the washing machine that helps too) so buying fancy, nice things why bother when they are going to get ruined.  Whites are now yellow, blacks are like gray. It doesn’t matter because we all are wearing clothes like that so why spend the $$.  Our place is small there is no room for stuff.  We were down to 1 roll of toilet paper the other day and Todd went to the store and bought 2 rolls. Not 20 but 2. That is how it is sold because no one has space for Costco sized things. I do miss Costco…

Lesson: Let see if we can stay small and not have too many things when we move back. Again going to try but there is Costco in the US…

3. When I do shop in China I love the markets and all the different things you can get and just how it is done. Random booths, stalls, shops and carts of just stuff. Random stuff.  I also like how you go to the eyeglass market and there are floors after floors of nothing but vendors selling eyeglasses, the pearl market and stalls after stalls of pearls, the fabric market, nothing but tailors. It is so much fun and nothing has prices on it so I have learned to love to bargain. I will bargain for everything! For the most part I enjoy it, except when I am in a hurry or not in the mood which happens a lot because bargaining and the game and theatrics of it can get tiring. My favorite lines when shopping, “that price hurts my heart” and “I am not a dumb melon!”.  I can’t wait to come back to the US, need help buying a car bring me! I ready. No shame or embarrassment anymore.  Thanks China for this great life skill.

Lesson: You can bargain for anything and the worst that will happen is they will say no but they could say yes. 🙂

4. Everything is recycled and one person’s junk is another treasure or source of income. I mean everything! There are cardboard recyclers, bottles, styrofoam, folks who take apart lamps, appliances, etc.  for the parts and use all the parts it is incredible. Trash is picked through to see what can be reused, or recycled. In our complex, we have trash areas and there are folks who put trash cans more convenient than the large trash areas so they can get to the bags first. It does make me sad. The other day this older lady was so excited to see us coming with a bag and told us she will take it. I wish I had some good things in there for her. Even food is recycled. Chinese are closer to food sources than we are in the US. Nothing goes to waste- have a duck? They are going to eat the duck, its feet, tongue, liver, heart, and blood. Nothing goes to waste. I wonder if they tell their kids “there are starving children in America finish you food!”

Lesson: Keep recycling and eat less meat it is not good for the environment and probably us all.

5. Happy hour. I love happy hour. Shanghai  has a lot of good happy hours. Lots of BOGO offers or special priced which equals good deals. Otherwise it is expensive to enjoy a cocktail because it ridiculously priced. We also go to happy hour a lot with friends which is so nice and no one is driving because we don’t have cars so it is a super fun time.  Last time I was in MA I was like what no happy hour? I guess the state of MA doesn’t allow it. Get with it people, probably has something to do with driving… Happy hour is awesome.

Lesson: Don’t move back to MA and don’t ever drink and drive, that is just silly. Call Uber!

6. I am usually the first one to wish friends on Facebook happy birthday because of the time difference and being ahead of the US. That is really fun! Speaking of friends, I have friends from all over the world which has been great, it is like being in college, we are all here for a certain period of time, so in time people leave. We all will “graduate” from China.  It gets hard and sad. I also miss my friends at home. I don’t know if they miss me because not too many have come to visit. Get on that friends reading this because we will not be here that much longer… so I think…

Lesson: You need friends, especially ones that visit…hint, hint, hint.

7. Dumplings. I love street dumplings. Those are pretty yum. We also have a good collection of restaurants that we love (and happy hour places) and there are new restaurants coming all the time to try. Expensive but good.

Lesson: You will not die eating all street food but it is still risky and I am not sure what it is I am really eating.

8. Not having to travel with a toothbrush! All the bathroom amenities kits hotels give you is nice. I have come to not travel without toothbrushes which is a problem when I travel outside of Asia. I also like that most hotel stays also include breakfast. Depending on where you stay will depend if it is good or not… but still included, a nice gesture.

Lesson: Bring a toothbrush when traveling outside of Asia

9. Ikea. I love Ikea everywhere in the world but in China is it extra special because people actually take naps in the beds, watch their iPads on the sofa and just make a day of it. Why not? It is air conditioned, has nice things, and meatballs! Looking for a mate? Ikea is also the hook up place for the seniors, free coffee and a chance to find love. Ikea is awesome! Great place to people watch.

Lesson:  If you want to buy anything go when Ikea first opens (BTW there are 3 in Shanghai now) otherwise it is frustrating with all the folks not shopping but enjoying the day.

1o. I have seen so many things in China. Even the most creative writers and thinkers in the the world would not come up with some of the stuff I have seen. I may never be the same over some. It is the Wild Wild East. Shanghai is truly the city that doesn’t sleep. The change, the speed of change, it is incredible.  The experience has made me appreciate being an American and the USA even more.  I do look forward to returning to a life where it is just easier. Maybe not as exciting but it will be easier.

Lesson:  Things I have found annoying in the past are really not that bad. Such as I will try not to bitch about Internet being out and the service window Noon-4 and they don’t come till 4. I have learned when a service person comes within 4 days it is awesome and if he is actually the Internet guy versus some random maintenance man, wow, going to be a good day and there is a chance it may be fixed! Oh China.

Here is my other top 10 list of things I just don’t care for living in China.

My Top 10 List of Things I Still Don’t Like About Living in China:

DurianNo Fish

1. Durian it is just nasty and I don’t blame hotels, offices, and airplanes from banning it. It should be made extinct. Now if someone could ban fish in the microwave I would appreciate that as well.

2. Why are there even sidewalks? What is their purpose other than another express way for bikes and scooters. It is hard to be a pedestrian in China. It is just not safe it is a live Frogger game everyday. The side walks are also uneven, full of spit, and poop you have to watch your step and even when you do, you can fall down. I had dreams of being like the girls on Sex in the City in my power suits and high heels. Yeah, doesn’t happen. I wear my crazy faded colored clothes I had for 3 years in flats and still fall down.

3. Spitting and snot rockets I can’t stand it! It is so gross. The amazing David Sedaris said it best on a visit to China thinking it was a coffee bar. Exactly, it is what is sounds like someone making damn cappuccinos all the time. The reason why people take off their shoes in houses is because the streets are so disgusting full of spit, poop, you name it.

4. Polluted elements. The pollution, the gray, yellow haze gets old really fast. There are days you taste it. Also smoking is everywhere. Even though Shanghai has a ban on smoking in restaurants no one observes or enforces it so you go out and it is like a smoking box. Makes going out to my beloved happy hour a problem. The water. I hear the water is bad because of the old metal pipes  and thousands of dead sick pigs being disposed of in the river and who knows what else. “Organic” is getting big here but I don’t care if it says “organic”, how do you really know? I mean really? Things say Louis Vuitton as well and I know that not to be true… it cost $15. Also if it is organic, where is the water coming from? Is it being imported? Because the rain water is polluted from the air and the other water, the pipes are bad. I don’t believe it for a second. This is pretty concerning when I think about it so I must move on or I will be on the next plan home.

5. Nail clipping and public grooming. This includes nose picking, ear cleaning,  shaving, and zit popping. All done in public, airplanes, metro, at your office desk.

6. The Great Firewall of China and the slow ass internet. It is ridiculous. Guess that is what happens when all traffic is monitored. Need to slow it down so the poor folks who are reading emails and checking what we are doing on the Internet can take it all in.

7. Flight delays. I think I have been on maybe 2 flights that have left on time in China since I have been here and I travel a lot. They are always delays and can be delayed for days. The gov owns the airspace and there are days they decide to do whatever it is that they do and there is no communication. The airlines have no idea what is going on, all they know if they can’t fly planes so you sit and wait with no info. It is awesome. I have learned to fly on the earliest flights out because no gov employee likes to get up early… go in the afternoon you will be stuck!

8. Squat toilets. If using a squat toilet isn’t enough there is also no toilet paper, soap, or paper towels that just add to the public restroom experience.

9. Fapiaos! I hate fapiaos they make no sense to me and a pain to ask for so I don’t which gets me in trouble at work when I do an expense report because they won’t accept my receipt without the damn fapiao because otherwise I could be lying. It is one of the most inefficient things I have experienced next to the bag checks at the metro stations. Those poor folks.

10. Learning Chinese. The tones they are hard for me, I am tone deaf-HA! There is one word that is pronounced 4 different ways via the tone and has 4 different meanings. When you can’t hear the difference in the tones you end up having no idea what is being said exactly and most of the time just wrong. It is not just my problem, even locals can’t understand each other which is funny. Darn complicated language.  I also have been made fun of when I speak, told I speak like a baby, I don’t make fun of you when you speak Chinglish… so why are you giving me s$^% about my Chinese? I want to be applauded for my efforts, gold star, high-five.. but no… I also swear I am saying the same thing, the exact same way but I am wrong and corrected. So I gave up! It is too hard so I stopped at  basic survival skills, shopping and ordering food and drinks. I get by.

There you have it my list of living in China for 4 years & 4 months. I still wonder how did that happen?!?