Welcome to China! It has been an interesting transition so far into a completely foreign culture, language, and geographical location. I’m not quite sure what I expected China to be like, but I think I can honestly say that this is different than what I expected. Not necessarily “bad” different, for some things have far exceeded my expectations, but “different” different. Some things will just take some getting used to. Here are some of our first impressions…
- From the moment we got into the van to leave the airport, the way that the Chinese people drive has been impressionable. Drivers making harrowing turns, taxis thrusting themselves into oncoming traffic to go around other cars, people impatiently honking and driving out just far enough to get in front of you, cars parking anywhere they want, including on the sidewalks, forcing you to walk in the street… I thought that Latin American driving was bad (and it is)… but this… this is worse. I know that traffic rules exist here, but no one follows them. And if you are a pedestrian, watch out! There is no such thing as a “right of way” here, so get out of the way or get run over!
- Communication has certainly been an issue. In stores, people come up to us to try to sell us stuff and just stand there awkwardly while we clearly have no idea what they are saying to us. It is even less helpful when they try to spell out what they are saying using Chinese characters air-drawn with their fingers on their hands… like that helps if we don’t understand Chinese…
- We have had to walk a lot of places (within a few miles of our place) because we don’t know how to communicate to the taxi drivers where we want to go. Trying to communicate even little things, without a translator, is very difficult. Gesticulations only go so far. We definitely need to learn more Chinese!
- People here wear the strangest things… the fashion for men is to roll their shirts up under their chest so that their big bellies hang out. Everyone does this and it is so comical to me, but it is totally normal here. The women all wear special sleeves and carry umbrellas if they go out to keep themselves safe from the sun. Culturally, it is frowned upon to have any sort of tan because it means that you have had to work in the sun and are probably poor. It’s even next to impossible to find sunscreen here without a whitening agent. The other thing that is acceptable here is for the babies and small children (like anyone under 2) to wear crotchless pants without a diaper (or to wear no pants at all). So you’re walking along and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, cute kid!” and then you look down and you’re like… “oh… penis!” It still shocks me every time.
- Shopping has always proven to be an interesting if not extremely frustrating experience. From shoddy shopping carts to not being able to ask anyone for what we’re looking for to learning that you have to pay for certain things in certain places and not pay at the end all together… it has been quite the experience. Combine that with trying to carry all of your purchases and catch a cab to take it all home (and the cabs don’t want to pick you up if you have a lot of stuff). Shopping is a whole different kind of experience here! You also have to pay for plastic bags, which is a thing I actually appreciate and an idea that I think the U.S. should adopt!
- Chinese people have no sense of “personal space” or personal boundaries really. They will stare at you and take pictures of you completely unashamed. They don’t feel bad at all about being right up next to you or being up in your face- at the store, at restaurants, anywhere really. They also smoke in public (even inside) and answer their phones even if they are in the middle of a conversation with you.
- Using the bathroom is always an interesting experience. They have what we have dubbed “Squatty potties” which are basically holes in the ground with a rim. Some places you go they are so filthy and smelly that you think you are going to die, but other places are not so bad. You have to carry T.P. with you everywhere because you never know what kind of bathroom you might get. And, much like Mexico and Central America, their sewage system is not made to handle toilet paper, so we have to remember to throw our T.P. in the trash can instead of the toilet. We’re used to it now, but it is not an easy transition to make! On another strange note, those crotchless pants that children wear make it easy for them to pee/poop in public… yes, even inside… which blows me away. Walking through the supermarket… oh, there’s a baby peeing on the floor… So gross.
- The smells here are something I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to. There are some so retched, I think I might hurl. Sewage is the worst. Also, since it is a seaside town, it always smells a little fishy. They dry shrimp right on the street (without any sort of tarp or anything in between) and you can sure smell it! There is also a lot of air pollution here and sometimes it just hangs in the air. But one of the smells that is most frequent is that of mold or mildew. The humidity here in the summer is outrageous and most places don’t use their air conditioning so mold is all over the walls, on the carpets, etc. We are pretty lucky not to have any (visible at least) mold in our apartment, but in our stairwell coming up to our apartment, there is black mold ALL over the walls. Probably not so good for our health.
- Eating has also proven to be a difficult endeavor (sad, but true). Whether at home or out and about, everything from reading menus (which we can’t) to our stomachs handling the food (or not) to eating with chopsticks and figuring out that you have to pay before you eat at food courts, eating has been quite the challenge. Plus it has been a struggle to figure out how to cook here. What we were certain was an oven actually turned out to be a dish sanitizer (yes, they have those). I think we are just now figuring things out.
- “CPT” to us (no offense to anyone) now means “Chinese people time.” Like in Latin America and other cultures, time is just simply not important. It is for work, but for anything else, there is no hurry.
- The mattresses here are rock hard. “Firm” isn’t even a word I would use to describe them. When we got our apartment, we were so excited, but our bed was AWFUL. Literally you could knock on it and it sounded like a wooden door… a door covered with a thin sheet. At one point, during our first week of school, we decided to pull all of our cushions off of the sofas and chairs and put them on our bed for a little added padding. It worked okay but then we had nowhere to sit, and the cushions ended either right at my shoulder or right at my hip, so one or the other was out of luck. SO… our best investment so far (and BY FAR) has been a Slumber Maax Memory Foam mattress. It has transformed our lives! Now the only thing keeping us from sleeping is the fact that it gets light outside (like REALLY light) at like 4:30 in the morning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up and had a freak-out moment thinking that I overslept when really it was like 5 in the morning.
- “The Rule of 7.” This is how my friends put it… everything in China takes about 7 times longer than you think it should. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is… it takes forever. Sometimes they do things so contrary to what makes sense to us or how we think things should be done, but that’s just China.
- Doing laundry takes a long time since there are no dryers here. We air dry everything in our apartments. I actually like it a lot- it is way more environmentally friendly and saves a lot of energy. However, that being said, it also takes a lot longer to get laundry done.
- There are so many people here and they get up so early! One morning we woke up really early and decided to go for a run along the beach at 6 am… there were like hundreds of people up and out! It was crazy! One of my favorite things (and probably one of the most entertaining) is the evening synchronized aerobics (which we liken to Jazzercize). There are three people in charge wearing matching sweat suits and carrying whistles. They move to lots of techno music and they lead everyone in this synchronized aerobics routine at dusk… it is pretty awesome. I would totally join in if I knew the routine!
- The last thing I will mention, and one of the best by far, are the Chinese-to-English translations that we’ve found. Absolutely hilarious! We call them Chenglish…Enjoy the pictures.More to come soon!
September 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm
Thanks for all the information, I hope it get better for you guys. Take care & will keep you guys in my prayers.
September 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm
Sounds like an adventure to me! Trent..send me your email so I can send you an armadillo to be photographed in china for the hallway wall! firstname.lastname@example.org