They say that reverse culture shock is always worse than the initial culture shock of going abroad and I know leaving Asia will be difficult. Although China was a hard country to live in because of the language, local people’s culture and of course that horrible 7/8 hour time difference, it was easier than I make it out to be; I only cried twice in China. The first time was the first night I arrived, after almost 24 hours of travelling with a dodgy tummy I just wanted to find my dormitory and sleep but I arrived after midnight at Qingdao university. My taxi driver didn’t know where my dorm was so he just dropped me at the big gate and I was stranded. I knew where my dorm was but the gates were all locked, I woke up several watchmen who didn’t seem to understand or help me and when one started shouting at me I just cried. I was cold, lonely and had no idea what to do until some nice people in the hotel helped me find a hole in the fence for me to climb through. The second time I cried was on the plane to Thailand when I left China. Again, I wasn’t feeling too good after a three hour delay and the reality just hit me that I don’t know when I’ll be going back to China and I may not see some of my Asian friends ever again.
There are so many things that happen in China that I don’t think can possibly happen anywhere else in the world. Even my politest of friends would still spit their chicken bones on the table, people would encourage their children to go to the toilet (both types) on the street and little boys had big slits in the middle of their trousers making this even easier. Curious people would approach me in the street asking for a picture of/with me because I was a foreigner and the people too scared to talk to me would just take a picture without asking. Children would tug at their parents arms and say “Look Mum, a foreigner!” At first these things obviously shocked and outraged me but soon I became immune to the shock factor and by the end of my time in China not much could shock me.
The way of life I’ve gotten used to has been very different. Most days something outrageous, crazy, disgusting or weird has happened to me or my friends. I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected, especially where toilets are involved. But I’ve even adapted to this as I’ve learnt that the previous user might not have cleaned up, that the door might be opened by a middle aged Chinese lady and there might not even be doors in extreme cases.
I think I’ve toughened myself to deal with difficult situations, especially where bargaining is concerned. In all the countries I visited, life was enjoyed outside, on street markets you could buy anything from food, clothes, souvenirs, fake designer goods, magazines and even pets. These markets/streets were always good places to buy things as they were full with locals and prices can be beaten down. What annoyed me was that the vendors, seeing I was foreign would immediately treble the price and assume that because I’m this “rich foreigner” I would just accept that price as their first offer. Although you might think it’s silly bargaining over 20p it was also the principle that I was fighting against. A notoriously bad vendor sold fruit outside our dormitory, he would change his prices depending on who you were and once he sold some bananas to a Chinese girl for 35p/500g, I was next in line and he tried to charge me 45p/500g for the same bananas, I asked why he’d charged her different and he said you’re my friend, 45p is a good price. I knew it wasn’t. This was the last straw for fruit guy as I termed him and as he didn’t drop the price I didn’t buy the bananas or buy from him ever again. Bargaining for fruit was fun for me in China as I learnt the value of fruits, saw which ones were in season and learnt that if you buy a whole watermelon, you can get it for as cheap as 7p/500g if you go to the right part of town off the main roads. So when I’m back in the UK and just pick up the bananas from the shelf in Tesco it will definitely be different.
I developed a love/hate relationship with the street food in China. Normally I would just walk past it and avoid it at all costs after horror stories from my friends telling me how the lamb could be dog or rat meat, the oil has been used thousands of times and it’s pumped full of MSG. But sometimes it wouldn’t look that bad and I think it was ok to eat there occasionally. I enjoyed the savoury Chinese pancakes, with sesame seeds and this sauce I cannot describe. The roasted sweetcorn was always fine and I also liked deep fried octopus from Taidong.
As I’ve mentioned before , I really enjoy Chinese TV, it’s another aspect of Chinese life that’s totally unpredictable. For example, let’s look at a clip from China’s version of Take Me Out. . This isn’t a special minions related episode, it’s only from a few weeks ago. (If you want to see if he got a date or not, skip the video to 19.30). The Chinese reality shows were fantastic and I will continue to watch them in England but it will be weird not having anybody to discuss 爸爸去哪儿？ with. I’ll have to find some Chinese exchange students and get them to introduce me to more new Chinese TV shows. I really want to find a wife swap type one.
With many internet sites blocked in China (Facebook, Youtube , The Guardian etc) the internet has been a strange place to navigate from China. Sometimes the speed would slow down completely for a day or only parts of websites would load. Having a break from being constantly connected to Facebook was really nice, but now in Thailand I find that as before, it’s one of the first websites I open when I turn my laptop on.
It will be interesting to see if I have picked up any mannerisms or habits from China. I know that when I went to Khao San Road in Bangkok, a place with many bars and even more foreigners, I was staring at the foreigners. I hadn’t seen so many in one place for a very long time and I’d forgotten how diverse we look with blue eyes, freckles, curly hair, dreadlocks, tattoos and not forgetting the pink sunburnt shoulders, typical of a Brit in the sun. I’m hoping this will be the only thing I’ve picked up from living in China, as I’ve also seen a lot of spitting, eating loudly, talking at an unnecessarily loud volume, horn beeping, pushing in queues and drinking shots of beer.
I know when I get back I will be quite excited about things like reading the paper and understanding every word, watching the adverts on TV and knowing what products they’re advertising and even buying skin products and not having to worry whether or not it has skin bleaching ingredients. But after a while I think the initial novelty of UK life might wear off and I’ll be wishing I was back in China where people have often said:
“Look at that foreigner with the curly hair, she can’t understand us and we cant understand her, she must be wearing a wig but we’ll never know for sure.”
Only for me to turn around and say, “I do understand you, my hair is natural.”
One time, I was going to a bar for a drink with some friends and my Chinese friend Allen warned me about cases when gangs have made someone pass out by placing bleach or something on a cloth. Then when they wake up the thieves have taken their…..money? bank cards? clothes? mobile phone?
Organs! Well only a kidney and maybe a cornea or two.
This turned into a regular greeting between us, when I would leave he would say “Watch out for/protect your organs!”. This was not too much to worry about however as apparently Westerners blood is different from Chinese, so an English kidney would be difficult to sell on the black market.
There’s so many more things I can say about China but I don’t want to bore you or drag on. How can you condense five months of life into a few paragraphs and photos? China has been a great experience and I will miss it but for now, I’m coming home…someone put the kettle on.