Putting on weight

There’s thousands of articles online about how weight is not an indicator of health, and how we shouldn’t pay too much attention to our daily or weekly weight changes. As long as I eat and drink well, and exercise regularly, I usually feel pretty healthy. I run a few times a week, eat plenty of fruit and don’t drink and fizzy drinks.

But there’s a phenomenon within foreign students (at least) who come to China, and that is that in general, women put on weight, and men lose weight. It seems no research has been done about this, but it was true when I went to Qingdao and seemed to be true here in Jinhua too. As I run a lot and eat healthily, and my body hasn’t changed (I’ve always been a size L in China, despite being an S back at home), I thought I’d escaped this weight gain phenomena. But last weekend, I was staying in a hotel with some scales in the bathroom. I decided to weigh myself…

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Low and behold, it was true, I had put on weight, and more than a couple of kilos. Even though I knew I am healthy and that I keep in shape, seeing those numbers on the scale did shock me a bit. How could I have put on that amount of weight in just a few months? Was it that I hadn’t run enough? Was it the spoonful of peanut butter I eat each morning with my oats? Was it the cheeky milk tea I treat myself to twice a week, or was it that I don’t really know what other additives and chemicals are in the food I eat?

The truth is, I don’t know.

Even though I’ve never been concerned about my weight, there’s something about seeing those numbers on the scale that did hit a nerve with me. I’m still exercising, trying to eat healthily and always moving around, and I’m not going to change my diet any more. I’ll probably do a few more planks each week, and push a little harder on the Strava segments in my run, but who knows…maybe the scales were wrong, this is China after all, can we trust anything?

Top Tips from ZJNU

In the exchange student office today, I found a little booklet titled “Tips for You”, I picked it up and it’s a handbook for students with advice on how to be a good, healthy and happy student. I want to share with you some of the funnier tips:

  • University canteens are better choice for dinner – nice self-promotion of the university facilities.
  • Please contact your parents as often as you can and share your colourful life in the university.
  • Please make full use of the library and enjoy staying there.
  • Make a rational choice about the various clubs – this refers to the societies on campus, not nightclubs, I think it’s trying to encourage a good study/social life balance.
  • The weather changes during a day, remember to dress accordingly.
  • After using the computer or reading books for a long time, please look in the distance to relax your eyes.
  • “A closed mouth catches no flies”. Please clean fruits properly before eating.
  • Sleep well and get up early. This will give you a strong body.
  • Smoking and alcohol are very harmful to your health…do not drink too much in your dormitory.

I wonder if these tips are just for international students, or for all students here at 浙师大. I hope by following these top tips and the others in the booklet, I will have a great time here at Zhejiang Normal University!

  • Our university’s logo

Arrival in China

To my surprise, my arrival in China went all very smoothly, unlike last time.

When I arrived at Shanghai airport, I asked a Chinese girl to call the hotel for me. They picked me up and the driver drove pretty safely on the ring road. When he got onto the smaller streets, he almost ran over a moped though…he also rolled down the window at one point, I thought it was to let in some breeze, but no, it was so he could spit – standard China.

I went back to the airport via the shuttle in the morning to pick up a guy who’s also on the same scholarship as me and we made our way to Jinhua. It was a nice journey with no slipups and I also got some free popcorn from a boy on the train in as I was teaching him English words (popcorn and elephant are the only ones he grasped). He was looking out for the sea (he hadn’t seen it before) and every bit of water he’d ask his Mum if it’s the sea. He was most disappointed when she said, “no son, it’s another river”. At one point he described a place to me (in Chinese), it was either Mars or hell.

Today I went to the office to register, then I went for a walk around campus. It was 11.30am and I hadn’t had anything to eat yet, so stopped a passing student and asked her where there is somewhere to eat, because I can’t eat in the canteen yet. I was expecting her to just tell me where to go, but she insisted on walking with me to a little corridor with some small eating places. She then walked into one and ordered “beef and rice”, I thought she was ordering me dinner and then leaving.

But then she asked me what I’m eating, so I just said “chicken and rice” and paid £1. She took her tray of food and ushered me to follow her upstairs to eat. It all happened so quickly, I didn’t realise what she was doing, so I didn’t tell her there was no need for her to eat with me. I felt quite embarrassed. Then, as we were eating, she was quite shy so I asked her lots of questions, about where she’s from, what she’s studying, what music she likes etc. I asked if her meal was tasty, she replied

还可以

Now anyone who’s been in China, or knows something about Chinese culture will know that 还可以 (it’s ok) means that the person doesn’t like it, and they’re only saying something positive because they can’t directly say that they don’t like it.

When we finished, I turned right and she turned left. I thought if I let her go away, I’ll probably never see her again. So I asked her if she wanted my Wechat ID (China’s best social media app) and she said ok. I sent her a message saying, “it was nice to meet you!” but no reply yet. So not only did I waste 20 minutes of her time, I also made her eat food she didn’t like and then (what feels like) harrassed her with an unwanted message.

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Me at the Confucius statue on campus
Later on, as I was wandering around, I felt the heat was unbearable. I don’t like wearing hats, as I usually have my hair in a high ponytail, so decided to do as the Chinese do, and bought myself a parasol, for £1.50, do you like it?

Sneaky Chinese and my first flag raising ceremony.

I’ve found that my Chinese friends can be incredibly sneaky. I think because I’m a foreigner they want to treat me well and look after me. I often go out for meals in China as I cannot cook food in my dormitory and the canteen closes at 6pm. If I go out to eat with my Thai, English or Korean friends, we’ll always split the bill between how ever many of us have eaten. But I’ve found when I’ve eaten with Chinese people they often sneak off and pay for the meal, without telling me. So when its time to leave I ask them to get the bill and they say they’ve already paid…and I don’t know how I always miss them paying. We’re all students, so I don’t know why they feel obliged to pay for my meal too. Also, Chinese people’s ideas about prices are different to mine.

Coming from the UK, where a meal out may cost £10+ in China I find eating out extremely cheap, an average meal out costing about £3. After they’ve paid I always try to give them some money towards it, but this is often met with hostility as they seem to enjoy the fact that they’ve invited me for a meal. The funny thing is, often its my idea to go out for dinner or I invited them at the last minute but they end up paying! Of course I feel guilty but I don’t know how to deal with this situation in China. In the future shall I sneak off to the “toilet” and pay or is this rude? Do I tell them at the beginning of the meal that we’re going to go Dutch? Its hard to decide, any advice is appreciated!

Yesterday it was the university sports day and the exchange students were invited/coerced (it was a 7am start and some people only went for the free tshirt) into participating in the opening ceremony. We hadn’t been told what we’d be doing, just to arrive at the Minxing building at 7am.

I arrived on time and nobody from my class was there yet, there were some other students and my teacher. My teacher found me an incredibly attractive pink tshirt and then told me to take one of the international flags that were leaning on the wall. The British one had already been taken so I found the Spanish one. I opened the flag and the crest was upside down….oh China! As we lined up for the parade, my classmate who had the British flag was summoned to be the flag bearer of the department flag. We didn’t want a random Korean (no offense) holding the British flag so I put Spain back (lo siento) and held the British flag.

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We walked to the athletics track and there were hundreds of people in the gallery. We walked around the track, waving our flags and the crowd went wild for us. Foreigners are still pretty foreign in China and I don’t think they’d seen so many foreign people in the same place at the same time. Me and my classmates felt like we were at the Olympics, the atmosphere was great and everyone was very excited to see us.

After all the different university departments had done their lap of honour all of a sudden everybody stood up and faced left. A Chinese man told us to look so we all turned to face the flag posts as the Chinese flag was raised to the national anthem. I really like the Chinese national anthem and although I’ve heard it before as the flags were raised for a Chinese gold medallist at the paralympics in 2012, this time it felt more noble, patriotic and symbolic. I guess because I was surrounded by Chinese people and there were soldiers in white with guns and gloves raising the flag. I was actually disappointed that there wasn’t a gun salute at the end, cmon China, be more fun!

After the national anthem, the school anthem was played as the Qingdao university flags were raised. The school anthem is a phenomena I first heard of in Chile where at every special event and most assemblies both the national anthem and the school anthem were played. I wish that I had had those experiences at school, even though as a child I would have thought a school song was boring and pointless, I think it shows the identity and community spirit of a school.

I also want to mention how I believe that Chile is the most patriotic nation I’ve lived in. Within only a few months I’d heard the national anthem dozens of times in both Spanish and Mapudungun (one of the indigenous languages). I can still remember the words now and I will always remember one time in assembly the national anthem was playing. The children in year two were pouring all their energy into singing, they had their hands on their little hearts, their heads held high and they were singing with so much passion. I miss you Chile!

Tomorrow I leave for Beijing and Xi’an as we have a week off university. I’m very excited but still haven’t packed!

The day I started to like China

If you talked to me in March, you’ll know that I didn’t really like China. The food was oily and hard to eat with chopsticks, I wasn’t comfortable with the language and everything was totally different. Although the food is still greasy, I now feel a lot more accustomed to my Chinese life and it all started when I ran out of toothpaste.

You know you’ve been away from home for a while when you have to buy a new tube of toothpaste. My Colgate whitening toothpaste (the one with the crystals in) had run out and I thought buying a new one would be no big deal. In March I bought some mouthwash that had an image of a leaf on it, I assumed it to be a mint leaf but later when I got back and tasted it I realised it wasn’t mint….I read the characters and saw it was green tea flavour. It wasn’t unpleasant so I kept using it.

It was April by the time I needed new toothpaste and I had forgotten about the mouthwash thing. At the toothpaste aisle, I chose the crest one with a diamond on it, the middle character 白 means white and I didn’t want to waste an hour checking all the characters on all the types so I just chose it, thinking it would be fine. It looks harmless, right?
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When I went to use it, as I squeezed it out, I saw it was pink coloured…. OK, that’s new but I’m in China. I put my toothbrush in my mouth and instantly realised it was not mint flavour and not diamond flavour either. I was confused and upset, all I wanted was minty breath. Then I turned over the tube and saw what was on the back…

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A huge pink lotus flower. I had chosen morning dew lotus flower flavoured toothpaste. I mean, have you ever eaten flowers? Why anyone would want to have lotus breath is beyond me, but that moment I realised I had two options. I could be miserable in China, complain and moan about all the things I experience that I don’t like or I could just get on with it and take whatever China throws at me. I chose the latter. I had to start enjoying my time in this country rather than just “getting by”.

Now when I see strange things, experience uncomfortable situations or eat unknown food I try to make the best out of the situation. I have eaten chicken feet or rather nibbled on them – there’s not much meat to be eaten. I’ve mastered how to eat noodle soup with chopsticks and without slurping (Chinese people slurp noodles loudly to show they’re tasty but I can’t bring myself to do it just yet). I’ve seen builders standing on the same ledge that they’re drilling away and open manholes with no fence around them.

Personally, China is a place I’ve had to learn to enjoy, unlike other places that I’ve been to and have instantly fallen in love with. Now that I like China, I can have more fun. I’m also more confident to do things.

Last weekend me and my coursemate David went to our Chinese friend’s hometown and stayed with him and his family. We weren’t really sure what we’d signed up for and I was a little nervous to tell the truth. But soon after arriving I felt at ease as Chinese people are incredibly good hosts, too good in fact. If we coughed a commotion was made and immediately our glasses were filled with boiling hot water. They also sent us home with a little gift and a bag of apples.

Today I went to another Chinese friend’s house to make dumplings. He originally suggested I just go to eat the dumplings but I wanted to help make them too. His apartment was small, cute and welcoming, as were his mother and sister. We made so many dumplings (pork and Chinese chive flavoured) and then ate lots of meat. When it was time to leave him and his Mum filled up doggy bags with roasted duck meat, chicken skewers, cherries and a whole watermelon the size of my head.

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The two Chinese friends who came with my left empty handed as they were better at refusing than I was. When I told Jim I didn’t want the meat he said “please take it, I seldom eat meat and my mother is very fat.” How could I say no to that?

Anyway, I think the moral of this story is that if life gives you lotus toothpaste…. buy a new one.