Wednesday, 20 March 2019

My First Month in China

It’s been a whole month since I left the UK for the bright lights on Beijing, and it has been…an experience.

Forgetting, the fact that my flight was an actual nightmare, and was five and a half hours delayed, I thought the hardest part was going to be getting on the plane and leaving my life in England behind for a year, but I was fucking wrong. I was the most wrong I will probably ever be about anything. Life in China is fucking hard, man. I cannot stress this enough. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s not as glamorous as it looks on Instagram. Yes, there are amazing and incredibly beautiful parts of China, but is every part of Liverpool Insta-worthy and wonderful?

Since I’ve been here a whole month now, I thought I’d give you a short rundown of some of my experiences so far in the far East.

The Good

The People

Since I’ve set foot in China, I’ve been met with (mostly) unfaltering kindness. Other foreigners are keen to help you and share their experiences and tips with you, and most Chinese people are keen to help you. When I first arrived, I walked the streets of Beijing like a deer in headlights. I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing, and what the fuck I was thinking. Luckily, I was assigned a very helpful Chinese handler that helped me take care of the important shit when I first arrived so I could come to terms with the fact I was now on the other side of the World. Cassie has also, of course, been an incredible support. She made sure I had the things I needed when I arrived. Essentials like towels, a hairdryer, pillows, and things I didn’t have time to think of.

When I’m on the Subway, or just on the streets, and I spot another foreigner, I’ve found myself doing whatever I can to get their attention. It sounds a little weird (and it totally is), but we’re all in the same boat here. I’ve added random people on WeChat that have stopped me in the street with a desperate “Do you speak English? I really have no idea where I am, please help.” and I’ve made some amazing friends in the few short weeks I’ve been here just through us being foreigners in China.

The Food

If you think Chinese food in England is amazing, just wait until you get to China. Mate. It is fucking, and I cannot stress this enough, delicious. I struggled to adjust at first, but I’m just cracking on now. 

Western food like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Burger King and whatnot are all available, but for the price of a Big Mac meal in China (39RMB), I can get a portion of 12 dumplings, 6 Char Sui buns, and a can of Coke (29RMB). Western food is still cheap if you’re living on a US budget, but comparatively, it’s expensive. Also, chocolate is expensive here. I haven’t seen anything from Cadbury’s since I’ve arrived, and I am craving a Crème Egg in the worst way.

I still have no idea what this was. It was fuzzy, bready, and meaty all at the same time?

Public Transport

England has gotten it completely wrong. The public transport system here is second to none. It’s so efficient, straight forward, and clean. So clean. 

Yizhuang Culture Park Subway station

It gets hella busy, but I don’t find it even half as stressful as getting the tube or Merseyrail. Beijing Subway gets a solid 10/10 from me. There are English translations of every station name and every Subway announcement. However, the further away from the Centre of Beijing you get, there are fewer and fewer English translations. The essential stuff is translated (Exit, Entrance, Tickets etc), but it can be a bit of a pain.

Yangzhuang Subway Station


Culture Shock and Homesickness

I cannot stress enough that no matter how ready for China you think you are, you are not. You can try and hit the ground running, but it was an even bigger shock than I had previously expected. Not being able to just walk into a shop and ask for something easily (I’ll talk about the language barrier shortly), the toilets, the working culture, the driving, the attitudes, and values – everything was a shock. Personal space isn’t a thing here. There’s no queuing, only pushing and shoving. Although most things are delicious, Chinese food isn’t always what you expect (I’ve seen vacuum-packed chicken feet in my local shop). People spit in the street, literally right in front of you, without a second thought. I’m not saying that these are all bad things, it just took a little getting used to. I’ve had many comments on my weight, and I’ve been turned away from opportunities as a result, but that’s the way it is here. It’s sad and very frustrating, and that was hard to get used to.

My Pre-China Chinese

I felt ready to pack my shit up and go home in the first week after I had been repeatedly told I was too fat, couldn’t speak any Mandarin, and just wanted a hug from someone familiar. Having friends here can really make or break you. I can only speak for myself, but my homesickness in the first week was intense. It was a huge help having someone I already knew here, someone who already knew the ropes and could ease me into life here. Cass had already been through all the emotions and struggles I was facing and could take some of that stress from me by doing simple things, like teaching me how to get food delivered, how to say basic phrases, and just being there to sob at while pissed on China Red Wine (it’s a thing).

Told ya.

The Pollution

Honestly, the pollution is not as bad as it’s reported to be by Western media, but I wasn’t going to put it as a ‘good’ point. Yes, there are days where you can tell it’s bad, and you do need that mask. Even on bad days, I’ll see a lot of people not wearing a mask at all, so I feel like a tit wearing it. Which is funny because I’d get no more stares than normally, which brings me on to my next point nicely.

The staring

The staring can be a little more intense than pollution. I’m used to being stared at and having comments made about my weight back in England, but it’s a little bit more intimidating when you have literally no idea what these people are saying. I regularly have people stare at me on the Subway, and I’ve started meeting them with a smile and a wave, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll wave back. The worst of it was Beijing Zoo. 

Clearly buzzin' to have everyone taking my photo in BJ Zoo

There were people filming, taking photos, pointing, and it was all quite confusing and intimidating. I imagine it was worse there (and have heard stories of worse at other tourism sites) because there are tourists from more rural parts of China. Some people have literally never seen a foreigner, so it’s as much a shock for them to see me in all my fat, foreign glory, as it is for me to have them shove a camera in my face. I’ve been put on Facetime with peoples’ parents, had kids run up to me to practice their English, and a little girl asked if I was fat because I ate too much ice cream. There’s no such thing as too much ice cream, but go off.

The Language Barrier

By far the most frustrating thing is the language barrier. I was never under any illusion that it was going to be easy, but it’s incredibly difficult, even with the best translation apps. I can’t ask a taxi driver if I can open a window because it’s hot as fuck, I can’t work a simple Amazon style locker, I can’t understand how much something is when I ask, and that can be so isolating and upsetting. I’m keen to study Chinese in my time here, and I’ve started picking up and recognising new words daily. A couple of kids taught me how to count from 1 to 10, and that was pretty amazing.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how I feel about China from just a month. I’m learning new things every day and finding new ways to cope and adjust. So far, it’s been an eye-opening experience, and I have no doubt that there will be some incredible adventures ahead.

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