I’ve been studying Chinese since my freshman year of college. Six years and a buttload of tuition money later, and I have the privilege of being able to say curse words and fun colloquialisms in a second language. I know a slew of inappropriate words (thanks to a friend of mine for buying me a dirty Chinese language book and my Chinese friends for teaching me), but one of my favorites is “gaoda” (搞大), which translates to “to get knocked up.” Literally, however, it means (pardon my French) “fuck big,” which I find hilarious–because how much more literal could it get?

The Chinese language becomes very literal when translated into English, making learning Chinese a bit more fun in my opinion. I’m definitely going to remember words that directly translate to things like “wooden ear” for mushrooms (木耳 mu’er) or 石油站 (shiyouzhan), which means gas station, but actually translates to “stone oil station.”

Despite the words like this, studying Chinese is not a walk in the park. Memorizing thousands of characters, tones, and grammar patterns, it’s sure to leave people a bit discouraged. Even though I’ve been studying for years, I’ll need a bit more time to become a fluent speaker, at least in standard Mandarin. (China is filled with dialects, I’d need four lifetimes to learn all of them). Learning Chinese has been a wonderful asset to me while living here. I’ve been able to communicate with people otherwise I never would have, and learn things about the Chinese culture that you don’t find in a book.

I came here after a lifelong fascination about ancient Chinese culture and a desire to learn about a country that’s completely different from the suburban town I grew up in. Many foreigners I have met have made it a point to learn about life here. Learning the language, eating the food, interacting with the locals, traveling around. I love meeting these people. It’s a weird feeling knowing that you automatically have something in common with them regardless of gender, race, college experience, or country of origin–we are here because we are attracted to China and wanted something new in our lives.

I’ve met many, many expats that speak wonderful Chinese, or are studying to get better. But, sadly, I’ve also met a lot of expats that live here under the assumption that they rule whatever piece of land they end up on and find the culture here beneath them. Interacting with people like this is continually one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had while living here.

Last year, I met a middle aged man in a bar one night. I’m not exactly sure how our conversation started but he mentioned that he lived in China for about 10 years. Now, whenever I hear this I’m intrigued by these people. In my mind, they must speak at least some Chinese, have adapted to life here well, and created a real life for themselves. I continued the conversation asking about his Chinese, hoping to confirm my suspicions, but instead this began one of the most horrific bar conversations I’ve ever had–and I’ve had my fair share. This man, who was wearing a t-shirt that was obviously from Baby Gap, told me without a quiver in his voice that, “Chinese is the most disgusting language I’ve ever heard; I’m actively trying not to learn it.”

I wish I could have had a picture of my face at that moment because I probably looked like Jim Carey in the Mask when his jaw drops. I was floored. Flummoxed. Pissed off. I, trying desperately to salvage some semblance of a normal response, asked how he communicated with locals. His answer made me want to slap him. “Oh, I’ve had a ton of Chinese girlfriends. They help me with whatever I need. Even if they don’t speak much English when we meet, they’re English is flawless by the time we break up.” I don’t think someone has ever enraged me within 10 minutes of meeting them as much as this man did.

I have a few other examples of situations like that, but for the sake of length, I’ll leave you with that gem. Of course it’s impossible to learn every language for every country travelers will visit in their lifetime, but if you’re going to be in a place for more than just a few weeks, it will benefit your quality of life immensely to learn at least the basics, so you’re not stranded on the side of the road and unable to tell a taxi driver where you need to go.

Last week I spent my lunch hour giving a “Real Talk–College Life” workshop to the senior girls that are planning to go to America for college. This workshop was aimed to give helpful advice to navigating the college social scene that is never mentioned in the glossy brochures college representatives give the students. See that picture on the front of the three strategically diverse students smiling on the green having some good, clean fun? Will happen, hopefully. But the picture that is sometimes seen more often is one of those girls holding the other girl’s hair while she pukes into what my Dad likes to call, the “porcelain throne,” and that smiling male from the cover, still smiling, but holding a red solo cup outside waiting in line for the bathroom.

Anyway, during this workshop, we discussed the freshman 15 (that awful curse), drugs, drinking, and sex. Throughout my tenure in China, I had always known that Chinese students were extremely sheltered from learning about these things, but the one I am truly and utterly baffled by is the topic of sex.

It’s no secret that China has a rather interesting history with sex; policies pertaining to sex have been drastically changed over the past century. Within the past 100 years, China went from a culture shrouded by female chastity, to the era of Mao, where sex was purely for procreation (regardless of gender), to now, which scholars have dubbed the “sexual revolution” of China.  With this sexual revolution, however, is still the one-child policy that reigns supreme over the ever increasing population. These two distinct parts of the Chinese culture seem to be bashing heads and leaving the Chinese population in an awkward lurch–living between the rigid conservatism of never talking about sex and the budding sexual liberalism sprouting throughout the country.

Within the past few years the government has modified the one-child policy slightly in order to allow certain people in certain places have two children. Despite the government “relaxing” their policies on families having only one child, there are still forced abortions, routine “checks” for female government officials, and according to one author on Cracked.com, discount cards for abortion clinics in pregnancy test kits. The authors of this article discuss strange things that foreigners have to understand before moving to China, one of which being the government controlled procreation. The author writes, “Women who work for government departments are subject to an invasive medical exam once a year to make sure they’re adhering to the policy, even if they already went through menopause. Just in case they’re … harboring a secret uterus?” (I keep mine in my glove compartment in Jersey–they’ll never catch me!)

With all of these restrictions, rules, regulations, and exams, I would assume that the government would want to pour money into school and education systems to teach people how to properly use birth control so they won’t have to have an abortion down the road or pay thousands of yuan to have a second child and help slow the population growth rate. But, for some reason, this seemingly simple fix goes unnoticed by the government officials. The one thing I do have to give China is that birth control costs about 20 yuan (a little more than 3 USD) and can be bought at any pharmacy without a prescription. But if no one knows about it, or how to use it, what’s the point?

While I was working with my female students, they all seemed to know what a condom was, thankfully, but had never heard of STDs, knew how birth control worked, or even had any inkling to what Plan B is.  I didn’t work with any of the male students, so I have no idea what their knowledge level about these topics is, but I’m guessing it’s not great.

For a country so open about the one-child policy, I’m curious why they can’t seem to shake the archaic notion of sex being a hush-hush subject and talk to their population about how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. I’m truly hoping that within the next decade or two, China will have comprehensive sex education and diminish the negative consequences of the one-child policy.

All in all, I’ll say I’ve been in China for about 20 months, just shy of two years. Within that time, I’ve eaten and drank my way through the country–stopping to try scorpions in Beijing and spicy knock-you-off-your-butt hot pot in Chengdu–and I don’t regret one bite. Food is a major part of life for Chinese people; banquets and celebratory meals are regular and standard in cities, and holiday meals in the countryside are prepared with great care and execution. Food is shared without hesitation; chopsticks fly from one plate to another, creating a mouthful of flavors–usually leaving leftovers to show affluence. 

As a foreigner working in China, I’ve experienced banquets galore and the hospitality of families during Chinese holidays. My first Chinese New Year, which I celebrated in Beijing with my host family, my host grandmother used her chopsticks to liberally stack food in my bowl, ignoring my pleads of fullness and eating exhaustion. My second Chinese New Year, celebrated in Hunan province, my friend’s mother offered me more and more food until I needed to be rolled out of the kitchen like Violet from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Anyway, my point in all of this is that people know how to eat here. My extremely tiny Chinese coworkers load up their trays at lunch and swallow the whole thing and could still slide into a locker without having to go in sideways. 

I have always been curious about that. It’s no secret that Chinese women are generally quite petite and slender, but if I ate as they do, I’d turn into gigan-tor ready to devour a city in two bites. When I first moved to China in 2011, I thought I was going to lose some weight because my body wasn’t going to be able to handle the Chinese oil or the MSG that’s in the food. It’s a running joke between foreigners that move here, you always get laduzi (diarrhea), literally meaning “pull the stomach,” during the beginning of your time in China, causing you to drastically lose weight.

But I have found that that is not always true. Why is it that most women that move to China gain weight, and most foreign men lose weight? I’m not trying to over generalize here, but a lot of my female friends complain about how much weight they’ve gained in China and then the men seem to eat and drink like sailors on leave and lose weight without a second thought. There are many theories that run around the foreigner rumor mill; one being that guys at home will eat crap all the time and when they come here, despite the oil, the food is generally healthy, causing them to lose weight. Women tend to be more food conscious, eating foods very low in oil and sodium, and once they come here the amount of oil in the food over loads them, causing that shirt to not button as it should.

For me, personally, trying to diet in China is an uphill battle. There is no way to tell exactly what you’re eating or how much of it you’re eating, due to the lackadaisical nature of the health food code, and the family style dining. Oh, and the cheap beer.  The drastic difference in currencies also allows foreigners to eat out a lot of the time. My first semester in China I ate out for 95% of my meals and that barely scraped the surface of what it would have cost me to do that in America. I know many foreigners who rarely, if ever, eat at home, because most of the time it’s cheaper to grab a bowl of noodles than to cook some. This, for me, also adds to the difficulty of dieting.

In the recent history of China, being overweight was a sign of wealth, leisure time, and did I mention wealth? Obviously, the more money you had the more you could eat, thus showing your affluence to your community on your waistline. Now, the tables (or should I say plates) are turning, and China is moving towards a western ideology that skinny is pretty.

This ideology is coming at an awkward time in history, because now China is seeing more overweight children than ever before due to the “little emperor” phenomenon of only children; families will spoil their single child with food and sweets. The contradiction in lifestyles is starting to mirror America, even though that mirror is a little skewed. What I mean by that is fast food here is a luxury (Pizza Hut is nicer than a lot of two-star restaurants in America); fast food in America is a cheap and simple way to eat. The mirror is skewed because, in my opinion, it is the wealthy class of Chinese that is struggling with weight and dietary issues, while in America the opposite is true for the most part. Again, I don’t mean to over generalize this situation in either country because there are always going to be exceptions to the rules, but in my observations of China and America, this is what I have found to be true.

And on that note, it’s lunch time.

For the first part of my Chinese New Year holiday break I had to continually tell myself that I was actually in Vietnam. For the entire week I spent in Hanoi, I often forgot that I had left China and gone to a different country, complete with governmental proof in my passport.

I was quite excited to get out of China, so going to a city with similarities up the wazoo was not my favorite thing, but it was still an enjoyable place. We spent our days exploring around the city, saw many, many temples (most dedicated somehow to China), some pretty lakes, and ate a buttload of really good food.

Our first (third and fifth) night we had Vietnamese barbecue. Similar to Chinese barbecue, but done so much better with dipping sauces and kimchi like palate cleansers. Paired with a Hanoi beer, it was delicious. I was extremely happy not to be drinking Qingdao. Many people I’ve met in the west that have not lived in China always tell me how delicious Qingdao is…. they obviously have no tastebuds.

Due to the French occupation of Vietnam, we (and by ‘we’ I mean Josh) found this incredible French bistro, somewhat tucked away. We had bread, wine, chocolate mousse, and entrees that the French gods themselves cooked. We all left there fat and oh-so-happy. It seems that food is one of the only good things that comes out of an army occupation of a country… (is that bad to say? Perhaps).

The streets of Hanoi were pretty intense. I’ve written many times about the traffic patterns in China being that off a schizophrenic psychopath without a therapist, but Hanoi was a different monster. Cars were not the ubiquitous mode of transportation, due to the fact that the streets were quite narrow in the old part of the city. Everyone with legs seemed to own a motorbike; they clogged the streets and sidewalks like a toilet after a bad bout of Mexican food. To cross the street you just had to wait until there was a tiny tiny gap and make a run for it. Two guys on a motorbike slammed their knees into me as they drove down a one way street in the wrong direction. Luckily no damage was done.

One of my favorite things that we did in the actual Hanoi city was see a water puppet show. It’s an ancient art for performed by people wielding long sticks in the water with dense wooden doll like puppets on the end of them. They had many different scenes, the one I most enjoyed was the fishing one. The puppets were repeatedly whacked head first into the water with a basket in their hands trying to catch the fish puppet. It looked like some obscure sport–head smack fish catch.

We took two day trips while we were in Hanoi, one to the old capital and then on a boat through some pretty sweet caves. Our boat lady rowed the boat with her feet; something I’ve never seen done before. They had surprising control over the boat using only their feet. I was quite impressed with the ride until they docked us on the side of the river and tried to shanghai us and sell us cheap goods and then ask for a tip over and over again.

Our second trip out of the city was to Halong Bay. It was incredibly beautiful. We took a day boat ride through the bay, stopping to kayak in a floating village. These people lived and worked as fishers in this tiny little village, that was complete with a school house. It was quite the sight to see. The houses were small and perched on floating docks. They were not in great shape, but I can only imagine the amount of upkeep these places needed. The next half of the day was spent walking through a cave in one of the mountains in the bay. This cave was insanely large and although it was lit up like a bad night club, the formations of the rocks were quite striking. On the way out of the cave there was a rock to touch if you were hoping to get pregnant with a girl and another for a boy. The majority of the people on the boat trip with us walked by that rock with hands in pockets–no babies for us right now, thank you.

All in all, I’m glad I went. Seven days was far too long to spend there, but now I can say that I know my way around Hanoi pretty well and I got to drink a lot of bubble tea.

Ahh, Taipei. My new Asia crush.

I never thought I would be in a Chinese city that actively (and properly) uses turn signals on the roads. Where babies poo into diapers and not on sidewalks or into gutters. Where people stand on the right side of the escalator and allow people to pass on the left.

Before I left, Taipei was described to me as having “the hospitality of China, but the cordialness of Japan.” I don’t think I could describe it any other way. It reminded me of Beijing, but calm and organized. It’s a modern Chinese city, peppered with ancient Chinese architecture and temples. I love being able to walk around a corner and find an ornately carved dragon family sitting atop a temple. It was the hope to live among places like this that originally drew me to this side of the world. All you get when you turn a corner in suburban New Jersey is Walmart, and some badly parked cars. 

My dad, sister, and I spent three days there combing through the Lonely Planet guide, hitting the Taipei hotspots and wearing ourselves out to a point that a 9 pm bed time was completely reasonable. We got to to to the top of Taipei 101, checking off being at the top of the 5th tallest building in the world off our lists. The view from the top wasn’t anything like looking out from the top of the Empire State Building (what is, really?), but it was still interesting to look out over an entire city surrounded my mountains. 

Unlike Shenzhen, Taipei is a walking city. It was nice walking around and finding nestled temples and coffee shops, next to a street market selling everything from jewelry to fresh meat. Taipei is very much a market city, night markets littering the city, filled with people waiting in lines for what seemed to be the most popular street food item–fried meat. I couldn’t tell you what kind of meat it was, but it was definitely meat. After the crazy night market scene, the city wouldn’t wake up until about noon the next day.

Taipei is also home to the Palace Museum, filled with ancient Chinese goodies that Chiang Kai-Shek brought over from the mainland so Mao coundn’t destroy them. It is pretty cool seeing weapons, pottery, and calligraphy scrolls from the 4th and 5th century BC. Though, I have to say, I think I’ve become jaded. I’ve seen so many ancient Chinese scrolls, that I have to actively remind myself of the history packed onto that piece of paper, and that I have the privilege to see it in person. What a pathetic problem to have.

Our final day in Taipei was spent in a national park, hiking and wondering around. If it had been a clear day, the view from the top of the mountain would have been spectacular, but sadly a steady gray haze had settled over the city that day. (I wonder what my lungs look like after living here for so long.) Much to the delight of my sister, we ran into some wild monkeys while we were walking around. Again, I’ve become so jaded that running into wild monkeys in a park is no longer exciting or new to me. I never thought I would get to a point in my life that I wouldn’t be excited (or even a little frightened) running into monkeys on a hike.

Overall, Taipei was awesome. The city was clean, though all the buildings looked like they could use a good power wash, and the people were super polite and friendly. If I decided to stay on this side of the world, I would definitely move to Taipei. I mean, they have a place called the Diner where they sell real pancakes. 

Over the past week, I have seen four sheep being slaughtered in the street. Three behind my apartment (a lovely way to start my work day) and one out on a street in Yantian. I had seen the men hanging up the meat in the street, head of the sheep placed gracefully on the floor (read: dirty ground) next to their meat rack. I mean, I’m all for eating meat, but I hope the meat I eat is in some way refrigerated while it waits to be bought… these guys just leave it on the street. After a few days of getting used to seeing the meat chilling, I had the unfortunate circumstance to run into the sheep while they were alive. Now, again, I love me some meat, but as amazingly hypocritical as the next statement I’m going to write is, I don’t like seeing the animals alive, knowing they’re going for the slaughter. (Come at me vegetarians.) These animals looked so sad, maybe it was good they were on their way out, being put out of their misery. Who knows what kind of life they had. 

The morning after I saw the live sheep, as I’m walking to the bus to get to work, around 7:15 am, I see a group of people standing around the street. I couldn’t see what they were looking at because of construction blockades, but the smell of a barnyard wafted over me like blanket. In the four seconds after the smell hit until I saw the scene, everything clicked. As I walked up, I made the horrible mistake and turned my head slightly to the left and I was left with an image I will never forget–a sheep, laying on it’s side with a bucket under it’s slit neck collecting it’s blood as the man holds the bloody knife getting ready to make another incision. 

I was not a happy camper after seeing that. The next morning, the same thing happened. Saw the poor sheep’s cousin going to sheep heaven. As I got on my bus the next morning, I became engulfed in my book (Orphan Train… if you haven’t read it, do it now), and for a split second looked out the window about 45 minutes into the ride. And what sight am I graced with? Another sheep getting it’s blood drained. 

After the fourth time seeing the sheep getting killed (the next morning he was already on his back, presumably about to be gutted) I started to think about China. I’ve lived here about 2 years, cumulatively, and am curious sometimes why that is. Every foreigner living here understands China rage days, they’re unavoidable, but if asked to list things I hated about China, I could give you a handful on the spot: the roads are a mess, people spit and blow their noses (without a tissue) onto the street, people stop in front of escalators, elevators, doorways and don’t let you pass, people kill animals on the street, SMOG, the “civilized metro” is a myth, and people litter like the Earth already isn’t in peril. These things are so easy for me to come up with because I encounter them everyday. But why am I still here? 

To answer this question, I really had to give it more thought, as the answer wasn’t abundantly obvious to me. Growing up, I loved ancient China–emperors and concubines, mythical stories, Confucian thought, etc.–because it was a complete 180 from the life I lived in suburban New Jersey. Granted, modern life in a Chinese metropolis isn’t quite so drastically different than the states, I still shop at H&M and eat cereal every morning, it’s definitely not ancient China (thanks, Mao). But there’s still something here. The majority of the people I meet and talk to here are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Cabbies and people in elevators are quick with conversations, and people on the street will answer your inane questions about where the metro is when it’s right across the street. Chinese people are some of the most helpful, and gracious, I have ever met. Their family values run deep and are clear everywhere; babysitters don’t really exist here, your family will take care of your kids, pets, plants, without a second thought, it seems. 

Friends’ families will take you in, feed you, and keep you warm (see: Hunan and the White Girl). I also tutor for two different families, and without hesitation they both offer me a meal after I’m done, (because living alone isn’t the best way to eat, one mother said to me, it’s better to eat with others) and have been beyond kind to me. None of this to say is that I haven’t encountered this type of hospitality and kindness in the US, or any other country I have visited for that matter, it’s just sometimes I have to remind myself why I chose to live in China.

Although I’ve seen some weird stuff, gotten fed up with China and some of the tendencies in this country, I wouldn’t change my time here for anything.

Well, Wednesday started off as any ordinary day. Hear my alarm blaring, snooze twice then wake up and rush to get ready for my 6:45 bus. Get to work, take my morning nap (we get to work at 7:20 and I don’t actually have to be there until like 8, so might as well use it to my advantage), and then sit at my desk. About an hour and a half into my morning, I get up to go to the bathroom and as I’m standing up from the oh-so-flattering squatting position my back decides to spasm out of control and render me pretty much useless. Tears start flowing and my office is turned into a mini doctor’s office as my coworkers run to get the nurse, look up directions to the nearest hospital, and try to use two cans of coke as an ice pack since there wasn’t anything akin to an ice pack in our fridge.

My coworkers drove me to the nearest hospital. They are seriously angels. As horrible as the situation was, I’m really glad I was at work when it happened or else I’m not sure what would have happened. My school is located in an outer district of Shenzhen, so the hospital we went to was pretty mediocre, but I think the crying white girl “walking” in got me preferential treatment. I laid down on a bed in a room with like 4 other Chinese people getting check ups, and quickly came to realize through my tears that the blue sanitary blanket over the bed was not sanitary at all. I’m pretty sure there was dried blood on it. But I couldn’t focus on that because the doctor was prodding me and trying to talk a mile a minute to me in Chinese.

After pressing on my back for a few minutes asking if stuff hurt, they took me to get a CT scan and an x-ray. I laid down in the bed for the CT scan, and they had to remove all the metal from my body so I could go through the scanner. I was wearing jeans that day and they had a metal button. My poor coworker got super uncomfortable when they unbuttoned my jeans and pulled them to the side so the metal wouldn’t interfere. The second I told him I was okay and he could wait outside, he scurried quickly outside of the big doors.

After the CT scan, I was taken for an x-ray,  and then left on a stretcher in the hallway for a minute while the doctor looked at my charts and things. He suggested that I stay in the hospital for five days and then stay in bed for 2-4 weeks. I flat out said no, so he gave me medicine to take with me. They rolled me into the waiting room (basically a big open room with a bunch of metal chairs) and kind of left me there for a good 5, 6 minutes. Many people walked by and asked out loud why there was a crying foreigner in the hospital.

My coworkers drove me home and got me safely into my apartment and left me with the medicine from the hospital–something called Trauma Relieving Spray that has “delicate fragrances and brown-red and yellow sediment ilquid [sic],” as well as something like Vicks that you stick on your back.

The past three days have been me basically in bed for the whole day with an ice pack strapped on my lower back that makes me look like a camel. It’s quite the sobering experience having to completely rely on other people for basic necessities–water, food, and help up and down out of bed. Thankfully, I have amazing friends that have been beyond helpful. I’m on the mend, and able to walk and sit for the most part. Hopefully another 48-72 hours and I’ll be fully recovered and ready to go compete in that triathlon and jump up and down really hard on concrete.

One of my very favorite things is getting stuff in the mail. I love when my family sends me care packages filled with all the delicious American goodies that I can’t get here. Or I can get here, only for an exorbitant price. Last year, it was really easy for me to get packages and mail; there were only two foreigners there so their chances to get it to the right person were high.

This year, because I’m living in an apartment, it’s a bit more difficult to get packages. I asked my landlord what the process of getting packages was after one was already on its way. She told me that the company would call me when it came in. I was surprised, did they already have my phone number in a database that was linked to my address? Of course not, she wrote. They will call the number that’s on the package, saying it like it was automatically known to all that addresses must include a phone number. 

I ran into the delivery guy one day and asked if he had any packages for my apartment number and he said no. I asked him how I would get my package and he also said that he would call when it came. I said there was no number written on the package and asked him to leave it in the management office. He seemed to understand and the next day I had a slip in my mailbox with my dad’s handwriting on it and a phone number scrawled in Chinese. I took it to the management office assuming it would be there. Of course it wasn’t. And after ten minutes of the manager on the phone with the company and me repeating that in fact, the package was from America and not England about three times, they seemed to finally resolve the issue, took my phone number down and hung up.

About an hour later I got a call from the company and the only things I could really understand was them confirming my apartment number and NOT TO LEAVE MY APARTMENT!!! OKAY?!?! 

They showed up about an hour and half later and I took the box in and was going to close the door but he kept repeating something in Chinese that I couldn’t understand. I assumed he had asked me to give him a slip of paper to show that the package was mine, but I told him I didn’t have one. He kept repeating one word over and over and I finally just had to pull out a dictionary and figure out that he needed to see ID. I bring him my passport and he’s looking from my name to my signature on my passport and then to my signature on the slip of paper and back again. This was super annoying. All I wanted was my damn Cheerios. There were no North Korean spy codes tucked in between the candy corn and the granola bars. After possibly the longest 30 seconds of my life, he looks at me and says that he can’t read my name or my signature but sees that the two signatures are close enough and leaves.

Probably one of the most anti-climatic posts I’ll ever write, but why even spend the time to pretend you know that this box is going to the correct person when you can’t understand the writing on the box? Though, it was totally worth the frustration when I had my bowl of Cheerios this morning… nothing like some good ol’ American processed food.

This past week celebrated China’s National Day. Shenzhen is decked out with flags and the majority of people are on vacation. I wish I could say Shenzhen turned into New York City on Fourth of July weekend but somehow it seems as though more people are around then when schools are in session.  In order to escape some of the hullabaloo of the city (and try to forget that we couldn’t really go anywhere because our passports are still with the visa authorities), some friends and I headed out to the east of the city to enjoy a day at the beach.

It was pretty remarkable that we were still within Shenzhen’s city limits by the time we got to this place. The area is beautiful. Mountains and beach all wrapped up into one nice little package. The town sort of looked like it was out of a cheap architecture magazine from the early 2000s. Lot’s of prefab construction and bright colors. It was sort of hard to distinguish what the actual culture of the town was. There was farmland off of the beach but I can’t really imagine a Chinese migrant farmer living in a bright red apartment building with palm trees on the side of it. My friends and I deduced that the town was mostly hotels and vacation rentals, with a few permanent residents soaking up the sun (if they came out from under their umbrellas) and making a living off of the influx of people on holiday. 

The beach itself was surprisingly clean and the water was comparable to oceans in the Caribbean.  Crystal blue water with soft sand was surrounded by incredibly tall green mountains and some of the freshest air I’ve ever breathed in China. I’m sure my lungs were dancing in my chest.

I’ve been to beaches in many different places around the world and each one easily has a distinctive culture to it. China definitely has the most interesting culture. Despite the fact that I’m probably the person with the highest scoring record in the game “Who Can Call China Interesting The Most,” I find it hard to really use any other word here. The beach culture was easily an oxymoron to itself and to general beach culture in the west. While there were a lot of people on the beach during the day, the crowds didn’t really start until the sun began to get lower in the sky, thus avoiding sunburn and getting tan. But if you did come to the beach in the day, it seemed that digging a whole and covering yourself with the sand was the best way to keep your body protected from the vitamin D. Many people also came to the beach in huge camping tour hordes and set up camp for the day and night. The majority of the people in these camping trips were wearing jeans and sneakers. In the terms of Rocket Power, they were serious Shoobies. But it seemed if you were under the age of six or so, no clothes were required at all, especially the little boys. I guess babies run around naked at the beach in the States too, but I doubt any parents let their child pee on the sand as people are walking by, especially when the ocean is about five feet away.

Although those things are just small idiosyncrasies, there was a part of the beach culture that was legitimately worrying. Out in the middle of the ocean was this beautiful little island that you could kayak to or take a boat out and visit for a few hours. These boats left regularly from the main beach and returned just as regularly from the island. There was no real designated area for the boats safely abound to shore, so as the boat was speeding their way in they would blow their whistle to get people out of the way and off of that particular area of the beach so the boat could park. The boat would then speed it’s way on the beach using the sand as break pads. I didn’t even want to think about what would happen if a person accidentally got in their way. 

Despite all of that, I think the most amusing part was that the Chinese seem to have the inner tube market cornered. If I ever decided to open up a store on the beach in China I would be rich in a season solely selling inner tubes. I really don’t know why or if there is any particular reason for 90% of the Chinese people on beach having an inner tube. The ocean looked as if giant confetti donuts were tossed from an airplane. Though I’m not much of an inner tube person (unless it’s attached to the back of a jetski) I was seriously jealous of this little boy that had a dinosaur tube. C’mon, how cool is that?

 

Week two has come and gone and I’m happy to finally say that I’ve moved into my apartment. Of course, this being China, it was not without it’s hiccups. The apartment itself is great. Just what I wanted. I’m situated high up on the 21st floor of a 30 floor tower, but despite that I can still hear the metro construction going on outside at all hours of the night. One of the first apartments I looked at was on the fourth floor of the same building, right over the construction. Thankfully I didn’t believe the brokers when they said that the construction was constrained to normal working hours. Though I still have construction going on right in the apartment above me….

Oh well. Thank god for noise cancelling headphones right?
This past week has been interesting (most weeks living as a foreigner in China are interesting). A little Chinese lady stopped me in the elevator the other day and grabbed my arm and asked in Chinese, “How tall are you?” I answered, now that I know the metric system, “170 cm.” She gasped and then proceeded to tell her friend how tall all the foreigners here are. It’s true, we are giraffes.
Besides the pressing question of my height, other news this week has included Typhoon Usagi that barreled towards Hong Kong and Shenzhen but thankfully skirted us and just dumped a day or two of rain down. Despite the fact that it really wasn’t that bad where I live, the government still shut down schools and offices closed for two days. I’ve been through hurricane days, snow days, heat days but this was my first typhoon day. I have to say though that Mother Nature had some good timing on this one or else I would have had to have worked Sunday-Saturday. China does this weird thing that even though we get a vacation, they can’t actually just give us the vacation, we have to make up for it on other days. So, because last week was the Mid-Autumn festival and we had Thursday and Friday off, we had to make it up by working that Sunday. Now because we have all next week off, we have to work today, Saturday, and the Saturday after our first full week back. Sometimes China just needs to let well enough alone. And leave our weekends alone too. They’re precious.
The Mid-Autumn Festival was actually a lot of fun. This year was the first year that I’ve actually celebrated it and got to watch people releasing beautiful paper lanterns into the sky. And with the backdrop of the full bright moon on a clear night, it was perfect. To celebrate I went up to my old school and had dinner with some of the teachers and the new foreign teachers. We drank some beer (well, some drank A LOT more than others…) and at some food. The food was a bit weird and I basically just ate mushrooms for the entire night, but it was still worth it because we were having a lot of fun. One of the teachers that I had known last year apparently was holding a secret torch for me and so when he saw me this year (and after he had finished about 10 beers in 3 hours) he wanted to let everyone know. And I mean pretty much the entire restaurant heard him screaming “I LIKE LAURA!!!!” over and over and over again. While I am beyond flattered, it was a little embarrasing and a lot hilarious. Luckily I have a video of the shenangians that went down that night… though they’re not appropriate for social media so I guess I’ll just have to keep them for special viewing occasions.
I’ve finally started to settle into a routine here. Though leaving China and coming back is completely surreal and really throws you off for a little bit, it’s nice to be back with friends, delicious, delicious Chinese food, and traffic patterns that make atheists pray to God.
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