China's biggest (in)conveniences.

I really need to stop feeling guilty about taking cabs.

I realize I’m acting stupid, muttering curses under my breath in Russian as I climb up six flights of stairs through a darkened alleyway (complete with clap on! clap off! lights). Over the past few weeks, it feels as if I’ve been going out of my way to make life much harder for myself than it has to be. All the intestinal distress aside, living in China is supposed to be easy, right? As I plod up the six flights, loudly clapping to activate the sound sensors of the lights (by contrast, the elevator in my own building is still not fixed after last month’s ordeal), I’m not convinced. I’ve just spent almost 35 minutes walking for what should have been a 7-minute car ride, and I’m not entirely sure why.

In theory, I wouldn’t even need to walk that much (or, really at all). In China, everything (and I mean everything) can be delivered right to the 29th floor: from McDonalds to 15lb bags of cat litter. In China, an hour of a (very questionable) massage can cost less than 10 USD. In China, playing the role of the foreigner means I can bypass any queue (which I’ve only done accidentally and felt extremely guilty as I realized a throng of Chinese people re-lined up after me). Yet, somehow I haven’t embraced these conveniences:

  1. I insist on working on weekends and nights (well, more than is already expected of me). As of today, I’ve worked 10 days in a row (which is my excuse for not posting) Frankly though,  I get a bit of a thrill from being at work, so perhaps I do this to myself.
  2. Seriously, I need to stop feeling guilty about taking cabs. In Shanghai, a 15-minute cab ride costs less than 3USD. Yes, it’s almost as much as a dinner at a local noodle shop, but still so ridiculously cheap. I’ve paid more for salad last night, alone. And yet, like an idiot, I insist on walking almost half an hour to work every morning through Jingan and its throngs of angry Chinese grandmas and school children; I insist on taking the subway 45 minutes instead of a 10-minute taxi ride; I insist on walking back home from bars at 11pm. I’m still not quite sure where I’ve been this compulsion to walk. I used to hate walking. What’s happened to me?
  3.  I stubbornly insist on using Google maps (is Baidu the Bing of China?), even though they take impossibly long to load (really, it may just be the Chinese internet)
  4. I am trying to maintain some semblance of eating healthy by ordering 60RMB quinoa and raisin salads instead of the aforementioned 18RMB noodles (although it’s partially out of the sheer inability to eat the said noodles)
Japanese meal sets: the embodiment of convenience
Japanese meal sets: the embodiment of convenience

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One of the most difficult things about living in Shanghai has been dealing with the utter sense of displacement from home. But I think i’ve found a way to combat that: I’m getting a place of my own. Yes, for the first time in 23 years of my adult life, I’m going to be living by myself. Frankly, it’s a tiny bit terrifying. Scratch that. It’s beyond terrifying. Now, this is the part where it gets complicated. See, living by myself is different than living on my own. I’ve already been living on my own for years. Three years to be exact (and no, I’m not counting my years in a college dorm as living on my own, because back then I still had a dining hall and a lofted bed). Over the last two years at the Elmhurst, living with A, I had embraced the slightly-crooked floors, late-night conversations on our fire escape, baking the shepherd’s pie  from Bon Appétit to get through long winters, and all the other ‘fun’ that comes with organic grocery shopping and paying my own electricity bills.

In some way, living in Shanghai has been an escape from all of that. I rarely have to worry about well, pretty much anything. Living with roommates is more convenient. I don’t need to cook, clean, take out the trash, do my laundry, or iron any of my clothes. And yet, like an idiot, I am going out of my way to give that up and once more embrace the inconveniences.

Living by myself will be different. For the first time, I will be without a roommate. When I come home, it’ll be to a (gloriously) empty apartment. That’ll mean a few things:

  1. I’m pretty much never wearing pants again.
  2. I may be sleeping with a knife in my bedside drawer, because I’m still irrationally terrified of rapists (is this just a regular “girl fear” or am I being paranoid?)
  3. No need to struggle over the bathroom in the mornings.
  4. I can get ready for work, while listening to the most shameful music.
  5. Did I mention the new apartment will be a pants-free zone?

Why am i doing this now? I think cat-sitting for T while she’s been in Taiwan helped me embrace the beauty of coming home to a space of my own (cat notwithstanding). Living with roommates, I felt, lacked a sense of agency. Our common space was beautiful, but it never felt quite like my own. I ate too many breakfasts in my room, by myself. Living with roommates in Shanghai also never quite felt like living with A, and I definitely miss our closeness.

Nonetheless, I hadn’t planned to move out so soon. It all happened quite spontaneously.

From lazily browsing through Craigslist ads just to see what the housing market for one-bedroom apartments was in Shanghai (not ideal), to accidentally stumbling upon what appeared to be my dream apartment (but who knew? pictures could lie!), to visiting it in an open house with seven others and confirming that it was indeed my dream apartment (there was an oven! In Shanghai! it’s unheard of!), to incessantly harassing my leasing agent in both English and Chinese making sure the landlord accepted my offer, to hearing back, signing a lease and paying three months rent (oof!) as deposit all took about 36 (hectic, awful) hours.

My new lease hasn’t started yet, but by November 30th, I’ll be writing this again, from a space that is entirely my own.

And, oh yeah, don’t count on me wearing pants.



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