I gotta be honest, sometimes living abroad gets pretty miserable.
The good days do absolutely outweigh the bad. For one, China is overwhelmingly convenient. The cabs are ridiculously cheap. There is an unending supply of Korean BBQ. Eating chuanr no longer makes me violently ill. My favorite Hong Kong-style milk tea stall opens promptly at 7am each morning.
And yet, somewhere between China’s mediocre facsimiles of Western food (imagine people slurping spaghetti in the exact same vein that they slurp street noodles. It’s overwhelmingly unappealing), and an inability to fall asleep until 2am (on a Monday!) from the crashing claps of Chinese New Year’s fireworks, this past week has been a little trying (that’s a mild way of putting it). On Friday, I rattled my work commute, embarking on a 15-stop journey from Fudan to Jiaotong University on Line 10. The first 15 minutes on the subway were spent glaring daggers at the 20-something guy who refused to budge six inches so I could also sit down on the bench. When he (finally) got off and I nabbed that seat (in my state of under-caffeinated delirium), I ended up giving it up to a granny within two stops. Just as his Shanghainese lack of self-awareness prevented him from even considering moving so I could sit, my Russian devotion towards old women in headscarves compelled me to let the old woman sit down.
At the same time, while it’s supremely easy to dismiss China and its people (don’t get me started on the pedestrians I gently, and sometimes not gently, shove out of the way because they refuse to look up from their phones and move when I jogging), I have to remind myself that my Shanghai experience, and living abroad in general, is something that I’ve chosen to go through. Being exposed to these different frames of mind (however frustrating that may be) is fascinating; it encourages me to keep seeking out the unknown and to push myself out of my own comfort zone.
China has this way of constantly defying my expectations, no matter how high or low they may be. Even those moments when I do come to terms with my life in Shanghai (and the times waiters walk up to my table to tell me to pick up my coffee at the counter at Wagas instead of just.. well.. bringing it when they walk over), I get interrupted by the goddamn firecrackers and, just like that, life starts being interesting again.
Honestly, the best (and simultaneously the worst) part of living abroad is this overwhelming uncertainty about what could happen the following day. The past few weeks, several exhilarating things just happened out of the blue, but I am learning to embrace them. Last week, I wouldn’t have known that I’d be wading toe-deep in stale, lukewarm laundry water, as I unclogged my washing machine filter (an errant sock blocked it and left my laundry simmering for three days). Two weeks ago, I would have never guessed that I’d be taking a weekend trip to the mountains with my boyfriend in just under five days. A month ago, I didn’t realize that I’ll be visiting New York City and my home in just under three months.
I don’t really have a plan for my life in China, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.