the best is yet to come

Understanding China

At times, I wonder about my ‘legacy’ in China.

Now okay, that sounds a bit ridiculous. The last seven (almost eight) months that I’ve spent in Shanghai, my Chinese speaking abilities have rapidly improved (not as significantly as I would have liked them to, but I’ve mastered both ordering coffee and complaining about said coffee in Mandarin); I’ve cultivated a stomach of pure iron, capable of withstanding the filthiest gutter oil that Shanghainese street food and 烧烤(ed. thanks mistyped Chinese dictionary, I’ll never choose option 1 again) have to offer; I’ve become immune to the worst of human behaviors, learning to swiftly dodge the street-spitting and the Shanghainese AC ‘water’ dripping from roofs. But the longer I stay in China, and as I (slowly) start thinking about my (eventual, but not imminent) return home, I keep asking myself what of China I will take away, or rather to put it bluntly, whether living in China, right now, in my early 20s, will ruin me for ‘real life’.

At the end of the day, and the end of my time in Shanghai, though I may understand Chinese, I’m not exactly sure whether I’ll actually understand China.

Yes, I’ve integrated myself into the cit and things like stopping by FamilyMart to  buy black sesame doujiang each morning, but talking to friends back home about the Chinese economy or its gender inequality issues, I realize that as a foreigner, I still stand outside of China’s social rules. While China is becoming a part of me, I’ll never be a part of China (and maybe that’s a good thing). I’m still confused as to why fruit stalls on the streets sell boxes of strawberries for 16RMB, while the same strawberries cost 98RMB at City Super. I don’t understand why both the stalls and the stores sell these fruits in neatly packaged boxes (I’m sure all those apples taste exactly the same). I know I’m still not taking full advantage of Taobao. I also stopped recycling, which is quite unnerving for the girl who used to compost in the Elmhurst and who now doesn’t even separate paper and plastic.

Overall, I am happy with my life here, but the only thing that continues to bother me is my health. Really, that is the sole thing that would make me move back to the US sooner than I envisioned. Most days, I can feel that my body is breaking down just from being in this environment, drinking the water or breathing the smoggy air (the AQI rapidly turned from 177 to 197 yesterday). Last week I had three allergy attacks (which is three more than I’ve had in the past month), which left me stumbling through the days in a Benadryl-haze and feeling gross the rest of the week.  And it’s frustrating, because the fragility of my health is something I’ve fought against all of my life. Being told, by a foreign doctor, that I’m going to live with a condition for the rest of my life hasn’t made my time in China any easier. I am frustrated by the lack of western-trained doctors, by their questionable medical advice, and the hastily prescribed medicine, which I had stopped taking two weeks ago, because it had made me gain a few pounds over the past three months (and I’d rather deal with the side effects I had before). I think I am still putting off running some tests, and that comes from a refusal to admit that China is ‘the real world’

So I guess my question is, how do I treat my time here? As few years that I’ll be able to carry with me for the rest of my life, or as something that isn’t quite the real world, but a passing phase?



8 thoughts on “Understanding China”

  • I think that even if you don’t fully understand it now it’ll be valuable experience that in later life, with different experiences, you’ll be able to understand whilst comparing and contrasting. Remember they say travel broadens the mind. Also you must understand and “get” China a whole lot better than those of us who’ve never been there.

    • That’s true, I guess, but in some ways traveling to China is making me immune to a lot of travel pieces. It’s both something I want to keep with me as I grow older but at the same time I don’t know how my life will go back to normal after this experience.

  • The overall bad environment in cities when it comes to air quality and all the other things such as water and food really is a downer in China. The only times I feel like I can really breath is after few days of intense rain. Usually I just have the feeling that the air is just too heavy…thankfully I am always only a few weeks in China but that is always enough for me as I feel like a newborn when landing in Finland with all the fresh air I need 🙂

    • The more you describe Finland, the more I want to visit it! 🙂

      Thankfully the air in Shanghai is better than in places like Beijing but there are absolutely days I forget to check the AQI and end up coughing all the way to work. I feel like the cold here especially makes the air worse so I’m looking forward to the summer!

      • I’ve been only during summer and autumn in Xi’An but especially days with plus 38 degrees Celsius combined with very bad air got me down. Unbearable heat and then not being able to breath proper? Just terrible

        • I can’t imagine what the temperature must be like further south in China. I thought we already had it pretty bad in Shanghai with the 30ºC weather, but places like Chengdu or Xi’an must have it so much worse.

          • I think worst about xian is that there is the mountain range around most of the city and thus keeping much of the smog there in the area even with strong winds showing up sometimes

Leave a Reply