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10 Things I miss about China

November 23, 2010

I’m home! I even went back to Harvard for my a cappella group’s 25th anniversary jam and the Harvard-Yale football game. Harvard won, of course. It was an incredible weekend full of reconnecting with friends, singing, drinking, and having a grand old time – even if at times, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that the college life is firmly behind me.

While I was in Cambridge, I discovered that a whole bunch of people that I never expected to read my blog actually follow it, or at least read it once in awhile. I also found out that most readers of my blog have the impression that I haven’t enjoyed living in China. This is frankly not true, but looking over past posts, I see that I have tended to focus on the negative (I guess that’s when I most feel like I need to write). So while I’m still home, I thought I’d share 10 things I miss about China while I’m here in the States. (Note: My dearest boyfriend, Rick, is not on this list because it’s a list of China experiences, not people. But obviously, I miss him the most of anything!)

10. Babies everywhere. Shanghais is absolutely bursting with the most adorable babies you’ve ever seen. Two things contribute to the number and visibility of these infant angels: China’s population (duh), and the fact that most parents have two sets of grandparents nearby that provide free childcare, and these elderly Chinese folk love to take their grandchildren out for walks, to see the city. These kids aren’t stuck in daycare. Better for the baby obsessed like me.

9. Fiscal simplicity. In China, my financial life is super straightforward: everything is done in cash. Rick and I pay the bills at the local convenience store. Work does pay me through a bank account they set up for me (at China Merchant Bank), but it’s the simplest thing in the world. I have one card. I withdraw cash with it. The end. No checks, no nothing. To get around, I use one card to pay for the subway and cab rides. I come home and realize I have all these annoying issues to deal with my various accounts here, like the one at Harvard I never closed, and my investment account, my credit cards… ugh. Keeping it simple is a better way of life.

8. Wet markets. Even in Shanghai, which has plenty of supermarkets, most Chinese people still buy the bulk of their produce, meat, and grains at the local wet market – a place where local vendors come and sell things on the cheap. These markets can be found walking distance from everywhere, like the one a block away from my apartment. The vendors get to know you, and are friendly; you don’t get distracted by all the processed foods. At first, I hated shopping at the wet market; but now that I’m home, I really miss it. I don’t wanna drive all the way to Costco to stock up on cheap fruit!

7. Being stared it. One I didn’t really expect to include on this list, because it made me really uncomfortable at first when Chinese people stared at me, the “tall” blonde foreigner (I’m tall by Chinese standards) on the Subway or the sidewalk. But actually, it makes me feel kinda special. I’m pretty damn unique in China, versus here, where I blend right in with everyone else. I miss feeling so special – and pretty! Chinese people frequently feel the need to tell me that I’m very pretty. It’s a blonde thing.

6. The constant buzz of activity. While the endless noise of Shanghai can definitely be grating, I’ve mostly learned to tune it out when I don’t care to hear it; but the sound and the movement and the lights – it’s all rather exciting. It’s very difficult to feel bored in Shanghai. This is likely more of a city thing than a China thing, although the comment that “Shanghai is New York on steroids” is rather accurate. I’ve gotten accustomed to it, and I actually miss it now that I’m back in quiet suburbia.

5. Diverse Chinese food. In America, we have one kind of Chinese food. It is from Southern China (Guangdong province, or the Canton region as it was once known). It is greasy. In China, you can eat Chinese from from all over the country, which is actually quite diverse – Sichuan food and Hunan food (spicy), northern or Beijing cuisine (duck and noodles, not spicey), Shanghai/Hangzhou food (on the sweet side), Xinjiang food (Turkish flair – kebabs and homemade nan bread and yogurt), Yunan cuisine (packed with spices and exotic ingredients), and so on. Most of the world has no clue how diverse Chinese food is.

4. Whole milk. It’s difficult and often impossible to find nonfat or low-fat dairy products in China. It’s almost all full fat. This gives me an excellent excuse to drink full-fat milk and eat full-fat yogurt with minimal guilt. And it tastes sooooo much better than the nonfat stuff. Just sayin’.

3. The ease of impressing a stranger. In the same vein as #7, in China, I speak one sentence of Mandarin and am showered with comments about how feichang hao (very good) my Chinese is, because they don’t expect this blonde outsider to have any Chinese. I deny the comments, but deep down I know that my pronunciation is better than probably 90% of the foreigners in Shanghai, and its nice to be able to whip that out wherever I go. Here, nobody tells me how awesome my English is. Pout.

2. Having the ultimate excuse. I can get away with the most egregious social and civic laziness.  “Sorry – I’m in China!” It always gets me off the hook.

1. Living at the center of one of the most important power shifts in world history. China is changing so, so fast. I read news about China every day, and it never ceases to amaze me to read about the rates of growth in consumption, the speed of construction of transportation infrastructure, the booming, changing, contradictory enigma that is China. It’s … actually really awesome. I know this is a moment in history where power is shifting from West to East. The Chinese people are undergoing the shift from a producing to a consuming society faster than any society ever. It’s unprecedented. Almost everyone has a cell phone, but nobody has a clothes drier. There are huge obstacles to overcome, and China will surely stumble over some of them. The income gap is absurdly wide. The pollution is devastating. Energy consumption is going through the roof, while supply of oil is stagnating. Huge demographic changes are underway. I don’t know how it will all pan out, but it’s incredible to be living through it, watching it up close.

China is bursting with chaos and optimism. The U.S. is souring with dysfunction and pessimism. It’s a good time to live in China.

However, despite all the things I like about living in China, my loved ones are here at home. None of the things on the list above will ever outweigh this fact. The U.S. is where I belong, and where I’ll end up. But for now, I’m on an adventure that sure feels worthwhile.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    December 2, 2010 11:51 pm

    1) Whole milk is gross…it’s like drinking cream.
    2) Your English is outstanding, despite a few typos, but we’ll attribute that to your typing skills and lazy proof-reading. =P
    3) I don’t have a number three, but a two-part list seemed off-balance.

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