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You know you’ve been in China too long when…

July 15, 2011

I’ve lived in China for 13 months now, and I’m leaving in about two weeks. Crazy. It’s put me in a reflective mood about my time here, and I thought it would be fun to make my own version of the “You know you’ve been ____ too long when…”. I’ve seen other lists like this about China or Shanghai, very long ones, very amusing ones. Here’s my version, my top ten:

1. You compulsively push the close-door button in the elevator. I think this is the single most Chinese behavioral shift of mine. For some reason (I think it has to do with the low quality of the elevators), everyone here (I mean EVERYONE) compulsively presses the close-door button in the elevator. Even if they see more people trying to come in, most of the time, the person nearest the button reaches out and presses it, over and over. I now do this too. It’s compulsive, mindless, a rewiring of my brain. I have a feeling I’ll continue with this silly habit even when I’m home.

2. You can cross the street without fearing for you life. It took me about 2 months in Shanghai to learn to cross the street without almost dying. I had to retrain my instincts. You see, before, my body told me that when a motorcycle was heading straight for me, I should stop like a deer in headlights and maybe even jump backwards a bit. Now I know you just need to keep walking, and the mopeds, bicycles, cars and busses will just swerve around you. Also, I always always always look both ways before crossing the street, and continuously while crossing the street. Again, a rewiring of my brain to fit Shanghai.

3. You shout Chinese explatives — aiyoh! – instead of those from your homeland.  I no longer say “hey,” or “damn,” or “awww!” when I’m caught off guard or angry. Instead, I say, aiyoh! It’s instinct now. Also, instead of “um,” I say, “en” (prounounced “ungh” all back in your throat) or “neige” (pronounced nay-guh). Instead of “okay,” I say, “ok ok ok, haode.” I repeat things a lot more. Just how we jive here.

4. You cook everything in one pan: your wok. Most apartments in China don’t have ovens. Baked goods here are specialty items, treats that you buy at the store. Everything is cooked in the wok. My apartment has two burners, and though I own four pots and pans, I only use the wok. I scramble eggs in it. I braise pork belly in it. I make stir fries in it. I even boil things in it. I also only use one knife: my big cleaver. It can cut anything. That’s all I need.

5. News about food scandals no longer scares you. Exploding watermelons? No big. Cucmbers treated with birth control sex hormones? I doubt they’ll affect us. Milk tainted with industrial chemicals? Pork that glows in the dark? … I’ll take my chances. Don’t want to spring for Western food tonight when I can get a delicious dinner for 5 kuai from the street vendor! What-ever, these scandals won’t affect me! … You can’t live in constant fear.

6. You have friends from at least 10 different countries. I have made friends with Chinese, French, Italian, British, Irish, Spanish, Chilean, German, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Swedish, Danish, and American people since I moved here. And my best friend from HBA is from the Ivory Coast, so I count him too. I’m sure I missed some. Shanghai is so incredibly international.

7. You have formed alliances at the fabric market. Get enough visitors from home, and you’re bound to get to know some people at the fabric market. Rick and I are good friends with the people at Judy’s. Now that we’re nearing the end of our stay, we’ve returned every week for the last month to get things made for ourselves. Two tailored suits, skirt and pants, for $200? Score! And I’m getting a Chiense qipao dress made right now. Rick is a master bargainer and has impressed me – and the people at the fabric market –  countless times with his ferocity.

8. Hardly anything offends you anymore. Motorcyclists and drivers cutting you off; horns honking non-stop; strangers shoving you, yelling at you, and hawking lugis right next to your exposed feet; babies running around without any pants on, and doing their business on the sidewalk next to your apartment; people gawking at you because you’re a foreigner; people trying to cut you in line at the convenience store; waiters and cab drivers ignoring you; it never ends in Shanghai. And while these things once bothered me, infuriated me, frustrated me and grossed me out, they no longer chafe so much. In fact, I can ignore them most of the time. Nothing offends me anymore.

9. You can read a Chinese menu, without pictures. Other than a handful of famous dishes, they don’t teach you food words in Chinese class. They taught us to discuss political movements, like the “opening up and reform” China experienced under Deng Xiaoping (改革开放), but they didn’t teach you how to say “fried rice” (炒饭). You know you’ve lived in China too long when you can recognize almost every dish on a picture-less menu, even those that don’t indicate the ingredients in the dish, like “eight treasures rice” (八宝饭) and “big plate chicken” (大盘鸡).

10. You no longer get compliments on your Chinese. Unlike when I first arrived in China, I am no longer eager to improve my Mandarin. In fact, I’m rather tired of Mandarin and use my foreigner looks to pretend I can’t speak Chinese. I use English whenever possible, and I frequent expat joints far more often then when I arrived. It’s because I’m longing for home. This living abroad thing has lost a lot of its sparkle.

Two more weeks…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    July 15, 2011 3:54 pm

    Mason says to add:

    When you start doing stretching exercises at bus stops and on airplanes.


    As a business owner, you start giving away random incentives, like a free hammer or lampshade with an extra order of eggrolls.

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