Living in a new country is not only educational, but entertaining.
Each time we had visitors from the United States, I was reminded what it felt like to be in China for the first time … namely the assault of newness and the cultural jolt of everything feeling backwards and upside down. I had culture shock, but after a few weeks we felt like old pros at the China thing. Our easy transition was due largely to the support of patient friends who showed us the ropes. We went to China with no expectations and all we knew was that life would be very different. We also learned a few things from observation and reluctant personal experience:
Kleenex is not only for blowing your nose, but can also be a napkin, wet wipe or hand protector and cleaning tool.
We had Kleenex in every room of our apartment. It came in handy and we used it for everything, not just blowing our noses. In fact, Chinese people don’t like to use Kleenex to blow their noses because they think it’s unsanitary to carry used Kleenex around. So many use handkerchiefs or cover one nostril and blow their nose out onto the sidewalk. Yes, sidewalks were gross.
At restaurants, you didn’t get napkins, you got Kleenex. And sometimes it was needed to open door handles that looked suspicious or to clean off disgusting things to make them less disgusting. For a country that makes you buy plastic bags at the store, they sure do use a load of Kleenex.
Standing in the middle of a highway is no problem.
With three lanes of traffic whizzing by on each side, the dividing line is a “safe zone” where pedestrians waited to finish crossing. Granted cars don’t go as fast on the congested roads in Beijing, but it was still a nerve racking experience. I learned to keep breathing in spite of the fear and welcomed the breeze of passing cars. It was a good way to cool off in the summer. It was free entertainment when we had visitors staying with us … they would laugh later.
“Safe” is a relative term.
Our motto became: If we’re not hurt, then we’re safe. China isn’t designed with child safety in mind. I saw 5-year olds holding the hand of their 3 year old siblings crossing a busy street and dodging cars with the rest the rest of us. Public bus windows open all the way and if we happened to lean over the wrong way when the bus went over a bump, we risked falling right out of the adult-size opening. Seat belts don’t exist in taxi back seats because the drivers use seat covers to protect their car. There’s a shoulder harness, but no buckle … so no real protection for people. Some elevators are too small for the shaft they are in, so when we exited we would tell each other to mind the gap. A lot of elevators were also unreliable and would stop working because either the building’s electricity failed or the elevator was suffering from elevator old age and would have senior moments.
Bargain for everything, even a bottle of water.
A bottle of water in China is about 15 cents, so when someone charged more, it was time to bargain. No one was going to take advantage of the foreigners if we could help it. Bargaining for a bottle of water was more a matter of principal. 15 cents, verses 35 cents, wasn’t going to break the bank, but we were determined to get the Chinese price and not the Foreigner price.
Humongous crashes, thunderous booming sounds and sounds like rapid gun fire at anytime of day/night no longer bothered us.
We got so used to it after awhile we didn’t even hear them. The answer for these sounds 95% of the time was fireworks or firecrackers. The rest of the time it was construction. I don’t know why the construction was so loud, but I saw the workers wearing hardhats so I’m sure they were “safe”. The Chinese celebrate everything from births to spring cleaning of their homes. I learned the louder the noise the better.
It’s pretty amazing what one can get used to when forced. Culture shock is a wild ride. If you ever have the opportunity to visit a country you’ve never been to before, enjoy it. It doesn’t last long … thank goodness.
See Myra’s personal blog: The Interactive Expat