Living In China -- Have I Got Used To It?

I'm comfortably sat on my bed with a cup of coffee next to me and my new favourite soap 爱情公寓 (Love Apartment) running in the background. Today is my day off and I already took care of most of my household chores. My food shopping is all done (of course I forgot to buy a couple of things but these can wait a while). I need to digest my brunch so I decided to spend some time blogging.

egg, 酸豆角 (sour beans) and spicy little fish, oh an a bowl of rice of course

I've settled into a comfortable routine here in Wuhan, the things I do vary between annoying my fish, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning and working. Oh and let's not forget the most important thing: SLEEPING. There is nothing better than a nap at lunch time when it's too hot to venture outside -- some of my colleagues even get paid for it. It's also advisable to nap when waiting to step off the ferry across the Yangtze River. Why queue with all the e-bikers? It's a waste of time. Too many people. I'd rather take a short nap and by the time it's my turn to step off the boat, I'm refreshed and ready to tackle the next part of my journey. I also napped on the bus on the way home... See, I'm practically Chinese already!

You want me to queue? Nay. Thank you. ...zzzzzz....

Jokes aside, the question I get asked the most around here is whether I'm used to living in China now that I've been living here for a while. The answer to that comes surprisingly easy: HELL YES!

I don't miss Ireland one bit, I miss the amazing people there but I'm happy to have left. I'm probably still in the honeymoon phase of living in China but I feel happier and healthier. I wanted to add that I feel more energetic but that would be a lie, with the heat it can be pretty difficult to feel energetic all of the time, the feeling comes and goes as it pleases.

If I didn't speak Mandarin, I would find it much harder to cope with adjusting to China. But I do. Not perfectly but I can get my point (and then some) across. I don't have to point at things I want, I just say their name although admittedly most of the time I do point. I enjoy listening to snippets of conversations and trying to make sense of them or having random conversations with strangers. They are curious as to why I speak Chinese and some enjoy testing my Chinese or my ability to understand Wuhanese (武汉话). It's one of the easier dialects to understand and most of the time I actually fail to recognise it. I just assume it's Mandarin and always end up feeling confused when my friends or colleagues point out that it's not. The best conversations are however those where my conversational partner just starts chatting to me, completely disregarding the fact that I'm a foreigner. They forgo all the obligatory questions and just chat away. It's refreshing to say the least.

Sometimes it really is tiring to repeat myself: I'm from Germany. I speak four languages. I've been learning Chinese for nearly three years. This is my third time to come to China, I'm working here, I teach English. The other day I jokingly told a colleague that I would start carrying business cards around with me so I can finally stop repeating myself. She laughed and to save me from yet another avalanche of questions (we were chatting in Chinese after work) she stepped in and answered the questions for me. She bent the truth a little and told the couple that I've been in China for three months (which is essentially the truth only I've not been in China for three months in a row). This then resulted in me getting showered with compliments about my 'amazing Chinese'. I could hardly contain my laughter but instead of offering up the truth (namely that I've been learning Chinese for nearly three years) I just said thanks and smiled. Sometime misunderstandings need not be corrected.

Dolce Vita, baby.

I've honestly not found it too difficult to adjust to China but then again I've been here before and although visiting China vastly differs from actually living here I kind of knew what to expect. I'm not a total greenhorn. I did my homework before I came here and it really helps that I don't shy away from asking my fish a ton of questions. Whenever I don't understand something I turn to him. I might find it awkward to ask my colleagues or friends but I don't feel that way about my fish. I know he will patiently answer all of my questions and should I still not understand I can always ask again though I think he can generally tell whether I understood or not by the big question mark on my face. I just know that there's no question I can't ask. I feel comfortable with my fish, it helps to have someone so special at your side.

But before you give out to me for portraying China as the perfect place to live, there are indeed plenty of things that bother me, things that I don't understand, things that are totally alien to me. For example: Why I can't buy nail polish remover in my local supermarket? Why do I have to go to Watsons for that? Why do the construction workers near my home insist on working 24/7? Is their deadline really that tight? Why does crossing the road in China have to be so damn difficult? Especially when you're very tired and are already half asleep...

Crossing the road in China. My personal nightmare, especially after a full day of work. It really takes it out of me.

I try to only let important things bother me. If I don't deem it important I just file it under That's-The-Chinese-Way-Of-Doing-Things and move on with my life. The next time I just do things a little differently. I figured I'll save myself the heartache. Why should I complicate my life more than necessary? I'm sorry but I'm busy, I have a full-time job, a house to take care of and a human fish to look after and worry about. I don't have the time to worry about little things. China isn't Europe, I knew that before I came here. Things work differently and they aren't going to change just because I'm not happy with them. So here's my philosophy: Take a photo, share it with friends, laugh about the oddity, move on with your life. I detest expats who move to a different country and then spend the entire time lamenting about how different things are and now they can't stand it. Well, if you think it's that bad and please go back to where you came from and stop wasting my time.

Thankfully I'm not surrounded by these kind of expats. All the expats I've met and/or made friends with are super-friendly, mostly enjoy their life in China and take China's oddities with a pinch of salt. We share our escapades, laugh about it and then move on with our lives. If nothing else, it makes for fun conversations.

Honestly though, I firmly believe that living in China is good for me. I'm enjoying the challenge and if I can help it at all I won't let things bother me too much, though I can't completely promise that. Nevertheless, I feel healthier here, which I know some people might find hard to believe what with all the pollution. I eat more fruits and fresh vegetables and my appetite for sweet things currently ranges between slim and non-existent. Good for my waistline!

汤包 & 糊米酒 (steamed soup dumplings sweet rice and fruit congee)

奇异果汁 (kiwi juice with ice)

I'm planning to eat my way through all sorts of tasty Wuhan food and then some. It helps that I really do prefer Chinese food over Western food and while I am sure that there will be times where I end up missing Western food, I can cope. I can't eat dairy products so I don't need to worry about not being able to get them in China, well at least not as easily as in a Western supermarket (the only dairy products I can get in my local supermarket are ice-cream, milk and yoghurt) . Also, it's refreshing not to have to ask the waitress or waiter about the ingredients used in a dish as most Chinese dishes don't contain dairy products. I can eat without worry... Mostly. There is of course that little problem with all the food scares we regularly read about but if I paid attention to all of them I wouldn't be able to eat anything anymore. Instead I simply wash my food well, cook it or fry it and don't eat out too often.

This is China, where stairs will lead you directly to a wall.

I remember, when my colleague and I looked for an apartment for me I insisted on the apartment having a washing machine. My apartment has one but I haven't actually used it. I actually enjoy coming home in the evening and taking the time to hand-wash my clothes. It's oddly relaxing and doesn't require the use of my braincells. After teaching five English classes I need to switch off for a while before I can focus on other things such as blogging or even talking to people. Sometimes it's easier to chat away in Chinese after work than trying to adjust the speed with which I speak English.

On that note, my students are absolutely lovely. They really want to learn, are mostly outgoing, very cheeky and of course they will use whichever trick they can to get me to speak Chinese with them (I wanted to keep my Chinese skills a secret but since I'm always chatting away in Chinese with my colleagues, the cat got out of the bag pretty quickly). I always refuse. The students come to our school to learn English not to chat in Chinese with their foreign English teacher. Needless to say, my students keep trying and since I don't give in they find a million and twelve questions to ask me instead. Personal questions range from how old I am to why I chose a Chinese boyfriend. Too cute! Really.

The Hankou shore of the Yangtze river, what you're looking at is Wuchang, the district where I live and work. 长江's width is at least twice the size of the river Rhine...or maybe three times. I can't wait until my fish has a little more time and we can take a leisure stroll by the river.
Wuhan's 户部巷, street food galore. Apparently it's no longer the best snack street (then again there are so many 'snack streets' here that it's not surprising that 户部巷 is subject to fierce competition) in Wuhan but there are definitely some delightful and tasty dishes to be found. There's also a night market, of course I can't wait to go shopping with my fish and then indulge in some snacks. My favourite food stalls have to be the fruit stalls. They have at least 20 different fruits and you can buy a big bowl for a couple of kuai and eat fresh, cool fruits on the go. Alternatively, you can also enjoy cool fruit drinks with ice. It's just blended fruits with water and ice. The place is near the Yellow Crane Tower (黄鹤楼), which is one of my favourite hangouts here in Wuhan. In Dublin I had Stephen's Green Park, here in Wuhan I have the Yellow Crane Tower.
Hidden away between the modern European style buildings of Hankou I found this, a typical Chinese street, much like the Beijing Hutongs. Cars can't drive through those streets, only e-bikes manage to find their way through the winding alleys. People hang their laundry outside, let the kids play out on the streets, prepare food and chat or play games. The buildings stand so close together that you probably always know what your neighbour is doing.

We had blue skies (and soaring temperatures of 41-42 degrees) when I first got here but a thunderstorm brought plenty of clouds and recently the highest temperature is 36 degrees. It's bearable providing you don't forget to drink plenty of water, nap and use a sun umbrella ;-) My fish still thinks it's unbearable. Sometimes I want to agree with him but for some weird reason I want him to think that I'm awesome so I bite my lip and say nothing.