Since coming back to China just under two weeks a go, it’s fair to say I have been suffering pretty badly from the China blues. Whilst the sensible part of my brain knows that it’s basically just post-holiday blues coupled with temporary Joe-less loneliness, it has still led to quite a few fits of dramatics on my part and general questioning as to what the heck I am doing living in China.
From almost Day One I’ve known that China can be an immensely frustrating place to live, but being away and viewing the country from the outside in for three weeks seemed to emphasise just how mental a place it can be. Browsing articles on a Chengdu expat website, I found this article all about suffering from the blues and I completely relate to all of it. Every foreigner here goes through this stage – where we can’t bear the pollution, the single-mindedness of the locals that can lead to unbelievable rudeness, the death-defying driving, the constant noise, the spitting (oh my GOD, the spitting!), the mystery as to what people’s jobs actually are in any form of administrative capacity and the bureaucracy that crops up for even the most innocuous task.
Living in a largely homogenous society, who have been born and raised to think alike and tow-the-party-line is just such a foreign concept to those of us from the West. And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to – I am a foreigner. I stick out like a sore thumb here and I’m never going to fit in. Whilst being a waiguoren here has it’s undeniable perks – I’m under no illusions that my qualifications or work experience got me my initial teaching jobs, being white and British were the two boxes I ticked – it can also be a huge obstacle to settling into life here. ‘Hilarious’ locals who yell ‘HEEEELLLOOOOO’ at me wherever I go, shop owners who stare at me blankly as I try to explain what I want in my ‘best’ Chinese and immediately dismiss me as a foreigner they can’t understand without listening, e-bike drivers who spend so long staring at the laowei on the bike beside them that they swerve into my path, kids being told to look at the foreigner as I walk past or get on the bus: being an anomaly means being a source of interest and it gets bloody annoying.
Thankfully I am coming out the other side – it turns out that there’s no better cure for snivelling into your tea than going on a massive bike ride, even if the pollution that day meant that 2 days later, I’m still coughing! Yes, none of the above frustrations are going to change over the next year, but I can box them up, breathe deeply and stop myself automatically going into ‘China-rage’ mode when they do happen.
Gaining perspective as I puffed away on my bike, meant I can see how insignificant these things are and instead I’m remembering just why I came to China in the first place. I’m no longer doing a job I hated, I have a whole 12 months stretched out in front of me with SO much time off to make travel plans for, I’ve met some awesome new people and I’ve already seen places and had experiences that were truly once-in-a-lifetime with a whole list still to tick off before I come back. My day-job is changing to teaching adults who will actually challenge me and make me use my brain and whilst I haven’t fully escaped the kindergarten, the little Emperors and Empresses will be funding my travels and (hopefully) help me save enough money to have options when I come home next year so I can do something I am actually passionate about.
With my reignited enthusiasm for China comes motivation to study Chinese and progress as much as I can. I’ve just started my 1-2-1 classes and although it’s made me realise just how much work I have to do, being the only student means there’s nowhere to hide, no way of avoiding tackling the tones and I feel like my pronunciation has improved more over the last two days of classes than it did over 4 months at uni. Plus it’s made me crack open my textbooks at home for the first time in a month – less Made in Chelsea watching and more intellect can only be a good thing!
Whilst I still feel homesick, I’ve stopped viewing the next 12 months as days to cross off and instead am looking at this time as valuable and something that I need to make the most of! I am living in a country with some of the most beautiful places on earth and it’s seeing these places that I need to be ticking off, not boxes on a calendar!