Not Sweating the Small Stuff

It’s been hard to think of things to write about recently! With permanent, contracted jobs and completely mismatching schedules, Joe and I have effectively been tied to Chengdu for the last few months. In fact, bar one epically long (and sorely misjudged) cycle to a village 30 miles outside of Chengdu a few weeks a go, I haven’t left the city since August. Having spent my first few months out here craving a routine, I have now, somewhat inevitably, become slightly bored with the monotony of my work-sleep-day off-work–study routine. Believe me, I have already told myself off several times for being one of those terrible people whose never going to just be happy with my work-life balance!!

That said, I am very much enjoying my new job and my itchy feet are shortly to be satisfied with our upcoming 2 week adventure to Yunnan which promises 14 days of eating, cycling, hiking and soaking up new scenery and experiences. Following that trip I am jetting back to the UK for a 3 week visit which will fall almost exactly a year after I left. Having not seen my wonderful family or friends for 12 months I am already so full of emotions about seeing them all again that I very nearly bawl my eyes out with excitement just talking about it. All Scottish stoicism will be dying a death as I walk through the Aberdeen airport arrival doors!

With our ‘China Adventure’ being a little less adventurous of late, I have been very conscious of how easy it could be to start picking holes in our day-to-day lives out here. With my circle of expat acquaintances expanding I have really noticed how easy it is for expats to fall into a cycle of bitching about China and essentially looking at it as a place that is inferior to wherever their respective homes may be. Although I hasten to add that my main circle of friends are all a delightfully positive bunch! At a recent comedy gig I attended, the compere poked fun at this trend, with the clientele of a particular bar, well known as a black-hole of expat whining, being on the receiving end of some fairly unflattering (and not terribly funny) jokes. Lack of laughs aside, he made a very valid point – why do people come here and see the differences in culture as nothing but terrible. If your life out here is that miserable then surely you can recognise that as Westerners, we are privileged enough to hold enviably valuable passports that grant us the freedom to globe-trot relatively freely! Exercise this freedom and go somewhere new!

I too have been guilty of China-bashing. You just have to read a couple of the blog posts I wrote at the height of our visa stress and my homesickness over the summer to see me bitching about what drives me mad about living out here. And while those things do still drive me a bit nuts on a fairly frequent basis, I can now see how insignificant they are. They are so trivial they can barely tip the scales towards negativity. For example, my frustrations with being unable to communicate (something that is entirely my own fault) are outweighed by the enjoyment I feel about actually using my brain again as I slowly make my way through my current Mandarin textbook. And the mini-fist pumps I give myself when I cross a ‘Mandarin milestone’ such as arranging repairs with my landlord via text solely using Hanzi or finally telling my neighbour to stop bloody yelling at his poor child (long story!) are way more heartfelt and rewarding than any metaphorical back-patting I gave myself in my previous jobs.

Ultimately it’s essential to remember that as soon as you leave the comforting borders of your home turf, there’s always going to be culture clash. 6 and a half years a go, just moving to London was a wake up call as I adjusted to the every-man-for-himself attitude on the tube and resolutely avoided eye contact with all strangers. Visiting home I had to remind myself that outside of zone 6 you say thank you to bus drivers as you disembark and strangers chatting to you is a sign of them being friendly rather than mentally disturbed.

Leaving the familiarity of your own small pond to experience new places, whether a new town, city or country is all part of making the most of life and expanding your horizons. Niggles and annoyances are inevitable but without learning to accept this you are pretty much guaranteed to drive yourself mad.

Of course, it’s undeniable that moving to China brings with it way more cultural differences than just moving to the next county, or even country, over. A recent thread I found on a Chengdu forum called ‘Weird Things I’ve seen in China’ made me howl with laughter as I related to almost all of them (and I am of course compiling my own list to share on this blog in the future). Sadly it didn’t take long for this thread to turn nasty at the hands of aforementioned negative foreigners but before it did it was an excellent reminder that these, often baffling, differences are frequently hilarious and at the very least make for an excellent ‘This one time in China…’ story.

Therefore, although it’s a little early, my New Years Resolution for 2016 is going to be to make the most of my last 7 or so months in China and stop tying myself in knots over the little things. So I’ll be reminding myself that I love my parka and should therefore enjoy the fact I have to wear it indoors at all times and look at the 6am Chinese Opera wake-up calls as a far more cultured alternative to my alarm. All joking aside, the key thing I have to remember is that the whole purpose of our move to China was to experience somewhere completely new while visiting as many new places as possible. Have we achieved and will we continue to achieve these aims before we move home? Yes. So really, what else matters?

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