7.24.2014

Year One Complete

I just finished my first year abroad.  I would say that I can’t believe that a year has passed, but that wouldn’t be true.  I can believe it.  I’ve just experienced it.  I’d like to share a little bit with you.

What’s it like in this part of the world?  Well, I can tell you this: I get stared at A LOT, and the natives sneak pictures of me on the sly.  Sometimes, the stares come with smiles, other times, it’s just outright shock.  This is typical for a lot of the older Chinese, as many of them may never have laid eyes on a black person before.  I always smile and say hello, because if I am their first, I need it to be a positive experience. 


My hair is practically a rock star.  I wear it big and curly, and of course, people want to know what it feels like.  After making it clear that I would slap the snot out of anyone who just randomly reached for my head, I’ve had no problems with strangers trying to touch my hair.  But they stare in amazement.

Learning my way around has been (and still is) an experience.  I have a Metro card and every fifth vehicle is a taxi, so transportation isn’t a problem.   The Metro system here is extensive (as it should be, with almost 30,000,000 residents) and it is easy to travel all around the city for a ridiculously low price.  There’s so much to see and there are places to shop everywhere.  I took the bullet train to Beijing to hike the Great Wall, and it is something to see.  Words don’t do it justice.

And this was on a foggy day.
My diet has changed.  I don’t eat fast food anymore, and don’t consume nearly as much processed food.  I drink a lot of tea.   I can get fresh fruit anytime I want from the fruit hustler on the corner.  There are wet markets in walking distance where one can purchase fresh meat and vegetables and fruit…but beware, because you’re likely to see meat products that you won’t find at Kroger, Publix or Whole foods…such as whole turtles, live chickens and ducks, and parts of the pig you’d rather not see.  Some of the wet markets smell…and I avoid those.

Typical expats travel with backpacks and shopping bags, as it costs extra to get plastic bags for groceries.  Refrigerators are a third the size of a standard US fridge, and you have to buy groceries every few days because the food doesn’t contain preservatives.  I have become proficient at using chopsticks, as that’s the only utensil you get at a lot of regular restaurants.  Some foods I’ve come to love are egg pancakes, hotpot, dumplings (fried and steamed), mangosteen, pomelo, ramen* and dragonfruit.  Street food is something you have to be ready to try, and by “ready,” I mean updated on hepatitis shots and probiotics on deck.  The reason for this is because the food is prepared and served right there on the street, on a food cart or table…and there are no sinks, bathrooms, or porta-potties available.  But the food is amazing and cheeeeeaaap.

*Ramen over here is the real freaking deal; none of that 10 for $1.00 Maruchan crap that we all ate in college.

As I no longer have to drive, I walk a whole lot more than I used to.  A standard city block is 1 square kilometer.  Walking down the street is always an event, because the sidewalks are littered with vendors who sell everything from flowers to clothing to movies, dishes, headphones, and food.  Fresh juice is squeezed on the side of the road: pomegranate, mango, pineapple, coconut, but it isn’t served cold for obvious reasons.

You’re liable to see large groups of women dancing and doing tai chi.  You will see parents and grandparents out playing with the kids.  The mandatory retirement age here is 64, and since many senior citizens are still hale and healthy at that age, there’s not much for them to do if they’re no longer working.  So if they have grandchildren, they’re responsible for them while the parents go to work.  And it is delightful to see them out with the children.  Children actually play outside over here; they’re all over, running, skating, cycling, or scooting…and laughing.  Family is extremely important over here.

I am safer here than I was in the States.  If I wanted to take a walk at 2 a.m., I could do so with no worries.  No one will bother me.  I have friends who have admitted to leaving bars dead drunk with no clear idea of how they got home…but it was safely.  You can’t play those kinds of games stateside, as far as I’m concerned.

I have two indulgences: the Fabric Market (because I can have anything I want made, and usually great quality…also cheap) and the massage parlor across the street.  A 90-minute massage is all of $50, and a 90-minute foot massage is $25.  It’s like…how do you not take advantage of such cheap deals?  And the masseurs are fantastic and fairly enthusiastic.

This country is the knockoff capital of the world.  You can get some quality knockoffs for the cheap, but you have to know where to go and who to see.  I get my purses from “Junny,” my Beats by Dre from “Linda and Helen,” my watches from “Peter,” and my glasses from “Marc.”  All of these individuals were vetted by   other expats who’ve shopped at their stores, and the rule is once you bring a friend, you get the “friend” price.  Haggling for prices is serious over here, but it isn’t something I’m good at.  I really don’t have time to go back and forth; if I want the item, I pay for it, and if I don’t, I leave.  Some of my friends live for haggling with the store owners, as it is a time-honored practice.

I’ve got another year on my contract, and as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll remain in China beyond that.  The air is ridiculously bad, and there are two seasons: the wet and the dry, and the dry season is hotter than the seventh layer of hell.  It’s so hot that I’ve seen Satan having a Corona at the Mexican restaurant on the corner.  And it’s not that I’m unused to hot weather; I grew up in the South…it’s the oppressive humid heat combined with the pollution that makes one seriously consider moving on.  I have one air filter and am about to purchase another one.  They’re terribly expensive, but worthwhile.  Whenever I go to places with better breathable air, it takes a day for my lungs to clear.

So there it is, a summary of my first year as an expat.  What I can tell you is that, barring some majorly significant event or circumstance, I have no plans to return stateside to live.  Visit, yes…live, no.  There’s so much world to see and experience, and I’m going to use this opportunity to see as much of it as I can.  Traveling around Asia is cheap and I’d be a fool if I didn’t take advantage.

If you find yourself with an opportunity to live or travel abroad, by all means do so.  My life experience is 1000X richer, and I wouldn’t trade the past year for anything in this world.

25 comments:

  1. If you leave Shanghai, where will you go?

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  2. I don't know. Hong Kong, maybe. Singapore. Hard to say; I'll go where the jobs are.

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  3. That's pretty much how my life's changed after living in Taiwan. A lot less processed food and a lot more walking, which I love. And the ramen, lol. I don't eat it often but I still can't over the fact that you get pieces of meat and vegetables that you can see without a magnifying glass in your $1 ramen!

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  4. wow that sounds so amazing! i would love to live/travel abroad! thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. @Amaya- There’s so much world to see and experience, and I’m going to use this opportunity to see as much of it as I can. If you find yourself with an opportunity to live or travel abroad, by all means do so. My life experience is 1000X richer, and I wouldn't trade the past year for anything in this world.

    I was reading your post and you know what I heard? A happy woman. I wish everyone ESPECIALLY black women could have that experience. I think it should be a requirement to live outside the States at least a year. I'm glad that you are getting the poison of living in the US out of your system. I am feeling it starting to seep back in; so I know its time to move on soon.

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    1. Lor, I am very, very happy. I left everything behind to start a whole new life overseas. It is a drastic move you have to mentally and spiritually be ready for, and I was. When I think about having to return stateside to live, I get a bit mentally queasy...which means I won't do it. I feel like we get locked into our lives scrambling for things, and while there is nothing wrong with that...a lot of the things we own end up owning us.

      I've had the nice house, the nice car, and the ability to have a decent life in the US. But over here, in Communist China...I'm actually LIVING. No, I don't have (and don't need or want) a car, and the institute I work for provides exceptional free housing. With those two expensive line items removed, I'm free to enjoy my hard-earned pay to do the things that I want. There is freedom in being able to leave things behind.

      For sistahs who feel the calling to relocate abroad...answer it. It's worth it.

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    2. There is freedom in being able to leave things behind.

      This should be on a t-shirt!

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    3. @Amaya

      Did you find it hard (I'm trying to word this right) shaking off the mindset developed by living in the US as a person of color?

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    4. Lor, that's a good question. I think I am still in the process simply because I am one of three black people at the school where I work, and since I spend so much time working around white folks, that mindset has been slow to leave.

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  6. I agree with Lor, you sound beyond the moon happy. I would usually say it seems you are enjoying yourself, but it doesn't seem like it at all. You are enjoying yourself and your honest description of your stay has made me feel happy for you. The diet thing interests me a lot, especially since I have been wanting to really curb a lot of process foods out of it, but its so hard. Beautiful pic of the Great Wall of China, you just made me deeply want to see the world, despite my fears of going two states over.

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    1. @Amanda O-Start out small. Go to the next town/city over then go from there. Find some friends that like the travel if you are afraid to go alone (which I recommend traveling with someone). That will make it more fun and you have someone with you. Don't be afraid because you miss out on so much by not going.

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    2. I will def take this advice Lor. I don't want fear to hold me back from experiencing different things.

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    3. “How much of human life is lost in waiting.”
      “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
      -Ralph Waldo Emerson

      @Amanda O-The number of people I have met who either too afraid to do something or waiting until the time was right is sad. Especially when they get older and they look back.

      If I had Oprah or Warren Buffet style money I would set up a program for young black women to live outside the US. I think it would do them a world of good. As Amaya said they would just get to LIVE which is something they do not (at least in my opinion) get here. Plus a lot of the things you think you need to be happy you really don't. When I lived overseas I had a lot less things then I do now and I was a lot happier.

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    4. a lot of the things you think you need to be happy you really don't

      When I say I gave up everything, I really do mean everything. This included items I inherited from my parents, some of them valuable. I had a library and I donated 70% of my books to friends and Goodwill. I gave away most of my clothes and shoes, and all of my painting supplies. I whittled my entire adult life down to 14 boxes, ten of which got shipped. The other four will come later.

      It was not easy at first, but when I understood that my dream was being realized and that I'd have to shed dead weight in order to meet it, it got easier with each passing day. It was either that or refuse the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have everything I need.

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    5. I think in American people think they need things to be happy. I remember a while back going through a lot of my things and getting rid of stuff that I didn't need or didn't even remember I had. People would be surprised how much better they would feel by de-cluttering their lives.

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    6. Oops meant *America*.

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  7. I'm always inspired reading experiences like this. It just make you wonder where you want to do and and be with your life. Sometimes we may think we have done everything but something may reminds us otherwise.

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  8. The comment about personal safety is one I hear a lot from Western expats in China. I think there is great irony in the fact that people feel safer in evil, communist China than they do in liberal, democratic USA.

    If you wish to stay in China after your contract ends but don't want to deal with the oppressive pollution, perhaps you could consider a move to southern China (Fujian, Guangdong, for example) where the level of pollution and climate is a lot more tolerable.

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    1. I think there is great irony in the fact that people feel safer in evil, communist China than they do in liberal, democratic USA.

      That's because the Chinese prison system ain't no freakin' joke. No such thing as prisoner rights. From what I've heard, it's a hellish gulag.

      I spent a week in Fujian...it was lovely. Except there's no consulate school located in the area...and I have to go where the jobs are.

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    2. “That's because the Chinese prison system ain't no freakin' joke. No such thing as prisoner rights. From what I've heard, it's a hellish gulag.”

      I don’t think that’s the reason. Lots of crimes are committed in China (think corporate corruption, commercial scams and frauds), but it’s just that violent or street crimes are very rare. It’s pretty much the same in all East Asian countries.

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    3. Ankhesen, I'm in Australia.

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  9. I cannot wait to read about more of your adventures. I love it when bw live their dreams. It is also a dream of mine to live and travel abroad but I find myself afraid of anti black misogyny especially from other POC. You are living splendidly.

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    1. llama: Don't be afraid if that's what's holding you back. I can't say I haven't had any negative experiences from the natives because of my complexion, but I don't know for sure because I don't speak the language. And even if I did, it doesn't matter; I don't care what anyone thinks. Some people will always be pissed off simply because you exist. Don't let something like that keep you from traveling. It's probably a fear that won't even be realized.

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  10. This is awesome!!! Reaching my one year mark in Korea. And I'm ready for year two!!

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