Saturday, June 30, 2012

Culture Shock

Or maybe this post is better titled, "Why I Gave You The Cold Shoulder This Month, China"

This month I learned that I'm not special. I am not immune to the various stages of culture shock.

There are countless articles you can find online to describe the stages, and they seem pretty darn accurate to what I've experienced so far. I've experienced a sort of overlapping of the stages at different points over the past five months of living here. I was definitely in the honeymoon stage for a couple of months, and then it felt like I skipped straight to the understanding stage for awhile, and then this month I regressed back to the frustration stage. So it feels like I went a bit out of order. But in hindsight, I can see some these stages have overlapped a bit, or gone back and forth here and there.

Anyway, this post kind of sums up the month of June, or my Frustration Stage.

In addition to reading about the symptoms of Culture Shock, I've been reading a lot of blogs of perpetual travelers and expats, and several expats who live here in China. And I'm feeling a whole lot better knowing that what I've experienced is nothing new.

It's nice and all to feel pretty tough for being able to move to a new country by yourself and go-with-the-flow, take things as they come, learn, adapt, challenge yourself, go to bed every night feeling more grateful than you ever have in your entire life, and waking up each morning ready and excited for more.

But it also feels good to admit when you have those days where you feel completely the opposite of all that.

I've had a lot of frustrated moments this month. A lot of whispered curse words. Angry laser death eyes. Clenched teeth. Exasperated sighs.

I feel very fortunate that these feelings have come and gone and not lingered long, and most times I started laughing at myself almost as soon as I experienced them. I don't think a "me" from ten years ago would have been so fortunate, so yay, hooray again for being on the rollercoaster to 40, wheee!

So here we go, my Culture Shock Frustration Stage Photo Essay!...

Ant Infestation On A Colossal Scale.

This is a photo of the window sill in my shower. This isn't even the worst of it. This is merely a teenie tiny fraction of the ant horrors I've dealt with recently. Ants were litruhhhhly pouring out of the crevices, nonstop, forever and ever. And ever. Almost every other day for a few weeks now, I've been spraying them with my shower head, killing swarms and swarms and swarms of them, endlessly. How can there be so many?!!! If there is a hell for killing innocent lil creatures, I may be found there someday. And I will be covered in ants. But as of this moment, I am vowing to stop killing them. I will let them live in peace. But all of this is null and void if I ever see them in my bedroom. I think Hell has the same clause.

People. PeoplePeoplePeople!

Let me just say, the people here are quite lovely for the most part. I have experienced so many random acts of kindness that I find it very difficult to complain about this, so I do it mostly out of loving fun. The woman in this photo is actually really nice and lovely and sweet and la la la. She is a bank employee. My coworker took me to the bank so I could activate my account for online banking, so that I could purchase things online should I ever need to. In this photo, she is holding my passport. And she's been holding it and staring at it for about a half hour by this point. She is trying to figure out how to enter my information into her computer. Apparently information in English isn't so easily entered into Chinese computer systems. This is the same woman who opened my account a few months ago, and she did the same thing then. It turns out, it's not really the system's fault. It's her. On both occasions, another bank employee finally came over and resolved the issue in a matter of seconds. But this woman seems to like to sit and stare at my passport for a very long time while shouting things in Chinese at my coworker and I, and then laughing really loudly when we try to ask her what the problem is.

Anyway, this is just one little example of the people frustration this month. After several frustrating experiences, I did a couple of things I'm not really proud of. I started exiting my apartment building and immediately putting on my sunglasses to avoid eye contact in hopes of avoiding conversations with neighbors and strangers. And I even pretended to be talking on my cell phone while walking past the more chatty acquaintances. I'm sorry people, it's not you, it's me. I swear!

Hainan Weather.

I actually like this photo because it's really colorful, and I really do love rainstorms. But the weather lately has really been a downer. I don't mind the rain so much. It's the damn heat and humidity. When I say I'm constantly sweating, I'm not exaggerating. I'm even sweating right now as I write this. Maybe I've lived in dry climates for way too many years. Thirteen or so years in Los Angeles and a couple of years in Colorado. And I've been really trying my best to hold off on saying that tropical weather is not for me. But I give up. Tropical weather is not for me. I really hope I feel differently soon. Otherwise, living in this part of China may very well be a one-year-only kind of deal. On the plus side, I'm saving a ton of money on lotion. My skin feels fahhhhbulous (when it's not disgustingly sticky).

Chinese Traffic.

This picture doesn't even come close to doing justice to typical traffic situations around here. I just didn't have a good one to show. Most other expats would laugh if they saw this photo while I complain about the traffic. Anyway, there seem to be no rules of the road here. Forget about driving, I have only attempted that once in my coworker's car when he asked me to take over driving because he was tired. I did fairly well and it wasn't even that scary. But as a pedestrian, you better have eyes on all sides of your head. Just this morning, I almost ate it. Bit the dust. Pushed up some daisies, or what have you. I was in an extra-traffic-frustrated mood when I saw a car barreling towards me, and I thought hmm, I have the right of way here, so I'm going to keep walking and see what he does. Well, I changed my mind when he was a few feet away and not showing signs of slowing down and then honked at me repeatedly. I jumped back and he sped on by. This has happened so many times, and I've heard so many similar stories here, that there is definitely no hope of this ever changing. So I'm going to become a good little Chinese pedestrian and keep all 1000 eyes open in all directions and heed the right of way to the insanely rude drivers. This is where the cursing under my breath happened several times this month.

Chinese Cuisine.

I have to say, I think I have enjoyed Chinese food much, much, much more while in the US than I have here in China. Maybe the US interpretation of Chinese food is less accurate and more salty. Maybe I just haven't found the best restaurants yet, or ordered the best dishes. But I have been getting a little homesick for some good food variety. Living in Los Angeles for so long definitely spoiled me. I had access to any kind of cuisine I could imagine, and some of the best sushi in the universe. Yes, the universe. Oh, and people don't hock up massive loogies and spit on the floors in US restaurants. That photo above is of a half of a chicken head and a big 'ol chicken foot, displayed beautifully on top of some yummy veggies. This was served at my kindergarten, and I picked up this bowl before realizing what the contents were. I started eating the veggies underneath the chicken parts and then realized, holy crap, that's a chicken head. And that's a chicken foot. And then I quickly went back to the kitchen to return the chicken pieces because several of my Chinese coworkers have said how much they love to eat those parts. And as soon as I walked into the kitchen, one of them was there to scoop them out of my bowl, very excitedly. I no longer eat the chicken here because it is usually very bland (and sometimes unpleasant tasting) and usually very rubbery, but I do really like the way they prepare the pork. And to end on a positive note, in every restaurant where I've eaten here so far, the eggplant dishes are DELICIOUS! One of my coworkers even said to me, "Why do all you foreigners love our eggplant so much?!"

It's funny, I've read a lot of blog posts from other expats who have at least one post dedicated to the frustrating things they've experienced in their new home abroad, and each one has admitted that all of the positive things outweigh the negative by far, but it wouldn't be a truthful blog by omitting the negative. So this one is mine. I'm allowing myself this one whiney post as I dig my way out of the frustration stage and back into the understanding and acceptance stage. I really do thank my lucky stars every night as I drift to sleep, and usually several times throughout the day. I feel very fortunate to be living this life right now. So here's a fond farewell to June. I'm very excited for this Summer vacation, and for what the rest of this year holds. Including an all new batch of students at the kindergarten come September. I feel so much joy every single day when I am around all those little munchkins, that it makes all of this petty stuff seem so insignificant.


  1. I know there are a ton of good parts to your living there, but honestly, I don't know how you deal with the bad parts. Because the bad parts just seem really, really BAD. Starting with the mold. And then the humidity. And the the bugs. And so forth. I would die, just simply up and die.

    1. I hear ya! The bad parts definitely seemed very bad this month when thinking about all of them at once.

      Honestly though, I think I can deal with just about everything here, even the big loogie hocking noises in restaurants, the incessant scooter alarms going off all hours of the day and night, the constant jack hammering due to endless construction, and countless other things that are pretty annoying... but I think a couple of things that may make it pretty difficult to grow any roots here long term will be the inability to find Chinese friends who are somewhere near my age and even remotely like-minded. But I realize that may just take time. Maybe a very long time. It's not the language barrier (I will eventually overcome that), but it's the deep-rooted cultural differences that I think will eventually get the best of me. I've always realized to some degree how independently minded we are in the West, but I've never appreciated that aspect of our culture more-so than since living here.

      I still want to live in other countries eventually. I am really hoping to spend at least a couple of years here since I'm putting in the time and effort to learn the language. I just hope I can hold out that long :) It's funny because the very thing that makes it difficult to think about living here long term, is the very thing that makes this place so fascinating... the mind-blowingly-huge cultural differences.