Things I'll Miss About China
The silence is deafening. Clouds hang over the trees, eerily untouched by wind and still. I sit on the front porch, listening. There hasn’t been a car on our road in the last 5 minutes. I begin to wonder if it finally happened; if the world finally shat the bed and ended itself. Eventually, an old Ford breaks the silence with its outdated muffler and I’m thankful to see that I didn’t blink through the apocalypse.
Rockingham County, in the middle of quintessential rural North Carolina, has a population density of 166 people per square mile. Daqing, China has a population density of 1,300 people per square mile, along with all the cars, businesses, and government infrastructure that need to accompany such an amount of people. Remove 1,134 of those people and all that and you get…silence. I always enjoy the silence right up until that point when it’s time to head back to China. Then, I begin to crave the chaos again.
I’m crossing that line without a return ticket this time and am inevitably about to begin the grieving process. I’m happy with the direction my life is going post-China, but there are some things that are going to take a while to get over.
When I was in China, I tried to avoid thinking about Mexican food as much as possible. It was too painful. Now, authentic Chinese food is starting to fill that role. China has many flaws; its cuisine is not one of them. Sure, you can get your classic kung pao chicken, noodles, and fried rice dishes - all of which cannot be fairly compared to their American counterparts. But what I’ll really miss is how virtually every meal with a group of people is a feast. Tell me a better way to end the day than with a spit-roasted lamb leg, garlic cucumber, grilled eggplant, oysters, home-cooked chips, cold beer, and friends? The answer is nothing, especially when such a meal is only going to set each person back a measly 8 bucks.
No car required
In the realm of public transport infrastructure, America needs to fix her shit. Realistically, everyone needs a car here. Even if you get the cheapest junker out there, you’ve then got fuel costs, maintenance costs, insurance…it’s hard to not view it as a black hole for your money when you’ve been on the other side of the fence. In China, I can leave my apartment and flag a taxi within 3 minutes, pay $0.75 for a two-mile ride, and even enjoy a beer along the way. In the unlikely event that you can’t find a taxi, buses will take you all the way across the city for $0.30. I haven’t even mentioned the gem of China’s transport system. As of 2011, China had 5,193 miles of high-speed rail running throughout the country. It is now possible to be clear across the country within a day or two, even if you live in a small city.
I’ve often described a normal day on the Chinese streets as an assault on the senses. All the senses. There are loud and constant noises, revolting smells, intriguing tastes, perplexing sights, and no concept of personal space. On a good day, it’s like a template for adventure. Nothing is further from what I grew up around (or the lack thereof). On a bad day, I would sooner barricade myself inside the apartment than venture out. But when it’s completely gone altogether, I do miss it. As I mentioned, it’s just so damn quiet here. China has turned a country boy into a city slicker.
What happens when you live in a different country for 3.5 years? Same as anywhere; you make friends, and roots start inching their way into the ground, no matter how much you wanted to avoid it. I met some wonderful people from all over the world - China, Russia, Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa to name a few - and being able to instantly access so many differing perspectives was a treasure. Daqing is not the most vibrant city out there, but we had some excellent shenanigans together. Renting a party bus to take us drinking around Daqing, playing Running Man at a hot spring resort, hosting our own annual summer Olympics, or just hanging out after the week of teaching has finished - I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life.
Riches to rags
Compared to China, it’s hard to not hemorrhage money in the States, even if I’m living reasonably. I was earning a fairly middle-class salary by American standards, but that was enough to put me squarely in the top 0.5% in China. I don’t think I could have spent my entire monthly salary even if I tried, and it would probably result in my apartment becoming ridiculously decked out in a Scarface-esque fashion. I already mentioned that food and transport are dirt cheap, but let me incorporate those costs into a full night out. A massive dinner ($8) with beer flowing ($5), a taxi to a club ($1.5), drinks at the club (free because I'm white, but possibly fake), taxi from the club to my favorite bar ($2 if shared), four decent foreign beers at the bar ($15) and the taxi home ($2). That is a complete night out package for around $30, aka a very cheap club tab in the US. You simply cannot get the same value for your money in the Western world.
Why the hell did you leave?
I will miss all of the above terribly, but I'm happy that I left China in the end. Because life is so easy there, it is also easy to fall into a predictable and comfortable cycle that does not really encourage personal growth unless you're actively seeking it. It's fun for sure and I encourage anyone thinking about China to go ahead and make the move, but put an expiration date on it. "Taught English in China" does not sound as impressive to employers as you think it does on a CV. Stay for longer than I did and your professional development will suffer. Also, you are breathing heavy metals in the air, bathing in them when you take a shower, and consuming them in your food. Not to mention that the political situation has been on a downward spiral and affecting foreigners more and more, which is something I may write about later since I no longer live there and can say what I want about the government without repercussions. Spoiler alert: it's not favorable. I am sort of winding down my China coverage overall after this post, but please do not hesitate to ask me questions about it if you're considering living and working there!