In keeping with the approach of my first post, I want to speak honestly about my experiences so far in China. Some of my anecdotes may not be suitable for sharing around the dinner table but I think if you are planning a trip to Asia and in particular, China, then you need to know what I am about to share.
So lets start with something that I have completely taken for granted for 25 years – the humble toilet. You feel nature calling: you go to the restroom, you plonk your bum down on the seat, you do what needs to be done. This can be done with relative ease, some people even enjoy some light reading, some even dare to make phone calls during this process. Well let me tell you my friends, and I am mostly aiming this at the females, there is nowhere for your weary bottom to rest when you visit a public toilet in China. The toilets are porcelain holes in the ground over which you need to squat (as if we aren’t told enough that we need to do that!) keep your balance and try to get everything on target. Many do not succeed in the latter so be prepared to step in a lot of puddles; most of the time they are unavoidable. It’s not so bad in winter but can you imagine when sandal season hits? When you enter these lovely establishments, there are not just puddles you must avoid. That’s right people, I have seen some things, some horrible horrible things…
Another crucial part of this experience that you need to be prepared for is that the plumbing in China is not quite up to dealing with tissue paper so you will find a small, usually open receptacle beside the toilet which you can dispose of your number 1 & number 2 tissues. This one little bin may be full to the brim or you might be one of the lucky ones. There is also usually a lack of toilet paper so keep a pack of Kleenex (other brands are available) in your bag at all times. I have painted quite the beautiful picture so far and I think it is important that I explain why the Chinese choose squatting over sitting. They simply believe that it is more hygienic, no transferring of bacteria from countless people sharing toilet seats. I get it, my shoes don’t but I do. So I will end this delightful topic with your first lesson: BRING TISSUES WITH YOU EVERYWHERE.
Now during my time in China there have been many, many tears and that’s toilets aside. I have never been one to experience homesickness but here, with the vastly different culture and my family and friends being farther from me than they have ever been before, I have had some dark days. I completely underestimated how the language barrier would affect my everyday life. Ordering food was a mammoth game of charades (and darn it I’m a pro at that game!), making friends that I could really connect with seemed almost impossible. My sleep patterns weren’t great and I felt anxious and tense at the beginning of each day. After a lot of hating and blaming the country, I decided that my attitude needed to change. The only person that was stopping me from progressing and benefiting from this experience was me. I’ll admit that my boyfriend Ali had a lot to do with my change in mood, he is the kind of person who doesn’t just see the glass as half full, he sees it overflowing with possibilities. Thankfully, I’m now at a point where this city feels comfortable, I have made a lot of friends and I can speak some Chinese. I’ll admit I am not exactly a conversational wizard but I will sure as hell tell you my name, that I’m British and that I want Kung Pao chicken that’s just a little spicy!
The problem with travelling or rather looking at other people who travel is that you never get to see those difficult times. There are no snapshots of the terrifying and daunting first trip to a foreign hospital where no one speaks English, when you feel like utter crap and you just want to be in a comfortable and familiar place. You only see what people want you to see, the sun tans, the nights out, the ‘Look at me I’m wild and fabulous’ shots. I wouldn’t take back my adventures but they certainly have not always been easy and that’s an important thing people must remember and consider before they decide to embark on any kind of extended travel especially to a developing country.
So lets move on to my Triumphs of which there have been many. I am proud to say that I am now a confident E-bike rider. An E-bike is an electric scooter and the people here in Nantong, along with many other cities in China love ’em! I scoot around like a boss and toot my little horn at the people who consistently walk in the road. I have to admit that I have not always possessed such E-bike swag… In the beginning I was more than a little anxious about driving one of these things. I tried it out in the shop and almost crashed into two display models, I cried, shockingly. It wasn’t just about the fact I have never ridden any kind of moped or scooter before; It was more to do with me not being the greatest of drivers. One time I reversed into a guy’s garage after he broke up with me, this was of course completely unintentional, mortifying yes, intentional no. However after careful practice and a lot of night riding to avoid the more hectic traffic, I can ride with confidence to the ends of the earth (or for 3 hours because that’s how long the battery lasts for.)
Another accomplishment that I feel extremely proud of is that I have made a small breakthrough into voice acting. During my time in China I have been part of two projects – one for a company’s online advertisement and the other for a short animated film. I am doing what I can to build on these experiences and pursuing this passion of mine fills me with excitement for the future. There are times when I have my doubts, the negativity starts to seep in and I hear a voice say ‘What’s the point? It’s never going to amount to anything.’ but the force that pushes me to seek adventure in foreign lands, urges me to keep trying.
As human beings we are so reluctant to accept the good things people have to say about us and yet we hold on to the bad things as if they were gospel. Each day we wake up we have a choice, is this going to be a good day or a bad day? Am I going to let the puddles of piss get me down or will I ’embrace the chaos’ as one of my best friends likes to say.
We have one life, so choose wisely and whatever you do, don’t let me drive.
Photo credit: Duncan Errington