Demi Dale is a Final Year student at the University of Birmingham, like me – we are part of the same Spanish course. During our years abroad, she kept a blog: Bigupbeijing.wordpress.com
…There was me, thinking I was all exotic for spending some time in South America, when Demi spent her entire 12 months all the way over in Beijing, China! I was obsessed with reading what she wrote about all of her weird and wonderful experiences, and her honest, authentic style of writing often had me giggling.
So what better person to be Aspire to Amble’s first ever guest contributor!? In this article, Demi details some of the strangest and most difficult things about transitioning to life in China, but ultimately, why she would wholeheartedly recommend the experience…
China in a Nutshell by Demi Dale
When Kia first asked me to write a guest blog post about my time in China, for a split second I thought ‘how on Earth am I going to describe China in anything less than a novel?!?!’ but after buying my own SEEDLESS grapes in Aldi the other day, it all came flooding back to me…
The Chopstick Challenge
I suppose food is a very good place to start. Just to clarify, China don’t do seedless grapes; how upsetting. They also – as many of you will know – don’t do knives and forks.
The first meal I had in China was from the canteen on one of those trays that looks like you’re in prison. It consisted of: a bowl of rice, some red looking meat which I thought was bacon & green peppers, with what I hope was chicken (the dog jokes never get old) and aubergine (I think) finished off in the nicest way possible with a bottle of coke. Not the worst meal in China, but an interesting experience to say the least. That first involvement with chopsticks isn’t going to go plain sailing is it? Of course not! After attempting to eat my food, I honestly thought to myself that I’d either have to start using my hands or starve for the rest of the year abroad. Yet was I to know, I’d become a chopstick queen over the next couple of weeks. P.s. something to note – chopsticks and table manners don’t work well together.
Prepare to be Papped
Never in my life did I think I’d ever feel like a celebrity… until I went to China.
My claim to fame began early on in the Year Abroad. During our first visit to the Temple of Heaven, the place that the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties went to for their annual ceremonies to pray for good harvest, I got papped for the first time.
There’s me minding my own business, doing my own thing, when a little lady taps me on the shoulder, starts speaking a load of gibberish (aka Chinese) and shoves a camera in my hands. My naivety led me to think that she wanted me to take a picture of her with the Hall of Good Prayers. Not the case, at all. In fact, she wanted a picture with me, first a selfie and then one that her husband would take. After the picture I expected the conversation to flow, she said thank you, off she trotted and that was the end of it. Weird, right?!
Another time, we were on the Great Wall, it was boiling hot and so busy that every step you took you were brushing shoulders with all kinds of people – some foreigners, some Chinese. After reaching the top of a very large tower, I decided to have a breather and stepped up onto a platform to admire the views. Next thing I know, an arm has been linked with mine and my view is being directed towards a man holding an Ipad and insisting I smile. Not the place or the time as I was sweating like a pig, but that’s another story to tell I guess…
If you’re Squeamish, Skip Ahead!
The last of the three things that I’d say puzzled me most about China (at first anyway) was the squat toilet.
A great big hole in the floor that you’re expected to crouch over and empty your bowels or bladder. Not the most convenient of ways to go to the toilet, I learnt the hard way when drunk, but after using them for a solid 10 months I’ve come to the conclusion that it is probably the most hygienic way.
Actually, that most definitely depends on the state of the hole and surrounding areas. Some rough experiences included a trip to Inner Mongolia where the only gender segregation in these squat toilets was a thin wall that provided little soundproofing Hearing my friend urinate while I was squatting wasn’t the most pleasant of things, and neither was then looking down to see urine from the other side of the wall trickling down onto my side! I think I’ll stop there because I’m sure you can imagine some of the things I had to witness in a squat toilet…just think dodgy stomach…
The most difficult thing about living in China? Having to leave.
During the tough times, our friends who had spent their years abroad in China (and loved it so much they’d returned to live there!) would tell us that by the end of the year we wouldn’t want to leave. I used to laugh it off and always think in my head ‘there’s no way that can be true’.
However, and to my surprise (especially during the winter months where I missed home a lot) they were right. Leaving China was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Leaving people behind that I’m certain I’ll be friends with forever was heart breaking. Leaving the simplicity but busyness (oxymoron and a half) of Beijing behind felt like I was leaving home.
If I could offer any piece of advice to anyone, it would be to go to China!!! You will have to compromise a lot, and take most things with a pinch of salt but I promise you; you will have a blast.
If you enjoyed Demi’s article like I did, please leave a comment, we would love to hear what you think!
What do you think you would find most difficult? Would you ever consider moving to such a culturally different place like China? What do you think of Aspire to Amble’s first guest post?
If you would like to contribute, don’t hesitate to get in touch! (firstname.lastname@example.org)