China’d is a term I like to use when China puts you on your ass. It’s a bus running 4-hours late that causes you to miss your flight, the language barrier that results in you ordering fried pig’s throat instead of kung pao chicken and it’s your inability to locate a jar of peanut butter or a simple slice of cheese. China is not an easy place to live by any means and constantly getting China’d can wear you down.
After living here for three months, my China BFF suddenly jumped ship. She texted me when she was already on a plane departing Shanghai for Detroit. She had been overworked, overwhelmed and unable to find an English-speaking doctor when she was feeling under the weather. Things would be different if we lived in Beijing, but SW China is renowned for its lack of western amenities. While living here creates a more authentic experience, the daily life of a foreigner is a bit more complicated.
Reality check! At the three-month mark, I realized that if I’m going to survive an entire year (or more?) here, I’d better take precautions to preserve my sanity. Here are six tips to get a little western influence when you’re far, far away from home.
#1. Go to the movies.
Some of the most popular American movies come to theaters in China. If it weren’t for the Chinese subtitles, you might forget where you were for an hour or two. Last weekend, I enjoyed Interstellar (it was that or ninja turtles) and a very large bucket of popcorn. No shame.
#2. Find a Starbucks.
Just like in the good ol’ USA, there’s a Starbucks on almost every corner. After my caramel macchiato phase, which I blame for an added ten pounds in college, I basically boycotted the place. But in China, there’s nothing like the familiarity of a tall frappuccino, chocolate chip cookie and some free wifi in the comfort of a cushy couch to lift your spirits.
#3. Plan a staycation.
Every big city has a hotel from some major chain. Yes, it costs more than the six-bed mixed dorm hostel you frequent, but a night or two in American style luxury could provide the reset you need. I’m currently planning my own birthday staycation in Chongqing next month.
#4. Phone home.
Or don’t. On one hand, it’s comforting to hear a familiar voice tell you how nothing has changed on the home front. You may even be reminded of the reasons you left in the first place. On the other hand, this plan could backfire if you talk to friends who are having the time of their lives without you. FOMO, anyone? I’m happy to say that I won’t be missing any of my best friends weddings or childbirths… that I know of… please hold all major life events until I return, friends.
#5. Plan a trip.
Head to somewhere less China. I’m talking about Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the like. Just find any city that has restaurants with forks.
#6. Find pizza, stat.
If all else fails, find a Pizza Hut. In China, they are nice, sit down restaurants. The pizza tastes great (or have I just been here too long?) and they even have real salad on the menu, which is a rarity.
While life at home is much less complicated, I have no doubt that with all its beauty and culture, I’ll always cherish my memories of a year in China, no matter how many headaches it gives me along the way.