The 10 Things I’ll Miss About Life in China

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I’m not gonna write you a love song…

With my time here in Nanjing down to five weeks and my time here in China down to six, I thought it a good time to reflect on the things I’m going to miss most when I get back to Australia.

A quick glance at the list might give you some indication as to my feelings towards China. While I’ve enjoyed my life here in a lot of ways, it’s often been in spite of China. Unlike South Korea, where I left with more things I’d miss than I could count, I’ve had a hard time actually coming up with things to put on this list.

I don’t know what it is about life in China that has never resonated with me, but there’s a lot about the lifestyle and very little about the country I’m going to miss.

From the constant search for the best VPN for China to the air pollution to the peeing in the streets to the frustrations of dealing with racist cab drivers, it’s not always been peaches and cream.

10 Things I’ll Miss About Life in China

Honorable Mention – Hanging with BronDom

This one shouldn’t really count, as I’ll be seeing them again in about six weeks, but one of the highlights of the last year I’ve had here in China has been getting to spend time with my brother, Dom, and his girlfriend every week. Our weekly dinners and/or lunches have been something I’ve looked forward to every week.

Celebrating New Year's with Dom, Bronte, Dave, and Byron.
Celebrating New Year’s with Dom, Bronte, Dave, and Byron.

Having them here for Christmas and my birthday made both of them wonderfully memorable experiences, and the opportunity to get to know them both better and travel with them has been a blast as well.

They leave in a week, meaning tonight marks our last dinner together in China, but I’m pleased to say I’ll be living with Dom when I’m back home and will get to see much more of them (along with the rest of the family!)

#10 – Delivery

Blessing or curse? I’m not sure yet.

Like much of Asia, China has a thriving home delivery culture. I’ve written before about delivery McDonalds in China, but there’s more than just the American fast food giant out there.

Websites like Line0 list the literally hundreds of businesses in each city¬†(only in Chinese, sadly) that they can bring you food from – picking it up and acting as middle man in the same way that Aussie services like Menulog work. In larger cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, English language services such as Sherpa’s make home delivery accessible to expats as well.

While I’ve come to love the convenience of coming home after work and having something delicious delivered from Taj Mahal, Jimmy’s, or Element Fresh – I can’t say my waist line has loved the ease of access to unhealthy food in my bedroom.

#9 – Street Food

Sticking with the somewhat epicurean theme, let me focus on the one area of Chinese food that I’ve developed some fondness – street food.

Delightfully spicy pockets of meaty goodness from the streets of Urumqi, Xinjiang.
Delightfully spicy pockets of meaty goodness from the streets of Urumqi, Xinjiang.

Unlike a lot of my fellow expats in China, I haven’t fallen in love with the hole-in-the-wall noodle shops or the Beijing duck joints, nor do I share the local fascination with mutton or fried chicken. While I’ve found the occasional dish I’ve enjoyed in a restaurant, it’s safe to say that Chinese food hasn’t bewitched me like Korean food did.

The exception to this has been street food such as jian bing, shao kao, baotzi, and quick and dirty fried noodles. It doesn’t quite compare to a dodgy late night kebab at home, but it does the trick.

#8 – Teaching

I’ve enjoyed the experience of teaching older children, having mostly taught 4-12 year olds while doing the ESL teaching thing in South Korea.

While there’s definitely been more issues with discipline and inappropriate questions (“Do you masturbate, teacher?” being one that most sticks with me), I enjoy being able to have something approaching a friendship with my students.

Celebrating a lesson's completion with the kids in Shuanggou, Jiangsu, China.
Celebrating a lesson’s completion with the kids in Shuanggou, Jiangsu, China.

I’ve played World of WarCraft with some of my most recent graduates, traveled around Lianyungang with another, and participated in Christmas concert performances with two years worth of students.

It’s also been fun being able to explain more complex facets of the English language, as I never felt comfortable teaching stuff like phonics and syllables when I don’t really recall learning them myself. I mean, I know them – but damned if I can remember what it was like having to learn them!

My personal highlights of my time here, oddly, have been teaching away from my own school. Volunteering in Shuanggou for two days and spending a month living in Lianyungang are my fondest teaching memories from China.

#7 – Cricket

I’ve written at length about cricket in China, but the little community was my social life when I first came to China. While I’ve certainly been guilty of being AWOL more often than not (Sunday is the day of rest, damn it!) I’ve got many fond memories of sunny Sunday afternoon cricket sessions, the tour to Xiamen last October, and the annual Nanjing Rural Sixes.

Cricket in China is anything but conventional, but certainly fun.

Special mention also to the very fun 2012 Nanjing Beer Olympics as one of the most memorable drunken days of my early life in Nanjing.

It’s not just the sport (and if you’d seen me play, you’d say it isn’t the sport at all); but the good group of lads here in Nanjing who make it something I’ll miss. The looseness of the Bogans and the dour professionalism of my own Nongmin has made for many funny, somewhat hazy memories.

#6 – Dating

I’m sure it has to do with me being more confident and more content with who I am as a person, but China has been a place where I’ve really come out of my shell and gone on a lot more dates. In fact, doing a rough count back, I’ve dated more people and gone on more dates in my two years here than I had cumulatively in all of my years beforehand.

By dating, of course, I mean going on dates – even if they don’t progress beyond a first date. Let me take my small victory.

Of course, I spent a year of my time here living with and dating Nomadic American, and in the time since (after allowing a respectable amount of time to pass post break-up) I’ve met some really cool people. While none of them have panned out, it’s been good to be getting myself out there.

#5 – Chinese Hospitality

While I’ll touch on day to day interactions with the Chinese in my ’10 Things I Won’t Miss About Life in China’ post, it would be remiss of me to not mention the many pleasant interactions I’ve had with the local people.

Any time I’ve been sent out to visit an affiliated school or interacted with Chinese friends, co-workers, students (or their parents), or friends of friends – I’ve been treated with the kind of hospitality I could never imagine myself receiving in the west.

An ex-student's family treats us to seafood and entirely too much baiju when visiting Lianyungang.
An ex-student’s family treats us to seafood and entirely too much baiju when visiting Lianyungang.

Everywhere I’ve been it’s been banquet meals, more baiju than I care to recall (or ever drink again), photo opportunities with random locals, and people going out of their way to be helpful. From my lovely co-teacher, Sonia from LYG to the random student I’d never taught whose mother drove me around all day to see tourist attractions – the Chinese sure do know how to make a guest feel like an honoured guest, rather than an imposition.

A local familiar in Xinjiang takes us under their wing.
A local familiar in Xinjiang takes us under their wing.

#4 – Living Like a King

Following on from feeling like an honoured guest, it must be said that I’ve really enjoyed living a life of relative leisure here in China.

With my job only requiring me in class between 10 and 20 hours a week, it’s allowed me plenty of time for video games and sleeping in, as well as my role in Nanking Nation and my various other random projects and hobbies.

While the pay isn’t high by Chinese ESL standards, it’s been more than enough for me to have decadences like a maid visiting once a week, meals out with friends whenever I like, and plenty of lengthy drinking sessions with friends. It’s allowed me to travel (see point #2) and see both China and the world.

In short, it’s been a good life for me. Where South Korea felt like college with its late starts, drunken nights, and dorm accommodation – China’s definitely been a more grown up lifestyle. Except for the drinking, of course. That’s a constant.

#3 – Taobao

eBay? Pfft, that site is full of overpriced, overregulated shit! Give me Taobao, the Chinese equivalent, any day of the week!

While you need a Chinese bank card (and the ability to read Chinese) to use the site proper, services like Taobaoring do the heavy lifting for you and charge a negligible fee to do it. I’ve bought so many Adventure Time shirts, Christmas presents, and Warhammer miniatures through the site, and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to it when I go.

It’s dirt cheap, of course, because everything is either made here or is a knock-off. But who cares??

#2 – Travel

I’ll touch on the nightmare that is dealing with Chinese taxi drivers later, but by and large, China is a great place to travel.

Within the city; taxis, subways, and buses are all cheap. Ranging from the equivalent of 30 cents for a subway ride to around $2 for a cab ride, it’s so affordable that walking around is positively plebian. Couple that with the ready availability (and cheapness) of eBikes, scooters, and motorbikes and you’ve got a recipe for a very accessible city life.

Manly men biking around West Lake.
Manly men biking around West Lake.
Rocking my new hat on the shores of Lake Karakul in Xinjiang.
Rocking my new hat on the shores of Lake Karakul in Xinjiang.

When traveling within China, domestic travel isn’t particularly pricey. Cheap domestic flights, sleeper trains, and bumpy long hail buses connect virtually every city, town, and village. Weekend trips to places like Hangzhou and the Qingdao International Beer Festival have been fond memories from my time here, as have longer trips to the likes of Jiuzhaigou, Hainan, and Xinjiang.

The large number of holidays my job (formerly) offered also made traveling abroad possible. In my two years here I’ve visited the United States (again), the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, the United Kingdom, South Korea (again), and Australia.

#1 – The Nanking Nation

Last night was my last night as master of ceremonies, photographer, and generally social butterfly for the Nanking Nation’s monthly party bus. Since joining the Nanking Nation first as a member last October and then as a team member in February, I’ve had a blast and made more friends than I can count.

Of the dozens of photos of me from NKN parties, this remains my favourite.
Of the dozens of photos of me from NKN parties, this remains my favourite.

Many of those are boozy acquaintances rather than lifelong chums, obviously, but it’s a far cry from the relatively social isolation I felt during my first year and a half in China.

I’m going to miss the weekly meetings and drama, the venue wrangling, the wining and dining from potential partners and, most of all, the awesome people I get to party with every 3-4 weeks.

I’ll miss you most of all,¬† James!

Myself, James, and Colin display our rocking bods for no real reason.
Myself, James, and Colin display our rocking bods for no real reason.

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