What living in China really means

As some of you might already know, my year in Guangzhou is over and I have already left Guangzhou and started traveling. For the next two months I will be exploring Southeast-Asia with my <3. Our journey started in Yangshuo, where I have already been last autumn, but the scenery there is just breathtaking, so I thought it would definitely be worth going again. We spent about two weeks in different provinces in China, before we left for Laos the day before yesterday. During my last days in China I started to reflect what I have seen and experienced in the past year. I realized that we in Europe barely know anything about the Chinese way of life and the mentality of the people. It is almost impossible to describe what life in China is like, you will have to experience it yourself to really understand what China or Chinese means, but nevertheless I tried to come up with some experiences and common situations that I found myself in to give you at least a rough idea.

1. Am I human?
This is probably one of the points that you won’t really understand unless you have experienced it yourself: In China your most important characteristic is, that you are a foreigner! You are not a person going to the supermarket, you are a foreigner going to the supermarket and you are not a person ordering food, you are a foreigner ordering food and that for Chinese people is worth a photo! No matter where you are and what you are doing, people are interested in you, just because you have a white face and big eyes. It is not generally a bad thing that people are interested in you, but sometimes it can be annoying if people look at you like at an elephant in the zoo. Either people are just starring at you because you look different, or they are treating you like a queen and admiring you because they think people from Europe are special, it might be charming at the beginning, but after a while you will realize that no matter for how long you have lived in China and no matter how fluent your Chinese is, you will never really be a part of the society. Spending one year in China showed me, that integrating yourself into the local society is not always as easy as we think and that it actually takes a lot of effort to find your place in the social system.

photo by Maria Helena

photo by Maria Helena

2. The power of language
I always knew that learning foreign languages can open many doors and gives you the opportunity to communicate with people a lot easier and my time in China definitely proofed me right. When talking to people in their native language makes you meet on a totally different level and people are much more willing to open up to you. Especially in China where not everyone can speak English, understanding the local language is essential and makes your daily life a lot easier. Sometimes it really made my day to see the smile in especially old people’s faces when they discover that I am able speak “their” language.

3. Yes dad I am still a tree hugger
Although, or maybe because, I could not always stick to my vegan diet and used a lot more plastic bags and bottles than in Germany, I am convinced that the lifestyle that I am trying to follow is the right one and the only one that is sustainable in the long run. Some people might think that my attitude has changed and that I am less “strict” now that I have seen worse circumstances than in Germany, but actually it’s the contrary: In China things are wrapped in 5 plastic bags instead of one and you don’t return your empty plastic bottles to the supermarket, but just throw them into the next bin. The point is, that all these things are not happening, because Chinese people don’t care about the environment at all, those things are happening, because they don’t know it better! No one ever told them about the huge plastic islands in the sea that are getting bigger and bigger and no one ever told them that a plastic bag takes 200 years to compost. It took me two months to convince the fruit lady that my bananas and mangos really like each other and don’t need separate plastic bags, but I see it as a nice little success story that hopefully will not be the last one.

photo by Maria Helena

photo by Maria Helena

4. The older the fitter
I have a lot of respect for old people, but for Chinese old people even more! If I think of German retired people, I picture a couple sitting in front of the TV for most of the day and literally waiting to become ill. That might be a bit exaggerated, but what is definitely true, is that retired people in China are a lot more active and social than the ones in Europe. They are meeting in a park or any other public place to play chess, practice kung fu or dance. I love how social they are and I would wish that people in Europe did the same things.

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