If you've been following along on Instagram, you've probably noticed that we've been in China for several weeks now. While I haven't gotten around to publishing my initial (wordy!) blog post that I wrote back in August or replied to your China-related messages, here I am now, about to get to the bottom of it.
It was the craziest, most unexpected opportunity that fell into our laps: the chance to spend an extended period of time in Asia. It was a hard “no” from me at first, but after much deliberation and weighing the pros and cons, we decided to go for it.
I, for one, didn’t study abroad in college. I wanted to, but I had too much on my plate. Samuel "studied abroad"; he spent one summer doing research at Cambridge in undergrad and another year in Frankfurt while he was in grad school. But given how research-oriented his time spent in Europe was, he technically never had the full study abroad experience that I've heard so much about (i.e. lots of traveling around, making new friends, and not as much school work). In my mind, this is going to be a grown-up, post-college version of living abroad, with lots of traveling.
I'm also not one for spontaneity. I need plans, I need structure. And this trip would be loosely planned with no, as of late, definite end date. The entire process was so chaotic, too. I'll spare you the details, but know this: we've been working on this trip since May.
There have been many sleepless nights, celebratory desserts, panic attacks (on my end -- going to a foreign country for an unestablished amount of time is not a joke), and everything in between.
The main driving factor was that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. This proposition forced us to think about the future more than ever. If not now, when? We wanted to take advantage of this cool opportunity before kids and life happens.
I've been thanking my lucky stars that we we decided to come to China. Yes, it's the longest trip I've ever been on. I miss home, but dare I say, I've grown and developed so much more than I would've if we had turned this trip down.
This trip is more significant that I could've imagined. I've only begun to realize it, but this trip is empowering me to connect with my culture, something that I've never felt a strong desire to do before. I've suddenly taken more interest in learning more Chinese and seeking out places to visit to discover more about China's rich and fascinating history.
Now, on to a few random thoughts from me -- what I've learned and experienced so far in my 8 weeks in China:
1. The pros certainly outweigh the cons. The air pollution, the never-ending crowds, the spitting, and the line-cutting can quickly get on my nerves, but it's a small price to pay to temporarily be a part of such a friendly society. The people here are unbelievably hospitable and go out of their way to help. I haven't experienced this level of warmth from strangers in the longest time. Sure, there have been a few less-than-cordial interactions, but that all fades away when I encounter yet another friendly civilian.
Not to be cheesy, but after being overwhelmed with so much generosity and friendliness from the people here, it's really made me realize just how important being kind is. It's something that I've stood by for the longest time: always choose kindness. It doesn't cost anything, and it can turn someone's day (or life) around. You never know what other people are going through, and the smallest kind gesture can make a huge impact. And through my interactions with people here, I believe in that more than ever.
2. I've been going out a lot and getting plenty of exercise while I'm at it. I want to take advantage of the fact that we are in China and try to explore as many sights and restaurants as I can. Obviously, we don't have a car here, and we're quite removed from the center of town. We're literally living on a mountain and I have to walk 2 miles to get to the nearby malls. This causes a major inconvenience because I rarely spot any taxis when I leave and basically no taxis are willing to take me back. So when I do decide to trek out, believe me when I say it's a day's journey.
On the bright side, China has a plethora of food delivery companies. I remember on our first day, I almost got ran over several times by these guys zipping by on their scooters. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I finally decided to try getting some food delivered. It's a challenge, with it being in Chinese and all, but it's fast and you can get most anything. There are also discounts that are exclusive to the apps, and I usually find that getting something delivered to me costs cheaper than going out to get it myself. How they make money is beyond me, but I highly suggest using the food delivery services (I like the "kangaroo app," MeiTuan WaiMai 美团) if you ever find yourself in China for an extended period of time.
3. Being in China has really opened up my eyes to my financial habits, especially everything shopping related. Since the cost of living is significantly lower here, you get more bang for your buck. It also means that I'm spending less on the daily. When the one-month mark came around and I decided to reward myself with something new at the Kate Spade store, I was floored by the price. 3000 RMB?! If we were back in America, I wouldn't bat an eye at dropping $400 on a bag. I'm embarrassed to admit it now, but I shop a lot and I buy too much. I regularly purchase bags for photoshoots or simply because I'm bored. I think once I return, I might reevaluate my spending habits and get a plan in place to help me become more fiscally responsible.
4. I've noticed that a lot of people here instantly become fascinated with Americans. I don't know what it is -- perhaps it's because we're foreign. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's quite entertaining for me and Samuel to constantly get asked for a selfie!
I'm on the fence about sharing this experience so publicly, but here goes: being Chinese American in China is rather challenging. People ask me where I'm from, I tell them America. Then that's met with confusion. They ask me why I don't look American ("Oh my God, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're NOT white!" Sorry, had to!). I have to go on and explain that my family is from Hong Kong and that I was born and raised in America. I actually now dread people asking me where I'm from because I've grown tired of this repetitive conversation. I guess China isn't as diverse as America. This constant interrogation of my nationality and ethnicity has just made me question my identity, making me feel like I neither fit in as American or Chinese. I don't appreciate having to feel like I'm not legitimate.
It helps to know that these people are asking because their curious, not because they want to offend me or overstep. But nonetheless, it can strike a nerve to be questioned and told that you are not what you know you are, you know? While I can handle myself in day-to-day conversations like this, I wanted to share something personal that happened a few weeks ago that really screwed with me.
You guys probably don't know this, but I used to volunteer a lot in high school. I began volunteering because I was involved in a social awareness club, but I quickly learned that I genuinely loved helping out my community, whether it was tutoring kids or planting flowers. It made me feel good, so I started doing more. Once college came around, I wasn't able to find as many opportunities to volunteer and slowly fell out of it.
Flash forward a few years, I'm in China with loads of free time on my hands. Samuel suggested that I try to find a center to volunteer to teach English to kids, and I jumped at the chance to get back into the swing of things. I connected with a learning center and set up a last-minute interview (I'm talking with only several hours notice). I was required to put together a lesson plan for a demo class, which I don't even know how to do, but I poured my heart and soul into it to make it as good as I possibly could in the given time.
I arrived early and waited for the interviewer to meet me. When she walked out, she took one look at me, pointed at me, turned to the front desk staff, and asked in Mandarin, "That's her? Are you sure?" in the most degrading tone I've heard in a while. Little did she know, I understood the other things that she asked them, namely, "She said she was American. Are you sure that's her? But she's Chinese."
She cautiously sauntered over and reluctantly greeted me. Then she told me that she had to run down and get some dinner. I assumed she was going to quickly grab something for later. Nope, she left me sitting there for well over 40 minutes. Now, if I had been a walk-in, I would've understood if they couldn't accommodate me immediately. But she was the one who requested that I go in that day at that time, to which I obliged. Needless to say, it was incredibly disrespectful of her to go have a leisurely dinner while a interviewee was kept waiting. In my experience, interviewers aren't typically courteous of people's time. It's like they think that they can do whatever they want because 1. what are you going to do about it?; and 2. it's partially up to them whether or not you get hired. They think they're God, and it's ridiculous. But of all the interviews that I have had in my life, I can confidently say that this one took the cake in terms of unprofessionalism.
Now keep in mind, I was feeling vulnerable and had been having a rough few weeks, so this wasn't making me feel any better. I was fuming and I felt disrespected on a whole different level. I decided to stick it through because I really wanted the position. She came back, I did my demo class, and then she started giving me feedback on the spot. I didn't know what to do (because who does that?!) and just sat there listening to her criticize my teaching style and certain things that I did. I made up my mind then and there that I would not ever, not in a million years, be caught dead working for someone as obnoxious as her. Seriously, someone get this woman some help because someone with that big of an ego surely can't be sane.
Before we said our goodbyes, and I was given the usual, "We'll let you know next week...blah, blah, blah," spiel. And then she had the audacity to ask me to clarify my nationality. When I answered firmly that I was American, she pressed the matter more. She finally realized that she had meant to ask about my ethnicity. Apparently, she was confused as to why I didn't look American but sounded like one. I wish I could go back in time and just tell that woman off. I have pondered this matter so much over the past few weeks and I have plenty to say about it.
Two weeks later, I heard back from her. She wanted me to go to a different center the next morning for another demo class. I didn't reply because I have actively made the choice to avoid dealing with narcissistic people like her. I do have some choice words for her though...
It makes my blood boil even thinking about it. If I can do the job perfectly and I'm overqualified for it, why in the world does it matter that I am not blonde-haired and blue-eyed? I left feeling absolutely deflated. I felt absolutely useless and horrible about myself. What does it say about my that I, a native English speaker, couldn't secure an unpaid volunteer position to teach English in a place that speaks very little English? I hadn't felt that down in some time. I never thought that I would be discriminated (I hate that word, but I think it pretty accurately describes my situation) in such a way. I can't say I'm over it -- it really did a number on me, but I'm at peace with myself and know that I'm not the one to blame for other people's small mindedness.
5. Lastly and most importantly: DO NOT DRINK THEIR WATER. I was warned plenty of times and I ignored them. Don't drink the tap water. Don't even drink the water they give you at restaurants unless it's boiling. I made the mistake of thinking that restaurants filtered their water (they don't) and ended up feeling like I was punched in the gut repeatedly. I now carry a 2 liter bottle around with my everywhere I go. Yes, it's super inconvenient, but it beats the alternative. Trust me.
This post is reaching novel status now, so I'll save the rest for another blog post. Thank you for stopping by to catch up on my life!
Being in China has certainly halted my blog presence. Thank you for being so patient with me and my transition. I highly doubt that I’ll be able to keep up with outfit planning, photo shoots, editing, writing, etc. on top of everything that comes with being away from home.
I’m going to try my absolute hardest to crank out outfit posts, but as you might have guessed, it's insanely limiting. I won’t be able to shop my usual stores in the US; even if I could, shipping would add up quickly and take far too long to get to China. I haven't shopped in weeks, and I honestly doubt that I’d be able to find much clothing here. Let's just say that many of the styles that I've seen are questionable at best. Plus, people here are tiny. I'm currently researching companies that I"ll have easy access to while overseas, but I'm not holding my breath.
So, don’t expect as many fashion posts from me. I’ll be switching things up a bit and you’ll be seeing a lot more travel content, gift guides, etc.
That being said, I have been able to stay on top of it on Instagram. But that all depends on how busy life gets and more realistically, if our VPN works properly!
Whew! I'm certainly relieved that I was able to get that out and share that with you all. I hope you'll continue to follow along on our new chapter and make some unforgettable memories with us. Samuel and I are thrilled to embark on this adventure and have a chance to explore a totally different part of the world together.