China is a challenge.
That’s the best way I think I can sum it up. Some of you are probably sitting there going, ‘well, duh, Chelsea… what did you expect?’
To be honest, I guess I came into it naively. Sure, English isn’t the native language, or even a second language for most here…. I conquered that before in Colombia, in France, in Morocco, in Japan, in Vietnam and so on and so on. Yet China is EXTRA hard. Like other Asian countries we’ve visited, it isn’t even the same alphabet. There’s no guessing game, no ‘well it’s kind of spelled similar to this word…’
I’ve encountered more than enough friendly folks who go above and beyond to try to break through the language barrier with me but as i pointed out to a friend the other day, you just don’t realize how much small talk is made in your average day… and how much you miss it when everyone sounds like an alien to you, and you to them.
As I type this, I know it’s doubtful it will actually get posted. The internet and I have been going round for round all day today. I finally pulled the white flag and caught a ride to a nearby Starbucks. I can’t tell if I’m becoming delusional, or if my internet truly does go out every single time I do or say something I shouldn’t be (according to their government)…. #bigbrotheriswatching hah
The food has been the most surprising respite. Everyone warns you that Chinese food here is not at all like Chinese food we’re used to in the states… and while that’s beyond true, I actually am finding I quite enjoy it. Laughably, half the time I have no clue what I’m actually eating so there’s no chance of repeating it, but at least it’s enjoyable in the moment.
It’s REALLY tough to find anything BUT Chinese food in the town we are in. Wuhan is a HUGE city (I heard something like 3x the size of New York City if I remember correctly) but it’s in the smack dab of China, and very little non-Chinese tourism means very little variety in food choices. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a million restaurants and hawker stalls everywhere, just no quesadillas or salads or french dip sandwiches (just to throw out a few incessant cravings). They’ve got KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks (my saving grace) but none of them offer the greasy, homebody fare we’re used to in the US. We did find a nice little spot with some ‘western’ pub food, aptly named Brussels Beer Garden and that helped a bit. When we escaped to Kuala Lumpur last weekend, we were beyond elated to find English speaking locals, Irish pubs, and rum bars!
Halfway through the month here (we’ve aptly come to name it #asianSeptember) and all in all I’d say we’re enjoying ourselves. The days are busy. Tate catches the shuttle to the Cummins building around 7:30 every morning, and I hop online to catch the tail end hours of exchange with my Indy/Chicago coworkers.
We’re staying at the Hilton here, which has a pretty nice breakfast buffet that I’ve come to love. I’ve figured out if I go down around 9-9:30 it’s nearly empty, as they shut it down at 10, and I don’t get stared at by NEARLY as many people. (I laugh about it, but it’s like a white, western female is the most exciting thing they’ve ever seen). They’ve got a sesame salad dressing that is to die for, and these quirky little “donuts” that are savory, with green onions in them. Oh, and the endless watermelon juice. If I was on death row planning my final meal, watermelon juice would definitely be part of it.
Breakfasts in Wuhan look a lot more hearty than my typical yogurt and coffee back home.
I’ve wandered a bit around our hotel or hop a Didi somewhere but most days I just stick around the hotel. Filling my afternoon hours with work, and reading. Watching Chinese MTV (so strange, last week I caught a segment where a gang of Chinese denim-clad males were teaching you Beyonce’s booty-popping dance moves broken down step by step), and the loop of CNN and BBC new segments that are allowed. By the time Tate’s done working around 5 and I finish catching up with a few early morning folks back home we’re starving for dinner and usually head out to tackle that beast. (As I right this, I’ve got another Chrome tab open with a tripadvisor listing about an “Aloha Diner” somewhere north of us, that apparently has a pretty good western cheeseburger and I’m pretty sure I’ll be dragging Tate to dinner there when he gets back this evening.
I have to admit, I have a pretty cushy little routine going on around here so you won’t find me complaining too much. When your work day consists of laying on a bed you didn’t have to make, in a robe you don’t have to wash, craving a breakfast you don’t have to cook, in a hotel room you didn’t have to pay for…. well, life just isn’t half bad!
Tomorrow afternoon we head out on train to another city called Wuxi (pronounced Wu-she) where Tate has to meet with suppliers Thursday, and apparently it will be ‘bring your wife to work day’ so I can use their wifi to get my own work done. Then after that we’re heading to Shanghai. I have a feeling I’ll feel a little less culture shock in such a tourist-heavy city, so it should be a pretty fun weekend!
We come back to Wuhan Sunday night, work Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday afternoon we say goodbye to our Chinese leg of this adventure for good. I think our flight to Singapore is around 5 hours direct and then come Saturday we’ll be in Vacation mode beaching it in the Philippines on Siargao Island for one more week.