A Year Later – A Look Back at my Life in China

my life in China a year in review of my experience
Sept. 3,2016 – August 24, 2017


Last year many stare
In the last year I’ve gotten many stares

I’ve been in China for almost 1 year now! I have mentioned a couple of times that the culture and style of living here is a step back in time for me. The simplicity and naivety of life in relation to other countries outside of china, I have found oddly refreshing. During this time period of living in China some of the Chinese I come across are not sure how they should view me. Some blatantly stare, while others (I love these) want to stare or look so badly, they cut their eyes so hard pretending not to stare. At times, some of the older Chinese people give disdainful looks and sneers. Tai says these Chinese adhere mainly to the traditional Chinese values. No relationships or marriages to a foreigner. Thus, a Chinese woman with a man not of Chinese decent is poorly accepted in their belief.  While others, who seem to be in their 20s, 30s and 40s  are all smiles and are very welcoming.  The Younger people are curious and tend to see me as a novelty, having at times been asked if they could take a picture with me. I laugh at the prospect of celebrity status in my alter ego. The point is, Chinese here are not accustomed to seeing foreigners in Northern China.  Most foreigners tend to live in Southern China or Beijing. Where the climate is warmer.  In the time I have been here I have observed less than a dozen people I could identify as a foreigner.  It is true, we are a rare sight and naturally we tend to be on display as we move among the Chinese population in Changchun. At first I found it fun and entertaining and then it started to be a bit annoying. Now it doesn’t bother me as much because I expect this any time I go out in public. But there are times when it is still a little annoying when I can feel so many people staring at me.

A Year of Hate in American & Peace in China

This year, the events played out after the presidential election and what more recently played out in Charlottesville, VA deeply saddened and disturbed me from a Christian perspective, I saw so much hate and destruction and in the aftermath the hate just continued to boil over. Everyone is pointing their fingers in the wrong direction whereas they need to be pointing at themselves. It is a matter of self-righteousness and favoritism as James points out in his letter in the New Testament. That there is a belief that one person is above or better that another. This is completely false. These are things that were foretold by the prophets and apostles that would happen thousand’s of years ago. People need to pay attention where they are right now in Biblical history. For many this should be a scary time of uncertainty. But for those who are in Christ there is no fear for we have our redemption in Christ and we know our future is assured eternally.  This type of behavior is not commonplace in China. I am able to find a bit of solace away from the division that has led America into a darkness unseen in its history. And there is only one way this darkness can be eliminated. Jesus is the truth and the life. He is the Light of the world. Do not underestimate the power and judgement of God. In China protest of any sort must be requested and approved by a government agency. It is closely reviewed and the government controls the matter of the protest such as location, when, what can and cannot be said. It is very regulated and will be immediately shut down by force if necessary if the protest does not adhere to the governments rules. Mainly, it is not a free for all. Speaking out against the government here and certain other things are illegal here and can result in imprisonment, even death. That does not mean protests here are always peaceful. Many times they have resulted in destruction and violence. But the aftermath is entirely different from what is found in America. There are immediate and severe consequence without blame on any public figure, only on the protesters for violating the rules they were to adhere too.

During my time living in Changchun, I’ve only seen around me peacefulness, not hatred or animosity or divisions among the Chinese citizens. As I spend more time on the streets and listening to conversations (with the help of Tai interpreting) I don’t see anger in the words or hatred in the actions of people here. But the opposite. citizens showing care and helpfulness. I see children playing without worried parents watching over their shoulders for suspicious characters. When I see someone needing help, as I have needed on a couple of occasions, the people were quick to help me.  Yes, Changchun is a beautiful city and like most large cities there are areas not as pristine as the travel brochures represent. There are many poor citizens here; probably a great percentage of the 1.4 billion people living in China as of 2015 are considered poor. Many working 7 days a week. There are looks of weariness on their faces from living a life of struggle, but a smile when offering help to others or there is a customer who approaches, greeting them with a helpful heart. There are countless pockets of struggle in the population throughout the city. The tired and aging shops tell the story of survival. The street vendors are dedicated to their livelihood, providing food and wares to the public passing their way. Thankfully, they have a steady flow of foot traffic that never ceases. Hundreds if not thousands walk daily pass them. The vendors are there day and night, hot or freezing cold, they take their place along the concrete that provides non-stop opportunities for them to barter and make a little income. But in the end they are surrounded by family and you can see the joy among them.

A Year of Losing Part of Me

Over the last year I have lost a significant amount of weight. At the beginning it was not to difficult. Immediately, I was faced without having many of the things I loved and indulged in back home. There was no quick and easy runs to MacDonald’s or Wendy’s for burgers, fries, frostees. Butter is a rare commodity in China and it is something Tai has never used. Chinese people do not use ovens so it is not something found in Chinese kitchens. So there aren’t any baked pies, cakes or fattening baked dishes like lasagna. Cheese is another product that is not readily available in China. Sliced cheese, cheddar or any cheese related food is almost impossible to come by here. I will say our last trip to Wal-Mart here (it was only our 2nd trip there in 10 months) which I made an effort to check out more of the types of foods sold there. I did find butter and margarine and there was normal American lunch meat that is easily found in American supermarkets. American food products are expensive here. I did not have time to look to see if Wal-Mart sold cheese. I’m thinking they have it. Chocolate candy is not something Tai eats even though it is readily available in the local supermarkets here. Snicker Bars. The king-size that sells for $1,89 or more back home is only 75 cents here for the same thing.  Tai would buy me a Snickers about once a month. So at the start for the first few months my body did without many of the things I loved to eat that led to my obesity. And I was quickly losing weight. But around May things started to slow down. After all I was eating rice everyday or noodles. But without butter. As the weather got warmer, Tai began to buy ice cream bars and we eat a lot of watermelon. Watermelon here is cheap. Those round watermelons you buy at the store for $4-$6 each. That same watermelon here cost only 75 cents. So it seemed like every time Tai went to the market she returned with a watermelon. But as I could tell I was not losing the weight that much, I was still motivated to lose the pounds. I’ve learned in the last year that the word diet is a word that for the most part has no meaning to Tai. It is a country of thin people for the most part. So I am having a real difficult time trying to get Tai to understand I need to eat less food. We walk fairly often so I am getting exercise. From years of dieting I know what I must do. Eat less and keep walking. I have managed to get Tai to give me less rice at dinner. But like I said she has no concept of dieting. Many of our meals that is not only rice but included in the same meal, potatoes (boiled) as well. Or noodles and potatoes. She thinks my weight is fine. She tells me I am smaller all the time. But I still have a good amount to lose still. I have not weighed myself since February of this year when I went to the Changchun International Travel Healthcare Center to get a physical for my residency permit. At that time I had lost 60 pounds. I have lost more since then, but I have no idea what I weight now. Scales are not sold here that I have seen. Tai is a stubborn woman and the word NO does not resonant with her much of the time. She tries to give me something I don’t want to eat because I feel it is hindering my weight loss. Or when we go to the evening market which is like going to a festival in many aspects (I will write about the outdoor morning & evening markets in a later post) there is a place you can get an ice cream cone on the street. One of those machines that disperses ice cream like the machine found at Golden Coral. I am always telling her no, that I don’t want, but she will always get us a cone. In Chinese, there is no word that simply mean YES or NO. If you are asked if you like something you would say “like” (Xǐhuān) which is the same as saying yes. Or if you are asked a question like, “Can you drive?” You would respond, “can drive” (Huì kāichē) which literally means “can drive or can drive car.” You don’t say “I can drive.” To answer these questions with a no you would respond by adding the Chinese word Bù at the beginning. Bù is the negation word that represents a no or negative answer. As in Bù xǐhuān (not like) or Bù Huì kāichē (cannot drive (car)). The use of pronouns are not used here because the “I” is assumed in the response to the question.  In the last several months, it is frustrating trying to diet around Tai because she feels if I don’t eat, I am being unhealthy and harming my body. She has no awareness what it is like or what is needed to lose weight. But I feel I am still slowly losing. I just know I could lose more at a faster pace if I had control over the intake of my food. I am considering doing more exercising to help out, but since I am in constant pain 24/7 it is not something I am that anxious to begin. Exercising to bring more pain to my body. Yikes! I am trying to motivate myself to start though. So wish me luck and pray I will achieve my goal. I have lost the weight before and I know how much better I felt and how much more I would enjoy life without the excess pounds. Not to forget I will be healthier.

Overcoming the Challenges this past year

It has been an interesting, adventurous and challenging experience my first year living in Changchun. Spending a year surrounded by a language I have not been able to understand or participate in with others is one of the most challenging areas of living here. Talk about being left out of the conversation! I really did not seriously start learning the language until April (2017) of this year. I thought I could learn as Tai and I communicated on a daily basis. I was so wrong in my assumption. For Tai did not know English so we were constantly missing the interpretation of each other’s words. Even with apps that would translate the languages for us. There was still miscommunication. Now I am understanding and can speak more words and phrases after 5 months of study and I can say it has made a difference in our communication, watching TV, or listening to people talk when we are out among people. Chinese is a very difficult language to learn. I am still at the beginner conversational level and in October I will move into the intermediate conversational level and then on to learning Chinese characters. I am using YoyoChinese online for my studies. It is probably the best learning resource online for learning the Chinese language. If you ever want to learn the language I highly recommend it. Tai and I are constantly teaching each other. At breakfast we start saying a word and practice speaking it in Chinese and English. We make it a game of sorts. Throughout the day we will say a word we practiced in the morning to see if we remember the pronunciation. It can get funny how we tend to forget the word and say something completely out there which is not even close. Life needs to be fun even when there are challenges.

Foreigners among the ChineseAnother thing I had to adapt to was I am pretty alone here. It is extremely rare to see another foreigner here from any non-Asian country. When I go out, I see a mass of Chinese with black hair. There are a few brunettes here and there and I have seen a couple of Chinese woman with dyed red hair. But it is all Chinese all the time. I believe I am the only one here with a beard, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Tai is constantly asking me to shave my beard off. The last time I shaved my beard off I was 30 years old. And that lasted for about a year.  That was 33 years ago. The beard is here to stay. She says I will look like a young man and not like an old man. Hmmm… what is she implying? I am truly a minority here and I am a rare sight for many of the residents here. But not to have conversations in English is something I miss. When I Skype with my son each month it is so wonderful to speak English so freely. I miss the casual conversations that pop up with people I run into in the store, on the street and stuff. I enjoy talking with people, especially learning about their lives. That is something I am looking forward to here once I get my Chinese mastered. Not seeing other Americans reminds me how secluded I am here. The diversity in America is filled with so many people with so many ethnic backgrounds. We take it for granted in America because we see it every day there. But it’s not the case here.

I have eaten food in past year that scares me. Cow intestine, hog head, butterfly larvae to name a few. Most meat Tai buys is from the supermarket. While most of the vegetables she purchase is from street vendors. There is some meat sold on the streets. Fish for one. I do not like the Chinese fish. In all the grocery stores there tanks with fresh fish. Now when the Chinese prepares the fish for cooking it is not much they do with it. There is no scaling and all the entrails remain inside the fish as it is cooked, either steamed, boiled or Chinese fried which is completely different from the American way of frying fish. The fish is served with its head (and the Chinese eats parts of the head), the tail and back fin still attached. Plus the entrails are cooked as well. It grosses me out watching Tai eat fish. I do not like the fish here and if i have to eat it, I am picking at it trying to find just meat. Cow intestines are very tough and chewy. It is like eating leather I would think. The pig feet and head is nothing but fat with not real meat substance to it and is gross. One thing I can say is rice does cover up a lot of the nastiness of horrible tasting meats. Now butterfly larvae is the grosses. It looks like fried maggots and is crunchy. I could never get past the look of the food. If I was dying and someone told me I would live if I ate butterfly larvae, well I would be dead now. I will say, everything Tai has cooked I have tried. Not buying meats here is scary because there are no health regulations on meats here. Many of the rivers are very polluted in China so fish is the scariest meat for me. The thing is as the meat is processed in slaughter houses or whatever, what safety steps are being taken here? Tai say there are regulations and such even for meat sold on the street.  But there is no evidence of any inspections for safety I have seen. Seeing a fish on the sidewalk in the hot sun is a worrisome thing. And seeing some of the meats sold in the grocery stores make me wonder. Every part of an animal is eaten here and some of it is just horrible looking.

I will end on that delicious note about meats here. haha.  There is always so much I want to share and I know I can get a bit wordy. I probably should have been a preacher. There was much more to this original post but I felt I needed to divide it into 2 separate posts. I hope those who read this find it interesting, and a bit educational as I share my life in China. It is with hope I am adding a little knowledge about the culture and what it has been like living in Northern China.   The rest of this post I will add next week. Have a great week.  Zàijiàn

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