Day to Day Life
What is it like living in a "strange" country and trying to cope with so many different things on a day to day basis?
I remember when I first came here in February 2008, how I tried to cope with the shock of it all. Cultural shock is well documented. And I "suffered". Nothing is the same here in China as it is back home. Every little thing one does is different.
A lot is written about the rather challenging bathroom facilities in this country and I'm glad to say that "western" toilets are becoming more popular. The Chinese learn at an early age to squat, and it is quite common to see groups of people "sitting" on their heels. But with feet firmly on the ground, the Chinese can sit in this position for long periods. Westerners who seldom get in this position find it impossible - and this is the position one needs to get into use use the WC's here.
As well, the facilities are far less modern than public toilets in Australia at least. No "tissue" or "toilet paper" is provided in public toilets so you must bring your own, and it is not flushed. One puts it in a little bin in the cubicle. Public toilets are notoriously smelly, and the floors are always wet and slippery. And for the ladies, it is no uncommon for there to be no door to the cubicle, or if there is one, it is only little so it is no surprise to see a sea of faces looking over the door to see what you are doing!!!!
Having a shower - now you'd think that would be something that would be easy. But no. Most homes do not have running water. Hot and cold water is collected in large thermos type containers, and having a shower really means that you soap your body with soap over a plastic bowl (or if you are lucky enough to have a bathroom sink, you do it there.) Then you rinse off. Some stand in their plastic bowl and let the water flow over their body to rinse the "shampoo" from their bodies. Oh, and I've seen naked men on the roof of factories with their plastic bowl having their daily "bath" in a way that would not be done where I come from. Someone would call the police!!!
And when I have a shower, it floods the bathroom so I need 5 minutes with the squeegee to get rid of the water, then open the window and hope it dries some time during the day.
Houses here generally are smaller. Unless you are wealthy, and then they are huge. The poor live in places not much bigger than a Aussie single car garage. Family members sleep together. Once upon a time the "bed" was a cement platform, under which was the fire for cooking and it kept the "bed" warm. Chinese (and other Asians) prefer a hard mattress - the harder it is the more expensive!! I know someone with a marble bed!!! (The mattresses in the apartment for foreign teachers are also much harder than we have back home, and I must say I prefer a harder mattress these days.) The cement "bed" was called a "kang" and there is still reference to "kang" in some homes now.
By the standards of many Chinese our apartments are luxurious. Not a word we Aussies, English or US teachers would use, but we do know we have better conditions than the Chinese teachers on campus.
At least we have a bathroom with western toilet, a shower rose, and two handbasins with hot and cold running water most of the time. Our little kitchen is tiny, but we have a gas hot water service, two gas burners, a strange microwave, and an assortment of cubboards.
Each apartment has two "bedrooms" though in some there is only one bed. I have two king size beds. There is a "lounge room" with old TV that sort of works, we have internet service in our rooms (and if we don't have our own computer it will be provided."
There are two areas for foreign teachers, one in what is called SPT street, and the other is Z Block. Both have 6 floors (and luckily I am on the first floor which is essentially the ground floor for those people who are familiar with the different way of calculating floors.). There are no elevators.
The school is scattered over some 70 acres - and has many buildings, gardens, several lakes, canals, two libraries, two canteen buildings, a sports stadium, sports fields, two small supermarkets, lots of shops, and various other buildings. It has a huge kindergarten, high school, college and university and most students live in the dormitories. Can you imagine having some 7000 students living on campus???
The language is a big challenge. We don't speak Chinese (though I have a few words) and the Chinese despite all our efforts to teach them English, do not speak it even if they know it.
But the big problem is not understanding anything. School notices, newspapers etc appear in Chinese. Warning signs??? Yep, "just take care" we say.
Catching a bus is easy when you know how. No need to speak. Swipe your bus card and all ok, but some buses you swipe you card getting on and off.
Getting out and about is easy eventually - but as we seldom see the sun rising or going down (in part because of the high buildings around, and the low cloud/smog) it is often not easy to orientate one's self.
The supermarket??? I remember the first few times it seemed overwhelming, but now I am adept. I can recognise some of the familiar brands, and I can recognise most products that I would normally buy. Mind you probably 95% of what is in the supermarkets I would not buy - I neither know what it is or what to do with it. Somehow we manage.
Shopping is not too much of a hassle really. Everyone is keen to sell you stuff at inflated prices. (There is a perception that we are rich but one learns a few useful words.) The beggars like to accost us, but they've learned that this blonde foreigner is not very generous. I'd like to be, but when they see you give to one they hound you, and I'm clearly easy to recognise.
We manage to get around to see various cities and towns - yes, on one's own too. Scary at times, but in the end it is manageable.
Western food??? Sure we don't live on Chinese food. We can cook for ourselves and there are some really great restaurants. Some are awesome!!! Australian wine? Scarce as hen's teeth and expensive, but we do have our source and we do indulge occasionally.
Teaching??? Mmmm. Too big a topic. I'll leave that till later..