What you always wanted to know about living the expat lifestyle, in a place like China
Just when you think you're over China...
"Teachers wanted for international school. Sense of humor needed."
When you see this kind of advert then you know that you're in for some potentially tough situations where if you don't laugh, then you might just cry. China is definitely one of those countries where you need that sense of humor. Boy, do you need that sense of humor! Take today for instance. I've had this bothersome tooth for over a year. I avoid going anywhere near the dentist as my medical insurance does not cover dental treatment. Previously, when infection flared up in the tooth, I got over the counter antibiotics - the stuff you need a prescription for in the West, and after a day or so the pain subsided. Well, today the pain flared up again. So much so, that it feels as if someone has taken a chisel and started to chisel away at my cheekbone. In fact, that whole side of my face feels swollen, like I've been punched. (And yes, that has happened to me before so I do know what it feels like!) Teaching nine year olds with toothache is not the most pleasant of experiences. Every little shrill voice seems to jar your nerve endings. Anyway, one of the other teachers happened upon a local Chinese dentist the other day whom he says cleaned his teeth well for a very cheap price. So, after school, grimacing with pain, I made my way to the recommended dentist, only to find that the examination room was filled with workmen of all shapes and sizes, drilling away with giant jackhammers and hammering with hammers. The brand new dental surgery, only open for a fortnight, was already being revamped. Something you see quite often in China. With the deafening noise sending spasms up my swollen cheek, I timidly advanced into the front office which was set out like a little pharmacy. "Drugs," I thought to myself, "Need drugs badly!"
An old man who could have been the dentist, approached me and rattled out a few sentences in Chinese, which I completely failed to understand. "Ting boo dong," I replied, wincing with pain as the jackhammers hammered away in the background. That mean that I don't understand. The old man smiled revealing severely rotting brown and grey teeth. I hoped that he wasn't the dentist, as obviously, he'd never done any work on his own teeth. It turned out that the old man could write English, even though he couldn't speak it, so he wrote down for me that the dental surgery would be re-opening on Sunday. "Mmmmm, mmmmm...," I moaned holding my cheek in pain, hoping that if he noticed I was in pain then he'd be able to give me some drugs. The old man smiled at me and nodded, opening his desk drawer he removed a slightly grubby flashlight covered in oily fingerprints. He then reached inside his drawer again and removed a chopstick. He opened his mouth with the grey brown teeth, signalling to me that I must open mine, which I dutifully did. I'm not sure if it was because my common-sense was dulled by the pain. He used the chopstick as a tongue supresser and peered into my mouth, with one of his nurses holding the flashlight and shining the light into my mouth cavity. He nodded to himself and wrote out a script in Chinese and gave it to the other nurse who fetched me some medication. Three boxes, I seriously hoped that one had pain meds in it. "P-R-N," he said slowly in heavily accented English, pointing to where he had written exactly that on the box. He picked up the next box and read what he'd written, "B-I-D," he said slowly. I was confused. I had no idea what the old man was talking about. "T-I-D," he said as he pointed to his writing on the third box. Having lived in China for three years and asia for four, it took a while before I figured out what he meant. P-R-N meant only take when you have pain. T-I-D meant three times a day. B-I-D means twice a day. Don't ask me how I figured that out, but he nodded vigorously when I repeated that to him.
The medical encounters are just one of the things that makes China, China. The other is split pants. I have an aversion to split pants, probably because I've twice been in Walmart and seen toddlers pee through their split pants all over the bottom of the trolley and drip urine all over onto the floor. The mothers just laughed and carried on walking. I was aghast, when I glanced back and saw other people happily pushing their trolleys through the pee, spreading it all over the shop floor. Then, when you walk on the streets, you often see people holding babies and toddlers over the gutter or rubbish bins and letting the babies poo through their split pants. Then again, there is the hoiking, another personal favorite. Wherever you go in China, you continuously hear people hoik as they clear the mucous from their throats and spit it wherever. On the ground, in the ashtray on the table next to you in the Italian Restaurant, on a plane, and then of course - on my motorbike seat! The pollution is also something to grab you. Permanent smoggy skies, sore throats and often funny metallic tastes in your mouth. The list goes on.
But why, you may ask, besides the money, why do expats go and live in a place like China? I have to say that there is something about experiencing a different culture and traveling around and seeing amazing centuries old sights. My first year I though everything was wonderful. The second year you tend to see more of the negative that the rosecolored glasses of your first year hid from you. By the third year you are over the wonders of the new culture and start to get easily irritated. then you know, it's probably the best time to move on to new adventures, see new sights, experience a different culture. When I looked at my fake terracotta warriors already in their shipping cases, the piles of packing boxes delivered by the relocation company yesterday, I felt a little sad. China has been frustrating, irritating, but at the same time beautiful and magnificent. The great wall is definitely a once in a lifetime experience, something that should be on everyone's bucket list. The fact that the Oasis concert I was going to in three weeks' time has been cancelled because the Chinese Government refuses to give them a visa because they played in a Free Tibet concert in 1997, is one of the frustrating things of living in China. However, the friends you make who hail from so many different countries, and the wonderful memories you've made together, the fantastic times you've had - all make living the expat life a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Even in a country like China.