LIVING IN CHINA FOR OVER A YEAR DROVE ME COMPLETELY INSANE. The differences of everyday life were often hard to handle and the amount of breakdowns I had after visits to restaurants and post offices are too many to count. Despite all of its difficulties for me as a foreigner, I love China and now that I’m gone, I find myself dearly missing many of its quirks.
1. Actually succeeding at communicating something in Chinese
After ordering pig brain soup and intestine-laden fried rice, it felt extremely rewarding when I finally learned and was able to communicate that I was a vegetarian.
2. The insane vegetable dishes
I don’t know how they do it, but Chinese cooks can make boring old vegetables taste like magic. Crispy fried cauliflower, sugar-coated taro, Sichuan spicy green beans — cue the mouth watering.
3. The Ching-lish
It was really hard to take my 5-year-old English student seriously when he came to school dressed in a “F**ck You” T-shirt.
4. The sneaky photographs
While some are sneakier than others, the men that literally stopped their car in the middle of traffic to take my picture as I walked to work were not so discreet.
5. The aggressive social behavior
Watching women beat down bathroom door stalls for their turn, being straight up pushed out of the grocery line by an old lady with a bag of potatoes and being essentially kicked out of a shopping mall dressing room by another shopper shocked me at first, but eventually I learned how to play the game. I definitely knocked over a few innocent bystanders while fighting my way onto the public bus once or twice.
6. The places that look like a Chinese paintings
Back at my local Chinese buffet in America, I always ate my barbequed spare ribs while day dreaming at the traditional mural on their wall. Bonsai trees, mountains and bearded old men stared back at me as I dreamed of visiting China one day. When I visited places like Wuyi Mountain and Guilin, I was tickled that the places in the paintings really existed.
7. Not feeling nannied by safety laws
After my 6-foot friend told me of how he drunkenly fell completely inside an uncovered construction ditch I started to pay more attention to my safety while out and about. While walking to work a few days later, I realized that I would in fact have to shield my eyes against the construction workers, shoveling piles of glass over their shoulders in the direction of pedestrians who didn’t really seem to mind.
8. The attention that you and your friends get on a night out
With their dinner party design, the clubs in Fuzhou were notorious for being awkward and confusing. Sick of watching the painfully awful dance performances at the clubs, my boss and I decided to put on one of our own. Dressed entirely in drag, we stormed the stage, put on our best diva moves, ignited a roar of approval from the crowd, posed for dozens of photos, hugged about half of the club-goers and ended the night throwing back a couple beers at the street stalls. Our beehive wigs and sparkly heels attracted quite a few “gam-bays” from the locals. If it were anywhere else besides China, we probably would have been quickly escorted off the stage
9. Living in luxury on the train journeys
I fell in love with Chinese train rides on a trip from Xi’an to Beijing when the café cart served me the most delicious microwave meal I had ever had. The snack cart whizzed by all day and I got to watch the lush rice paddies shimmer from my window.
10. The contact-free squat toilets
After about three months of doing a completely wrong half standing, half squatting balance act over the squat toilet, I finally figured out the correct form. I started to love my contact-free experience and didn’t even mind squatting right next to strangers in the stall-less bathrooms of Beijing.