+ Before and After

Before I came out to China, I made a list of some of my main concerns.. after all moving to a place where you dont know the language, know absolutely nobody and have barely any money, there’s bound to be a few! I read through them again the other day, and it was funny to see how clueless i was about moving out here. Below are some of main concerns and what I think about them now:

+ My job is 100% commission-based (although half my rent is paid for).. will I be stranded in China without any money?!

I moved to China while in my overdraft, and with no idea when my first wages would be paid. In my line of work, particularly due to paperwork etc, you do not get paid until at least two or three weeks after you earn it. It was only the other week that something was put into my bank account! When I look back on it now, I realise I knew I would not have enough to survive, but thankfully I have parents who were happy to deposit more money when I needed it… at the time though I was adamant I would not ask for any handouts and could handle whatever China threw at me. Now I realise I was perhaps too head-strong for my own good! But if I had thought logically and been less rash, i would not have had the amazing experience that I’ve had so far… sometimes you need to just bite the bullet and do something, rather than endlessly putting it off for a more convenient time.

+ I have a great set of friends at home, will I find people who match up to them?

Moving away from everyone I’m close to and who care about me is something I don’t think many people are willing to do. When I first got here, most of the people I was hanging out with people from work, and it was quite difficult to strike up friendships with anyone else! The problem with the expat lifestyle is that you meet so many cool people all the time, but everyone has such limited free time it might be a month before you get a chance to meet up for a drink! Thankfully, I specifically chose to live with other english-speaking young professionals, and before you know it you introduce each other to your friends and then you are able to form a great network of people to rely on. It is only though friends of friends of friends that you then are able to source out people who you can strike up good bonds with, and I’m happy to say that from just a few months here in Shanghai I know I have met some great people who I will definitely keep in touch with. Even better, having so many international friends means there’s so many places in the world I can now visit and have a personal tour guide for 🙂

+ How am I going to cope with the difference in food?? It’s such a big part of our social lives, our health etc, and I have no real idea what to encounter!

It was a big concern to me that my favourite foods, such as kettle chips, good chocolate and of course a good English pub lunch would be really hard to get hold of. I seriously thought that the majority of what I would be eating in Shanghai would be egg noodles and stir-fries.. Funnily enough, the apartment I rent doesn’t actually have an oven so most of the food I make is with a frying pan, but the food situation out here is sooo much more. Firstly, there is literally any kind of food your heart desires – Sherpa’s home delivery service allows you to order in meals from the top restaurants in Shanghai, and even Macdonald’s deliver to you! When it comes to homely treats such as good chocolate and Western brands, there are plenty of Western supermarkets to cater to you… as long as you’re happy to be seriously overcharged!

Ever since I can remember I have had a bowl of cereal in the morning, but here in Shanghai the decent cereals are twice the price as back home, and I cannot justify spending 70RMB on a box of weetabix when I could potentially buy 70 steamed buns off a hole-in-the-wall vendor for that price! And of course one of the issues is the milk here… You can get milk imported from New Zealand which is nice, but the majority of stuff is full-cream milk and a lot of it has this indescribable taste that i can’t put my finger on – to be honest when I heard about the melamine scandal of Chinese milk it just re-asserted my uneasiness about buying it. I miss it so much I have already planned to drink a gallon of good English milk the second I touch down to London Heathrow!

+ Culture shock – I have never been anywhere so foreign, will I be able to settle in there, despite my severe lack of Mandarin knowledge!?

The second I got off the plane in Beijing, it was such a relief to see English translations in the airport. Part of me was sincerely worried that i would not be able to work out how to negotiate customs and immigration! I feel very lucky that the majority of road names are also translated into pinyin so I can at least find my way around. I work with Westerners, and all my friends speak English, so it has made it much less of a necessity for me to learn the language. Despite this, i feel absolutely hypocritical that i haven’t learned barely any mandarin and still have problems pronouncing basic phrases such as left, right or  straight ahead to the taxi driver! I would like to be proficient enough in the language so that I can communicate with the locals.

A while ago my door was jammed/locked and I couldn’t back into my apartment.. it was after midnight and I was absolutely exhausted.. I went downstairs to the service guys and tried to express to them by waving my key frantically that i couldn’t get in! they finally got the hint and phoned a locksmith, but it was only thanks to a fellow resident that the issue was resolved (he spoke English so I was able to sort out payment and organise a time for the locksmith to return etc). Overall, the culture shock with regards to language is quite easy to get used to, I’ve learned to just accept I can’t understand the shop names and have no idea what the people standing next to me in the metro are chatting about… it’s funny because I think when i get home it will feel like information overload as I’ll be able to understand everyone and read all the signs, and don’t even get me started about being able to read a good magazine!

Despite all my concerns, I feel like being able to overcome the issues of living here has actually made for a better experience. If anything, I get angry when locals try to speak to me in English, or if I walk down a road and spot loads of westerners.. it’s a great feeling to be isolated from the majority of things I am used to and still manage to survive and enjoy my time!