I have to say that when my teaching contract ended in China, I was very excited. I’m not sure if it was because I was going to be traveling to some other provinces I was excited to see, or if I was just looking forward to a few weeks in Hong Kong, which would allow me to gorge on lots of different foods I couldn’t find while in Dali. Either way, I was excited to be moving on. But now that I have been living in Japan for 10 months (Wow has it already been that long?), I am constantly thinking about all the reasons I miss my home in China. So I thought I would compile a list of the things that I really loved about living in China. This isn’t to say that everything was perfect while living in China, that is far from the case.
Everything is so cheap.
Compared to life back home in California, and here is Japan, everything is significantly cheaper. From food to clothes, to transportation and rent, everything is pretty cheap. Groceries for a week would cost about $20, sometimes even less. Getting my favorite fried potatoes from a street vendor would cost around 5 CNY, and a Chinese hamburger 7 CNY, which is perfect for lunch. My favorite breakfast, baozi (a steamed bun filled with meat or veggies), was only 1 CNY. Clothes were not as cheap as I would have expected, but still lots cheaper than home. As for rent, you can pay as little as $50 per month, which gets you a very large bedroom and a bathroom. I wanted to have a kitchen, so I didn’t have to eat out for every meal, and I thought having a living room would also be nice, so as to have a feeling of home in such a foreign place. So I paid about $150 a month, about the amount I paid in utilities back home.
Not having to shop at an indoor grocery store
Ok, so this may not be everyone’s idea of something that is desirable, but one of my favourite day to day activities was going to the market to get fruits, veggies, meat, eggs, noodles, and even fresh made local goat cheese. Not only is everything at the market really cheap, it’s also super fresh, and at least where I was living, semi-organic. Plus, I loved finding my regular vendors, who became like friends, and who would throw some free veggies in, or lower the price to a flat number. I think I was lucky in this respect because I heard stories about other foreigners, using a different open air market, who were harassed and sold over-priced goods. So maybe finding a vendor and sticking to them is a good idea.
The Abundance of Fruit and Vegetables
I think because of Dali’s proximity to SE Asia, and it’s rather temperate climate, I was able to find a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. The different kinds of vegetables alone were amazing to see, even if I wasn’t adventurous enough to try all of them. I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but I even enjoyed the different varieties that are abundant in Yunnan, some of which I had never seen before. And now to the fruit, oh the fruit! Mangoes of different colours and sizes, all kinds of citrus (although no lemons), mangosteens, pineapple, and melons, especially watermelon. And all so cheap! Again, I tried fruits that I had never seen before, all of which I loved, and all of which I have not been able to find in Japan. The only complaint in the fruit category is that I couldn’t find avocados easily, and only at Walmart.
The Abundance of Beautifully Dressed People
This one is very dependant on where you are in China, but in Yunnan, where there is an abundance of ethnic minorities, you get to see many beautifully dressed people every day. Just riding the bus would allow me to see beautiful outfits on both young and old, though mostly older women going to work or market to sell their goods. Traveling to other towns nearby would also allow one to see different styles of dress. The town with the most amount of diversity of dress was Zhong Dien (or better know as Shangri-la) where everyday you could see five or more different styles of dress, all beautiful, and all very colourful.
All the Holidays
Not only did my job give me almost two months off in the summer, I also was able to take advantage of all the different national holidays. Again, because I lived in Yunnan, there were a bit more than other places, but it allowed me to really have long periods of time to train-hop from Dali to Beijing. Jumping on and off allowing me to explore different Buddhist grottoes and other orical sites along the way. One holiday brought one of the biggest festivals in China to Dali. San Yue Gie, which translates to Third Month (of the lunar calendar) Festival, doubled the size of the town and brought people and vendors from all over China, and even Southeast Asia and Africa. If crowds aren’t your thing, this festival would not be something you would want to go to. But for one day, it was a very fun experience.
The Friends I made
Being away from China, it is harder to stay in contact with my friends, mostly because I have to use different social media (QQ) since Instagram, Facebook, and Google are all banned. But I did make a few really good friends that I can still connect with from time to time. They helped me a little with my Chinese, and they gave me a different look into Chinese life and cuisine. Mostly we would meet up and eat different types of local foods, or go do some karaoke at a KTV. But my favorite time was when our good friend Claire took us to her home village. She invited us into her home and her mother made a feast for us. We ate delicious food with homemade wine and liquor. Then we picked fresh oranges from her fathers orchard. Then there was even more eating. I was so full it was uncomfortable to walk but it is a memory that I will remember forever.
Almost Weekly Fireworks
The Chinese love fireworks, and from my apartment up on the hill I could see fireworks almost every week. I saw more fireworks in the 9 months living in that apartment than I have in the 10 months in Japan. And I am a person who loves fireworks, so anytime I even heard faint booms in the distance I would run to the balcony to see where they were being setting off.
The Mountains and Landscape
Ok, so this is yet another very regional reason that I love China, but I was living in a beautiful place. Big mountains to the west and east, with a long lake in between. Farm land scattered in between small villages along the lake. It is an idyllic place to visit, and a great place to live. Every morning as I rode the bus to work, I would love to look out the window at the mountains and the lake. When I first arrived in Dali it was early spring and the mountains had just a small amount of snow which quickly disappeared. A little before Christmas the first snow of the winter appeared on the mountains after a long hot summer. The sight made everyone happy and created an even more beautiful backdrop to my temporary home. The mountains also allowed for weekend excursions although there was never enough time to walk them as much as I wanted.
Long Over Night Train Trips
Thanks to my long summer break I was able to take a little over a month traveling to different parts of China via the train. Most of the trips were overnight and about 12-26 hours long. To some that may seem absolutely terrible. But to me it was a great way to see a lot of the surrounding country and experience a different side of travel in China. Every train we were on, we ended up having conversations with broken English and terrible Chinese, and it was always a good time. Well, except the train we took from Dunhuang to Lanzhou when we shared a room with two elderly people who went straight to bed and snored louder than I had ever heard. But for almost two months of travel, and five different long distance train rides, thats not too bad.
The Many Different Types of Landscapes
Being a geography major, I love seeing all kinds of landscapes. Although I was only able to see a fraction of what I wanted to in China (you could spend years there and not see it all), I was able to see many different landscapes. Everything from the desert in Dunhuang to the karst landscape of Zhangjaijie, the huge, sprawling cities in the east to the beautiful mountain towns of Yunnan, and the frozen tundra of Harbin during the famous Ice Festival season. China has it all, and I can’t wait to explore more.
I can’t say if I will live in China again but I do know that I will be back to explore more of the country. I think people are very nervous about going to China and living there. Yes, the language is hard, and it’s very different culturally from the West, but it is really beautiful, the people are friendly, the food is good, and it will always be a place that I think of fondly. It was a hard year, and I had some “What did I do?” moments, but I’m glad I stuck it out because it was a great experience and allowed me to grow so much.
Is there a place you have lived that was less than ideal that you look back on with fondness?? I would love to hear your experience.