It's hard to believe, only a few months ago I was still fantacizing about our epic journey to China, and now, our brief adventure in Middle Kingdom is almost over!
In fact, my last day at work took place last week under torrents of tears... And I am an ugly crier who have diaphragm-seizures and can't talk properly when crying. I don't think any of my fond words of farewell was intelligible... ugh, I wanted to dig a hole to hide in it for days after.
And not just out of embarrassement (although there was plenty of that). I think I was genuinely a little depressed about having to leave. I mean I totally miss Bryson (who, by the way, as some of you know has been hospitalized in Texas but is OK now), I miss our cozy little home, and with that incredible heat, the crowds, the squatty potty... I should be thoroughly excited to go home.
But yet I kinda am, and kinda not.
Why? Well, I think I've started to get comfortable in this alternative reality. For better or for worse (and sometimes truly horrifying), this has been our lives for the past few months, we've learned to live with and even appreciate the idiosyncracies living in China.
I want to write about them before we actually leave, so I can remind myself to savor them one last time, be it sweaty, teary or phlegm-y (yuck), before we go back to "normalcy" on the other side of the planet. I have a feeling normalcy is not going to feel feel quite normal for a while though...
So, what will I remember "fondly" of China? Here they are, in no particular order:
(1) Weird eats.
This one needs no further explanation. Remember my first encounter with duck neck? Yeah, I did try some eventually. Turns out it tastes much less exotic than it looks- it's basically duck jerkey with lots of bones. Dig the jerky, don't get the bones (Chinese loves their meat on bones).
Another treasured Chinese delicacy is the variety of dried seafood, although the Chinese takes full liberty in the definition of sea "food"...
Take for example dried sea cucumbers: when cooked it looks no less disgusting and has a gelatinous texture that most of my American friends will probably cringe at, I happen to like it though. Wiggly sea jello, yummm...
"Breezy blueberry flavor" Lays potato chips, anyone? It's hard to describe what it tastes like- it's sort of like blueberry jolly rancher tossed with msg + lots of salt. It does taste as weird as it sounds.
What I will miss a ton though are all the tropical fruits... While I grew up with most of these, there's one that was indeed a first for me. And in fact, I don't even know if this qualifies as a "fruit":
It's a lotus pod. As I learned from my Wuhan coworkers, you split it open and eat the seeds inside. I've had the candied variety of lotus seeds, but it's a first time digging my fingers into a pod for fresh ones. Novel factors aside, they're actually pretty tasty. Light and refreshing.
Do you recognize any of these fruits below? OK, I cheated a bit here since this is a fruit basket our Thai relatives gave us when we got to Bangkok (thanks!), but most of these are available in China as well.
There's long-an, guava (in Thai they call it "farang", which literally means foreigner), rambutan (the red, hairy one), noi na (in Thai, the green, bumpy one, my fav), and mangosteen. Also wrapped in 3 plastic bags and hidden in the corner of our fridge is the monstrously stinky "king of fruits"- durian, my husband's fav, something I think smells like gasoline (sorry, all durian-lovers out there, it really stinks...).
(2) Death-defying street-crossing.
I've told you that I've learned to cross the street here more or less like a local now, what I didn't tell you is that I still feel like it'll be the last time I cross the street every single time.
You already know that cars don't stop for red lights, and even when you're patiently waiting on the sidewalk, you're not safe, as motorbikes routinely spill over onto sidewalks, threatening to mow you down while you try to squeeze through the crowd to reach the street you're trying to cross.
Then when you finally get to the street, you have to watch the oncoming cars like a hawk, and cross one lane at a time whenever there's a gap. Which means the majority of the time, you're standing there in the middle of a 6-lane street, with cars whizzing by in front of and behind you, with motorbike handle bars brushing the hair on your arm which is standing straight up out of terror.
As un-fun as this sounds, I've never felt so alive as every day you feel like you could have died and not see another day. Thank you, Chinese traffic, for reminding me to live every day to the fullest!
(3) The smell of money.
What does money smell like? Come live in any big Chinese city and you'll find out. While I fully expects our homebase city of Guangzhou to be new and modern, I didn't quite expect it to literally "smell" like it too...
Take for example the gynormous luxury mall across the street from us boasting names like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Chanel. It was technically a construction site when we moved here 3 months ago, and after months of constant churning of the Chinese economic engine (think day and night 24/7 construction), you can "smell" it as soon as you set foot in the neighborhood: the mix of suffocating chemical fumes, dust, sweaty construction people, their lunch of mysterious aroma, and the sweet scent of luxury they pump into the mall that makes you think you need a $20,000 purse (yes, that's US dollars, and probably more now as our dollar devalues...).
This smell of prosperity truly takes your breath away in more than one way.
And the Chinese national sport of shopping isn't limited to those with tens of thousands of dollars laying around, for the rest of us there's always taobao.com, the Chinese e-commerce site sort of like amazon.com, where you can buy anything under the sun.
I, for one, have to admit that I'm quite addicted to this online market with flea market prices. They actually have options like not having to pay for something until it shows up at your door. Crazy, eh?
Another unfamiliar aspect of taobao- you can actually buy living things from it. One night, just for fun, I put in "Welsh Corgi" to see what might come up. Instead of the usual cute mugs and t-shirts, real corgi pups came up, just like stuffed animals only more expensive...
(4) Being creative to be creative.
And perhaps because people are so busy taking advantage of the new economy, or that there's such a wide variety of mass-produced cute-sy stuff, that few seem to be taking time to do creative stuff just for fun.
I particularly felt the right side of my brain aching when it was Eva's birthday. Remember I crafted up a storm when it was her first birthday? This year not only do I not have the time, it was also quite a challenge finding good quality crafting supplies or outlets in China. I was getting really sick of all the cheap, mass-produced, character-laden stuff flooding the streets, I had to really exercise my creative muscle in order to be creative...
I was delighted when I came across this at a bookstore- a completely blank notebook of quality paper, all white except for the word "nothing" on the cover (sorry that's a mirror-image):
Encouragement comes in the form of a "taped-up" birthday message I crafted out of decorated tape (yes, cheaply-made mass-produced stuff, but hey, you've gotta work with what you've got).
OK, that's it for now folks. We're actually in Thailand right now, celebrating my birthday (along with their Queen's which happen to be on the same day), yippee! Will write more once we're back in Guangzhou. Stay tuned!