The three main things I’ve found myself struggling with since I arrived in Beijing are food, temperature, and the language barrier. These things can sometimes make my day just that bit more difficult than I feel I can cope with. So finding new ways to cope in this foreign environment are more than quite important. I have started finding small pieces of solutions to the culture shock of being on the other side of the world, however I’m still trying to work a fair chunk of it out.
Firstly food has been a big one to adjust to, and I’m still working on it. Chinese food is not like what you get at your Chinese takeaway at home. Plain sticky rice is more common than noodles, food in the university canteen can often be cold because it’s been sitting out for a while by the time you get there after class, and you don’t really know how anything is going to taste until you try it. (And although I don’t want to, I am going to mention the fact I found a dead caterpillar in my broccoli the other day. Just a bit disconcerting.) I’ve also noticed cross contamination is not as much of a thing here, same tongs to pick up everything from vegetables, meats, to seafood, which put me off a little at first, though I’m slowly getting used to it. The main issue I am having is that you either go for the eastern food options which doesn’t always agree with your eyes or stomach, or you go for the ‘western’ options, which although a comfort, are usually quite unhealthy. It all tends to be chips, pasta, pizza or burgers. I personally never thought I’d see the day I’d be craving roast, or boiled, veg and some simple roast chicken. At this point, all I can really think about is my mum’s cooking, which to be fair I did anyway when I was back at uni in the UK, but my wish for it is currently quite a bit stronger. The problem also is that the more I think about British food, the less and less food becomes appealing here.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have had some amazing meals since coming here: an Asian vegetarian restaurant called Tianchumiaoxiang that had so many delicious options to choose from, a Mexican food place called Steps that did pretty good fajitas, an Indian in the U-Centre called Ganges that is also amazing, and yeah, we went to Pizza Hut too, but who can blame us! All these different options have eased missing home food somewhat, but they haven’t really brought back the taste of home. To be honest, I find it very doubtful that we’ll find anywhere that has anything that’ll feel like proper British food. Yet that’s not something I can really criticise, I am in China for God’s sake. So moving forward to try and deal with this adjustment, I’m not really 100% sure what to do. I know I will have to adjust to a more Asian food palette, it’s just getting to that point that I am struggling with. The last time I was in China I got to the end of our last week there and I just couldn’t face rice another day. I pushed through then because I knew I would soon be home, however I don’t have that light at the end of the tunnel this time. I know I should probably just suck it up and get on with it, and that’s likely what I am going to do, but it’s still hard in the meantime.
The temperature has been something I’ve found quite hard to deal with too, though it’s slowly getting easier. Being Scottish, I am not bred for warm weather, therefore with the current average temperature ranging from 20-35 degrees Celsius, is not a super fun thing for me. To be honest also leaving my accommodation without even a hoodie is just a strange concept to me for a start… No one ever asks what the weather is like because we always know the answer: HOT. However, despite all this, I’m getting better at dealing with the heat. The air con in my room is a wonderful thing which I love and cherish every day, making coming in from the humid air so very satisfying.
The worst part of the day is walking to class in the morning. It takes about fifteen minutes to walk to class, and if I’ve not gotten there early enough, I have to forget waiting for the elevator and climb five floors to my classroom. What’s worse is my classroom has little to no air conditioning, so trying to cool down after the jog up the stairs leaves me panting and reconsidering whether I should take up cycling, or jogging, or something. This thought however quickly leaves my mind when I remember I brought no sports gear whatsoever… Also I’m just not a big fan of running… There are fairly simple solutions to heat discomfort though, thankfully. I’ve been drinking lots of water, got a little hand fan from a market shop, and have slowly forced myself to leave earlier to avoid a large queue for the lift.
Finally, the most challenging of the three: the language barrier. Now my Chinese isn’t too bad, but I’m definitely not fluent, and there are many words I still need to learn. Therefore when meeting someone who speaks no English, tiny alarm bells go off in my head wishing I had made more time over summer to revise more useful words. It’s the most frustrating thing when you can’t figure out how to say something correctly, or when you’ve forgotten a certain word. You get blank stares as you stand there, kinda ashamed you have forgotten for the second, or possibly third, time how to say you don’t want onions in your meal. To be fair, it’s very rare you get blank stares. Mostly they’re just trying to help you figure out how to say it. It’s rushed situations or phone calls that are the worst of it. You don’t have time to think it over, or pull out your Chinese dictionary on your phone, and when calling you can’t exactly point or mime, so you’re left stranded unable to understand what is being asked of you. It’s stressful to say the least. All the time you are trying to balance pushing yourself to do better, along with not being too hard on yourself because you’re still learning. You just want to explain something simply, but you lose the odd word, or you realise your sentence structure is incorrect, and you’re left feeling frustrated for not being able to say what you want to say.
I also feel I have to say that it’s not the best mentality to expect everyone you meet to speak English. Yes, it is the most commonly spoken language in the world, but funnily enough that doesn’t mean everyone in China can speak it, or should have to! It’s comforting when you try and speak to someone in Chinese and they ask you if you’d rather speak in English, especially when you are trying to explain something important, but I came here to learn Chinese, and that’s what I’m trying to do. There have been, and will continue to be, stumbles through my language learning, and it will likely continue as long as I study it. Hell, there are still words I’m learning in English that I didn’t know before. (My favourite word being egregious. It means outrageous or infuriating, and it just sounds good.) So how can I expect to know every word in another language? I mean it won’t stop me trying to learn as much as I possibly can, but I can’t be hard on myself every time I fail to get across what I’m trying to say, I have enough issues trying to do that in English! So with the language barrier, I guess I just have to accept it won’t be easy, and I won’t always get it right. However, if I keep trying and study hard, it’ll all sink in eventually.
I think the most important thing I’m learning is to not be so hard on myself, and not get worked up as much. There are many things we can control in life, but also many things we can’t. Even back home, there are just some things you can’t do much about. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but you shouldn’t work yourself up trying to move an immovable force. Keep pushing away at it with patience, and perseverance and it may eventually wear down and crumble, but if you fall down feeling defeated after every kick and punch, you’re just going to wear yourself down instead.
So I think my goals are laid out fairly clearly in front of myself:
1. Adapt to the different foods here, but also make a plan to treat myself with other foods I like every few days.
2. Hold out till winter, then prepare for when summer comes, cause that’s not gonna be fun…
3. Study hard, but don’t be hard on myself if I don’t always get it right. I’m still learning after all.