Sunday, July 4, 2010

Everything has a difficult beginning

Photo taken at the Confucius Temple, Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China

I mentioned earlier that we had the opportunity to teach elementary school kids english. We had a wonderful time, the kids made us smile, and we made some new friends in the process.

One day, one of the middle school teachers was talking about the importance of the kids learning proper English pronunciation early, because bad habits are hard to break and they wanted to make sure the kids had the best beginning they possibly could. He told me in Chinese, there is a saying "万事开头难". In English "Everything has a difficult beginning."

This saying really hit home for me. I adore traveling. I always have. I have an insane case of wanderlust and dreaming of all the places I will see is one of my favorite things to do. I also have been studying Chinese for the past 2 years or so and I love the language. Thats why the difficulty of adjusting to life in China came as a total surprise to me. I've been homesick. I've experienced a bit of culture shock. And I truly didn't even consider that this would happen.

Prior to moving to China, I've lived clear across the country, on complete opposite coasts from my family - about as far apart as you can get without leaving the country. I never felt homesick. I didn't think living in China would be any different considering I'd already been living so far away from family. But a month or so after arriving, sometimes I've felt like I can literally feel the distance between here and "home".

I knew the food would be an adjustment for me, but other than that, I really didn't believe I would have trouble adjusting to my new life in China. I've also never dealt with culture shock before. I've been to many countries but the thing with traveling is, most people never stay in a new country long enough to experience culture shock. It is usually preceded by a honeymoon period in which everything different about the country is looked upon in a romantic light... but the honeymoon phase ends and pretty soon the things that were so unique or amazing are just sometimes obnoxious and annoying....

"oh my gosh that car was really going to hit us! they weren't going to even STOP!"

"this taxi driver literally refused to take us! he shooed us out of his cab!"

"O.M.G. it is 100 degrees outside and they have raw meat just SITTING OUT THERE?"


"Chinese food... AGAIN!!?!!"


Its a challenge. About 75% of the time I KNOW how lucky I am! I try to take EVERYTHING in. As I was walking down a hutong (alley) the other day, I literally stopped walking, looked around one minute, shut my eyes the next, and just took it all in. I felt the sunshine on my skin... heard the bikes whizzing past, the man whistling a traditional Chinese song as he walked by me, smelled the delicious scent of Chinese food in the air... there was no where I would have rather been. I LOVED CHINA.

But, the other 25% of the time, its hard, and I miss home and I would do almost anything to eat some tasty American food, and I miss my dog, and just getting in my car and driving where ever I want, and not having to worry about being scammed or having the price hiked up just because I am a foreigner... and just the ease of speaking my native language. (I feel like I am learning ALL DAY and it is exhausting sometimes.) (And my husband has our alarm clock set to the Chinese talk radio station and we really need to change that... when Chinese is literally the first thing I hear when I wake up it PISSES me off. LOL).

A friend I came across wrote in an email "China is hard" ...and I know what they mean. Sometimes, China IS just that - hard. Its no longer the Western world and sometimes those differences are very noticeable.

When this middle school teacher told me that Chinese phrase that means "Everything has a difficult beginning" it really made me feel better because it gave me hope. That particular morning I was feeling a little sad and its just the sort of comforting words I needed to hear. Prior to that, I was feeling a little crappy like I really sucked at this living abroad thing... everyone else seems so well-adjusted! Why am I having this adjustment issue?

So yes, he unknowingly told me exactly what I needed to hear.

Everything has a difficult BEGINNING but over time things get easier.

I'm hoping within a few months time I will be completely adjusted to my China life! I DO love the traveling around, and I think that helps.

Thanks for reading.

Post on Pingyao to come.



  1. this was a good cathartic post! i'm glad reality has hit so you can really slowly begin to learn to love it again. there are things about china that piss me off too. things about america. growing up in america was hard because i didn't know english. teachers suspected i was a bad kid because others would tell on me and i had no words to fight back with. i get made fun of still today for my culture, for my height. but i get used to it.

    jia you! i know how frustrating it is to be immersed in a culture before you even know it and feel a bit like floundering. you are a brave, brave woman! seriously the stuff you know about beijing and other places put me to shame and i was born there!

    my dream is to go to france someday. i know that if i ever live there, i'll experience the same at best.

    jia you!

  2. Thank you for posting that! It shows a whole other dimension to your time in China: that no matter where you are and what you do it will be hard. It was a very real and sincere post!

    Kate x

  3. Angie thank you for sharing your experience. I know you can relate. We also learned the saying "如鱼得水“ - and they use it like "oh you've adjusted, your already like a fish in water." And I kept thinking I am not at all, I am the opposite! just flopping around and stumbling my way through. I know its not that one culture is right and one is wrong, its just different and getting used to another culture will always be a challenge. Really - thank you so much for your kind words! You made me feel better, too :)

    Kate - thanks, I am glad you liked it! I debated whether I should post that sort of thing but realized if I don't, I am making it sound like everything is easy when its not. Thanks for reading & commenting.


  4. Angie - and I hope you get to live your dream of moving to France one day! I would LOVE to live in Europe. LOL.

  5. Steph - this was a touching post! Having traveled a lot as a youngster (internships were always long, lonely, and far, far away from home) I definitely feel ya. I also understand what you mean about the culture shock and the honeymoon phase waning off...I am 100% Chinese and yet I can still be appalled by some of the stuff you mention. I've seen how foreigners react (esp. to the meat sweating out in 100 deg weather) and it's not pleasant! Every time I visit I take things in by stride, so I seriously applaud you and your husband for diving in and making a huge effort to learn and understand the local ways...for one whole year!

    Your upbeat attitude throughout your journey thus far has been inspiring for us readers - or me, at least : ) Your blog is one of my faves to read - keep it up!

  6. Steph,
    I work with students from all over the world and culture shock is something we look out for. It's cyclical so be aware, but know that establishing a regular routine and sticking to it will help, and listen to your body!
    China is such a different place but you'll look back on your experience there later and the good will become stronger and the bad will fade with time. :)

  7. From what you've said over the past few weeks, I can see how the transition might be tough. I think it's so brave an amazing that you are doing it, and I'm sure you are exactly right, they honeymoon might be over, but soon you will find comfort in new routines.

    Chic on the Cheap

  8. Hi Nestie! I've seen your posts on the F&B board a few months before your move to China and I have always thought "she must be moving for work" because it is such a brave thing to do to. I grew up in Asia, moved to the US when I was 15. I went back to visit in late 2008 and let me tell you, even I experienced culture shock in many ways I couldn't even explain or understand. People I knew there said I had been "Americanized."
    This year in January, my husband and I, along with all his family went to visit his homeland for the first 5 years of his life. Cambodia and Vietnam. We were all also very culturally shocked I think. I do know exactly what you mean when you said the things that were, at first, unique become simply annoying. At one point, I used the word "hate" when DH asked me how I was liking the trip thus far. *hangs head in shame**
    There is so much to learn from such experiences though. For one, I realized how so many people in the rest world get by with a lot less than what I have here. I think in the back of my mind I always knew this, but it's easy to forget in this day and age of modern technologies.

    I can't tell you it will get easier. People have different personalities. Thus far, you've made it through. Good luck and keep up the positive outlook!


  9. Jean, Alicia, Lyddie & Michelle - Thank you all for stopping by and for giving me some words of wisdom. I really, truly appreciate it! Between all your kind comments and talking it over with a friend who has lived here for a year (she went through the same thing!) I feel SO much better today and ready to take on China, even with the sometimes hardships.

    Michelle - thank you for sharing your experience, I have come to think its a very normal thing to feel this way sometimes, and we say things when we are upset, in the heat of the moment, that we don't really mean.

    I was all about going outside to explore Beijing today but it is 106 degrees today, so I haven't stepped outside my door. We are going to Mongolia later this week though! I'm excited!

  10. Hi Steph,
    what a great post. I am sorry you are experiencing some culture shock as well as feeling homesick. I can't even really imagine living so far away from home and your family. But as that saying goes, everything has it's ups and downs, and I'm sure that you will have many more good points rather than bad. Thanks for sharing with us!

  11. HI beautygirl good to see you around here! thank you for the kind words!! hopefully now that I put it out there I can start to move on :). Hope you are doing well!

  12. Oh Steph - I'm so sorry you're homesick. Despite the culture shock and the difficulties, you have such a positive outlook and a great perspective! This post was so refreshing and honest.

  13. I love the honesty and genuineness of your posts, this may be my favorite one yet. I can't even imagine how tough this can be for you. You're on the other side of the world, in an entirely new environment, away from your "homeland." I think in this situation, it's normal to be a bit homesick. You have the perfect perspective on it though, everything phases and you will look back on this time in your life and remember what an incredible experience it was!!

  14. I'm sorry to hear this!! I totally know what you mean, about the honeymoon period. I have lived many places far away from my family and only once in a while do I experience home sickness. It always throws me off. For example I hate peanut butter. But one summer while living in Italy it's all I wanted to eat. it reminded me of home and even though I'd normally never eat it I wanted the comfort of something familiar. I'm sure you will adjust soon, but know what we are totally not judging you for wanting a bit of 'home'! xx

  15. Andi and Emily, thank you so much!! Really!

    Emily I totally know what you mean! I never, ever drank soda in the U.S. but I drink it a lot here. I also eat lays potato chips which I never did at home. Its just that is what is here, so that is what I eat for the occasional taste of home. Anyway I know these two foods are bad habits to start so I am trying not to get too used to it.

  16. Hey there- the Taiwan-residing expat (TIA) here. I missed all of the brouhaha in that post as I signed off after my second comment, but just wanted to affirm that EVERYONE goes through this, and it WILL get better. A year from now you'll still have days where the differences annoy you, but you'll know it's OK to just go splurge on an American meal at Chile's and not feel guilty about it.

    Thanks for being so open about your feelings, and I hope your packages arrive soon!

  17. Hey Carolyn thanks for stopping by! Last night things got a little out of hand, things were taken totally out of context... I guess I could see why things were taken the way they were BUT as you can see from this blog I have a million positive things to say about China. Anyway thanks for commenting, all I really wanted to hear was exactly that - everyone goes through this - but I guess some people either don't like to admit that or just don't remember it because it was too long ago.

  18. I can't believe it's as hot there as it is in Vegas!!! yikes.

    xo, kristin
    electric fringe

  19. I, too, really liked this post - I can feel your emotion coming through! I hope it felt good to get it all out. I can relate. I've noticed when travelling is harder in most of the countries we stay in longer, and it probably is because that honeymoon period has worn off. I have surprised myself by how homesick I've been. I try to remind myself to appreciate every moment, and that this trip is all I dreamed about for quite some time before we left. I have a bad habit of wishing time away and thinking the grass is always greener.

    Completely moving to one foreign country, especially a country like China, has to be hard. I am sure you will have good days and bad days, and the good days will outweigh the bad. Thanks for sharing your feelings with us!