A woman asked me this in the lift and I thought she was asking me whether my Chinese was okay or not, and I just made some non-committal noise indicating it was pretty meh. I walked out and realised she had said Zhōngguó not Zhōngwén. She was asking me whether China was okay or not, if I liked it or not. So I had told her that her country is meh. But honestly China cannot be categorised as solely okay or not okay, good or not good (hao bu hao = good no good).
China is fun. And ridiculous. And exciting. And strange. And frustrating beyond anything you’ve experienced before. And sometimes just downright unpleasant. Here’s a list of China’s hao and bu hao.
Hao – 8 good things about China
1. The FOOD! - Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some bland meals and some overcooked noodles and some sweet fruity soups that made me gag. And I’ve seen menus that serve silkworms, dog, snake, and literally any wriggly gross sea creature you can imagine. But Chinese beef BANGS. I’ve never eaten so much beef in my life. Fujianese green beans are out of this world. Chinese people cook vegetables so well. There are so many kinds of noodles. I’ve learnt to enjoy soup (some of them just taste like salty water though). Baozi (partly fried partly steamed bread stuffed with cabbage or pork or other things) for breakfast will be greatly missed in England. Fried jiaozi (dumplings – they’re usually steamed but taste way better fried) at 3am is a blessing
2. KTV – karaoke is Japanese in origin but Chinese people looooooooooove a cheeky KTV night. You pay for a room (or a booth big enough for two in a mall or an airport), buy beers and snacks, look for songs on the little computer, play them and sing along to the lyrics on a microphone. I am not a good singer but I enjoy it a lot and don’t mind when I’m in a dark room with drunk people, who hopefully think I sound great because their cognitive abilities are temporarily impaired. Rapping ‘Beez in the Trap’ by Nicki and 2 Chainz at KTV, finally understanding why singers lip sync at concerts (breath control is a myth), is the best feeling on Earth
3. WeChat – so the Chinese internet is rubbish but WeChat is arguably the greatest app of all time. I can use it to call, message, pay bills, pay for anything in shops or restaurants, send money to friends, find out the name of a song, translate Chinese to English, order food to my location, book a taxi, navigate, top up my phone allowance etc. I rarely handle cash here and there’s no awkward splitting a restaurant bill between 8 people on 8 separate cards
4. Taobao – lordddd the amount of money I have spent on this app is terrifying. Taobao is like Amazon but one thousand times better. I purposely didn’t download it for the first 5 months I was here because I knew what would ensue. I go on binges, buy loads of stuff then delete it from my phone. Then repeat a month later. But I’ve bought a lot that’s much cheaper here than it is in Britain, so technically I’m saving, right? Right??? Pumas for the equivalent of £50 instead of £80, film for £5 instead of £8. T-shirts just because they’re cute as hell and relatively cheap. Sure the quality of a lot of this stuff is questionable but it’s cheap!!!!!!! That’s all I care about. You can buy live animals and English food and even a whole dead turkey for Christmas on Taobao. The world’s your oyster
5. The travelling – travelling here isn’t cheap. This is Asia and it’s huge and any distance travelled is exponentially longer and pricier than moving around Europe. But I came here to travel and my paychecks cover it so I’ve been travelling like crazy. Actually, I take back what I said about travelling not being affordable. Flights are definitely expensive but I think the high-speed trains across China are affordable. I once paid over £100 to travel from London to Durham (got that reimbursed, don’t you worry) but to get a 7 hour train from Fuzhou to Beijing costs the equivalent of £70. From here to Hong Kong costs about £35. Shanghai is about £50. Those are one-way costs but considering the size of this country, I think those are good deals. And hotels are definitely cheaper than anywhere else I’ve been in the world. I’m talking £4 for (crappy) hostel dorm beds and £10 for alright single hotel rooms. And when you’re visiting one of China’s thousands of beautiful sights, I don’t care too much where I’m sleeping (my only concern is the toilet and whether it’s squat or western and whether it has a flush or not – you don’t always get it!)
6. The mountains – sure they’re full of people, but you know you can’t escape people in China. And sure they’re harassing you and taking photos of you even though a UNESCO World Heritage site is right behind them. All the stupidity of a horde of a Chinese tour group aside, China’s mountains are stupendously beautiful. You can see actual blue skies up there and you can stand above and even IN clouds and look down on all of creation and remember why you moved to this crazy country. Yellow mountains, Avatar mountains, lush green mountains, year-round snow-topped mountains. China’s natural beauty is unparalleled
7. The babies – it’s just a FACT that Chinese babies 9 times out of 10 are CUTE AF!!!! If you know me, you know how much I love Chinese babies. I love hearing happy babies speak Chinese in their high-pitched voices with their tiny voice boxes. And they’re so cuddly. A friend once said “all the kids are so nuggety here, they’re all chubby and round” and I’ve never heard anything more true in my life
8. The gardens - I'm talking botanical gardens and temple gardens. Boy, do these people know how to garden! Ponds full of PHAT koi and goldfish swarming for feed, gorgeous flowers, bonsai trees with twisting roots, the whole place feng shui'd to perfection. Air smelling good from all those natural smog deflectors. Chinese gardens are some of the most beautiful places I've ever visited
Bu hao – 8 bad things about China
1. The insects – Here, I’m just talking about the ones that bite. I currently have 18 bites on my legs and arms. Each one has swelled to become a welt and I look like I’m suffering from a contagious infection. Like I’ve got the plague. And these bites HURT more than they itch. I smell like Tiger Balm and am looking for lightweight trousers to wear in summer. No more exposed legs. I know we should be worried about the worldwide depletion of insect populations but personally, I’m all for it
2. The cockroaches – this is a whole ‘nother topic from insects. Insects tend to be small. South-eastern Chinese cockroaches are flipping UNITS. Jesussssss. I don’t even mind the small ones anymore. The big ones, with their antennae and their silent movement and their WINGS scare me like only a spider can. I have quarantined myself in my bedroom more than once after discovering one of these beasts in the bathroom or laundry room. I recently got almost face to face with one and haven’t stopped talking about my trauma since. They’re hard to kill and hard to keep out of your home and I despise them. There is nothing I hate more about living in a hot (region of a huge) country than cockroaches
3. The staring – oh lord. I get why the citizen of a closed-off country would stare at a foreigner. Especially a black one (the ratio of black to white foreigners here must be something like 1:40). I get why I would be a topic of discussion. I get why someone would ask to take a photo with me. But I cannot forgive people taking pictures of me without my consent simply because I am foreign. I cannot forgive people who, having asked me and understood my rejection, go ahead and try to take a photo of/with me anyway. A woman tried THREE times as I sat next to her on a bus recently and I had to physically turn my back to her to get her to stop. She was smiling in my face like she couldn’t understand no, which I said IN CHINESE! I wouldn’t even need to, she was fully capable of understanding a shake of the head and ‘no’ in English. Yesterday some toad-faced man on the metro was taking a photo of myself and my black friend and comparing us to the black colour of the Coca-Cola he had on his lap. We were ready to swing at him. I don’t have time for idiocy and stupidity. You’ve seen me, you’ve acknowledged that I look different. Now move on.
4. The restricted internet – and in turn, the necessary use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that makes it seem like you’re accessing the internet from a different country. The Chinese government is Communist and in charge of 1.5 billion people. Restrictions are in place. The Chinese internet excludes Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, porn websites, Whatsapp, Pinterest, tumblr, BBC, Dropbox, Amnesty International and SO MANY MORE! When I have my VPN turned off, I visit Wikipedia, Buzzfeed and The Guardian and that’s it. I actually have no idea why China allows The Guardian because there’s a damning news story about China’s human rights abuses on there every single day. My primary search engine is now Bing because Google won’t work. So you’re forced to pay for a shitty VPN service that sometimes crashes for days at a time, takes ages to load and slows down every social media app. However, I’ve watched all of season 5 of How to Get Away with Murder via Los Angeles’ internet access, so that’s a bonus (American Netflix is vastly superior to the British one btw)
5. The time difference – because British Summer Time began recently, I am currently living 7 hours ahead of Britain’s time. But it was 8 hours for months, putting me a whole working day ahead of my boyfriend, family and friends. Communication with people at home has to be organised in advance and is hard to stick to. Even when one person is calling and another is picking up, the VPN is slowing down Whatsapp and making the connection awful. Calls become frustrating and create fragmented conversations
6. The spitting – I don’t need to explain this further. It’s disgusting. Do it in private. And only do it when you actually have something to cough up?! Men here just do it for fun! On planes, on trains, in taxis, in bathrooms, in the street. There are so many places to spit!
7. The unsanitary public bathrooms – I recently visited a public bathroom that was clean, large, had western toilets, soft toilet paper, hot and cold water, soap and a hand dryer. I was so excited I declared it the best public bathroom in all of China. That was the FIRST TIME IN EIGHT MONTHS that I’d been to a bathroom that had all those components. There is usually no soap, no-one even pretends like they’re being clean. Usually no hand dryer, people just shake their dirty hands around and air dry. There’s rarely toilet paper and if there is, it’s one long roll by the sinks, so you take some to the toilet and you might dry your hands with the rest. Not a day goes by where I’m not deeply concerned about the germs surrounding me everywhere I go in this country
8. Baby bums – hey look, it’s a baby with a butt flap in its trousers. Hey look, it’s a baby’s bum. Hey look, there’s some actual shit on that baby’s bum and no-one seems to be cleaning it up. I just can’t