The good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by on April 18, 2012

After talking to a close friends daughter last night via FB about our feelings living abroad (she nannies in Paris), it got me thinking. We were talking about our likes vs. dislikes about the cities we live in and also the things we know we are going to miss when we move back to the states. We had a great conversation (her and Kiah are a year apart). This friend of ours lived near us in CA and for a while we helped take care of her daughter (the adult now in Paris) while our friend was working on her Master degree. We love those two and miss the great times we had in No. Cal.

In my mind I started thinking about the things that I will not miss (and not because I hate them but because I didn’t grow up around it and it’s not familiar to me) and then the things I will miss (because you just can’t experience them anywhere else). I’m going to start with the bad and the ugly, just to get it out of the way and then end on a happy note (the good). I have to say though that these things are cultural, they are not strange to Chinese, I’m not judging them at all, it’s their way. For example, they think it’s gross that we sit on a toilet, it’s disgusting to them, so instead if it’s a western toilet, they hover. My list is a list of things that I am not use to. I accept them, but I will not miss them.

Things I will not miss when I return to the states.
1. Seeing grown men pee, anywhere and everywhere. I should be use to it by now but it’s still a shocker. I see more grown men peeing outside then I see little kids. Miles has picked up the habit but then again, when in Rome or Beijing, right?
2. Men and women clearing their throats and spitting out a big one right next to me, behind me, in front of me (and you dodge). It happens all the time and the sound makes me jump each time I hear it, that and gag.
3. Smoking anywhere. We really have been spoiled in the states when it comes to smoking. I’m not putting my friends down that smoke but I have to say that I was very happy when they passed the law in the states that you cannot smoke in public places. Side note, is that they have the same kind of non-smoking vs. smoking that we once followed in the states years ago. You might be seated a few feet from the smoking area or a partition might separate the smoking vs. non-smoking area. Most of the time there is no distinction. The shocker is when you are in a mall and people just light up. Like I said, we are spoiled.
4. Pollution, that should have been at the top of the list. I know that there is pollution in the states but at home I’ve never had a cough that’s lasted 6 months even though I’m not sick.
5. Having people stare at my kids, touch them, want photos taken with them. Sometimes it’s fine and even funny. Especially when they look at Mark and I, then at the kids, then back to Mark and I and then back to the kids. Sometimes they will be brave and come up to us and ask how we have two black kids? Can they touch their hair, can they have a photo taken with them. I know it’s innocent because they are never rude and they are very sweet when asking. After a while it just gets old and it bothers Miles. He hides, he will start to cry and even walk away and hide somewhere. Sofi on the hand stands there and smiles, poses, lets them touch her hair and so on. It’s funny. She’s a movie star here. The thing that bothers me is when they don’t ask and they just walk up and start rubbing Miles head, or when they stare for a long time. I know they are curious and maybe it’s easier to be curious about children and hopefully they will realize we are alike no matter our skin but there has to be certain aspect of respect and of ones space.
6. Bargaining. I miss going into a store and buying what ever it is that I’m shopping for and paying the price (that is usually a reasonable price) and then leaving. It’s fun at first to go back and forth when figuring out a price but that gets old really fast. They start really high and then we say 20% of what they just said, then the acting begins. How can we say such a low price, they are poor, they have to make money for their family, we are rich Americans, these are real Ugg boots, are we sick, do we have a fever, how could we say such a low price and so on. They all have caculators and they say “c’mon, give me your best price”, which we then tell them that we did just give them our best price. Then they say “no really, how can you say that”? Then they lower their beginning price by about 10% and then we walk away and they either follow you, yelling “ok, ok come back mr. or mrs, we figure out a price, ok just come back”. We act like it’s a huge pain and we slowly walk back and then in the end we pay a lot less than their first price but we still pay more than we should. It’s a play, an act and I get tired of it. Can you imagine if I walked into Target and tried to do the reversal with an employee there over the price of a lego toy. They’d laugh at me, think I’m crazy and tell me to get lost. I hate it to be honest. I really dislike shopping in China. The one place I don’t have to bargain shop is at the grocery store. I’ve bargain shopped for everything from plates, to kids underwear to dvd’s. It’s weird and I will not miss it.
7. Rude taxi drivers. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to take a taxi and when I tell them where I want to go to, they wave me off and won’t take me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a foreigner, if they don’t know where it is, if they can’t read the card I show them (because a lot of them are from the country and can’t read and they only know the big landmarks in Beijing like the Forbidden city) or if the place I’m going to isn’t far enough for them to make very much money. Whatever the reasoning, on a blistering hot summer day, with kids who are dying of heat and you have tons of bags in your hands, is not the best time to have about 8 taxi drivers wave you off and say in English “no”. Sometimes we act like we are writing down their license plate number because it’s against the law for them to decline a passenger. They don’t seem to care though. Other times we just wait and wait. I can’t wait to drive my own car (which we don’t have because we sold our car in the states) when we get back home, crank up the a/c and listen to music that I understand and rock out.
7. Horn honking. I’ve heard that there are certain honking sounds to mean different things. Like one beep might mean, Hey I’m here so watch out. Where a couple long ones mean get out of my way. All I know is it’s all the time. Buses are the only vehicles on the streets that I never hear honk, they are big and they barrel down the roads and you better not be in their way. Everyone honks though, all the time and in a city of 22 million it makes it VERY loud. We live on the 29th floor of our building and you can hear honking late at night, as if a road full of 50 cars decided to all at once blare their horns together. At times I’ve learned to tune them out. It’s gotten to the point that the only time I notice it now is if I’m really missing home, if we are about to travel and get out of Beijing or we are headed home for holiday and then it’s like I hear it all the time.

I think I could go on a bit more but I think it’s time to switch to the things I love about Beijing and that I know I’m going to miss very much.
1. The food (What else am I going to put as my number one thing?). Where else can you buy yummy Chinese food to feed a family of 4 for around 12$? There are so many places to choose from in a huge city like Beijing. Sure we have our usual places we like to frequent but there are so many other places to choose from that we could eat somewhere new every day and for a year and never eat at the same place twice. Granted we might come down with what Miles calls the “runs” after eating at a couple of these places, it comes with the territory but all in all the food is good and safe. Except for the time I came down with Giardia, ha ha. I can laugh now. There are also all kids of foreign restaurants to choose from. There are a lot of Muslim’s in Beijing and their food is delicious. There is everything from fat burger, to Indian, to a place called Grandma’s kitchen that serves pancakes and crepes. I think you can get about every type of food in Beijing, but it might not always taste the same or be good for that matter but it’s there.
2. The people. I love Chinese people and they make me smile. We have met some wonderful people here, some just random people that want to say hi when we are out and about and some that have become good friends. They are kind, curious and would give you the shirt off their backs if you asked. Three such people are Mr. Wang our driver, Mrs. Li our ayi and Robert our translator. When we do move back to the states I want to hide them in our suitcases and take them home with us. One day a few weeks ago Mr. Wang was waiting for the kids and I outside a building we had gone into to run an errand. When we came out Mr. Wang had the biggest smile on his face and waved and said “Miles”. Miles looked up at me and said ” I think he loves me”. It was so sweet and so true, our driver and ayi love the kids and the kids love them.
3. The history. One of my favorite places is The Forbidden City, built in 1406-1420. Though I love and appreciate the history of America, there is nothing that compares in history and historical sites as visting places in China. I’ve seen the Great Wall and hiked it, I’ve seen Tianamen square, the old wall of Nanjing and I’ve seen Hong Kong. Such history. Sadly, a lot was torn down while Mao was alive. There could be so much more but there is still much to enjoy.
4. Seeing and watching Miles and Sofia experience living abroad and having that place be Beijing. It’s been an amazing time for them here. They go to a great school with kids and teachers from all over the world. Also, to have them learn Mandarin has been so good for them. I love hearing Sofi or Miles correct me (not that it’s fun to be corrected) when I use the wrong tone when saying a word. I love that they know it and that they have Chinese class every day at school. We are going to have to find a tutor when we get home. I don’t want them to forget their Chinese.
5. I have enjoyed being close to so many great countries and being able to travel to them. We are in a great location with so many places that are fairly quick to get to by train or plane. We’ve been to some great places in China. Mark and the kids went to Vietnam while I was visiting my parents in the states. We went to Burma/Myanmar, Hong Kong and also Thailand and Mongolia. Never flying farther than 5 hrs away and that was to Thailand. Like I said, Beijing is a great central location.
6. I love that even despite the bad and the ugly that I listed above, I still love it here. It’s been hard on my health but I’d do it all over again. With anything wonderful I believe that there has to be good, bad and ugly. It makes the good so much better. I love Beijing and I will never forget our expat time here. Thank you Amazon!!!

4 Responses to The good, the bad and the ugly

  1. Mark Griffith

    I have my own list coming….. but I’ll wait until we leave to publish mine, some will be the same and some will be different. 😉

  2. Chelin Miller

    What a lovely article, Stacey! Thank you for sharing your thoughts of living as an expat in Beijing. I am in a similar situation and many of the things you say resonate deeply. On a gray, chilly day like today, when I feel that I am all BJed-out, it is good to be reminded of the good things about being here (and to laugh at the rest!).

  3. Jen

    Well said!!! I can just ditto you on everything!

  4. Kelsie

    Great post! I enjoyed reading. Beijing (even with the bad and ugly) sounds fascinating. From Mark’s pictures alone I can tell it’s been an amazing adventure and wonderful experience for your family.

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