A growing list of things we miss from home, the U.S., or the western world in general.
- Central heating: Ah, we long for the days of a single thermostat with a timer to adjust the temperature throughout the apartment! We have heat. Sort of. Not boilers or furnaces like the northern Chinese (ahem, where it’s hella more polluted). Our heat is really just the air conditioners on heat mode. They blow very dry air from vents placed high in the walls or in the ceilings, which is effective for air conditioning but not so much for heating. Basically unless you run the heat constantly, the warm air just goes to the top of the room where there are no people to enjoy it. So we run the air conditioners on heat mode in whichever rooms we occupy and, yeah, we turn them all off at night, which makes it pretty difficult to crawl out of bed on cold mornings!
- American sized clothing: The lack of central heating has left me shivering indoors, so I’ve begun to layer my clothing. I didn’t pack enough long-sleeved things, so that has meant going shopping for clothing here in China. Even though I visited Japan last winter (at this exact time!), I couldn’t have been prepared to be so ashamed of my long limbs. At 6’0″ (or 1.8 meters; 180 cm, depending on who I’m talking to!), I’m still taller than most Asians. Definitely most Asian women. I’ve seen some taller ladies, which makes me wonder about their food supply and general sense of self-esteem because I’ve basically been ridiculed for my size. (I will save the conversation about my shoe size for another post…) In sum, I have given up on any truly Chinese market merchandise, including Uniqlo, for anything but non-sized items like scarves. They just don’t fit. I have a few button down flannel shirts I got at Uniqlo. The cuffs stop about four inches above my wrists, effectively making them three-quarter sleeves. With cuffs. And my wrists are still cold (so I resorted to buying fingerless gloves to wear indoors at school where there is inconsistent heating). I have a few “heat tech” Uniqlo tops I bought to wear under sweaters like long underwear that fit just about the same way. I get that I’m not the market, but it would be awesome if just my bathrobe was long enough… The one I bought–size large–has sleeves that stop just after my elbows. So much for those cold mornings without heat! I can shop at one store here right now: H&M. I have gotten two turtlenecks and a sweater that fit. Everything else, though, makes me feel like I’m somehow 15 again and stuck trying to fit into children’s clothing.
- closed doors and windows: This would seem like a no-brainer because there isn’t central heating. “Oh, no heat? Well, let’s keep the doors and windows closed because it’s pretty cold outside.” – Said no Chinese person ever. This is one cultural oddity I will not let go of because it’s maddening. It’s 40F outside. My school building? Open windows dot the exterior. Inside? You can turn the air conditioner on heat mode, but you have to close your door to keep the heat in. Otherwise, it’s pointless because someone out there will have windows and doors open. As a kid, if I left a door or window open, I’d hear these familiar words: “Were you born in a barn?” This comes to mind these days because now I would respond with, “No, perhaps I was born in China.” I can’t seem to get a straight answer about the reasons for the constantly open windows and doors. Fellow expats laugh it off at this point and any Chinese colleagues or friends I talk to don’t seem to think it’s a problem.
- American portions: An issue that is somewhat annoying at restaurants becomes maddening at home. The Chinese sell small boxes, bottles, or bags of nearly any food items you could want including individually wrapped Oreos (arguably healthier than the American portion size, which, to my knowledge, is an entire sleeve). It’s annoying to run out of things all the time! It also feels like when we consume the things that we’re now out of, all we’re left with is a much bigger heap of packaging than I could’ve imagined.
- controlling our own logistics: Relying on buses that sometimes don’t come is a pain, but living in a place where it’s considered normal to be asked to an important meeting just hours before it occurs? Yeah, that’s just crazy. But that’s also how it works here in China. You’ve been warned.
- people who drive in straight lines: There are lines on the roads here, but they don’t really mean much. They’re a suggestion. Or perhaps they’re meant to be a comfort to foreigners who show up and look at the roads, expecting them to function like roads anywhere in a western country. But they don’t. The crosswalks are there for decoration, so are the bus lanes. Colleagues keep asking when I’ll get a bicycle or an e-bike. I keep telling them that I’m fine waiting for buses that don’t come as long as I stay in one piece. I’d rather trust a bus than have to trust everyone else out there on the road.