What We’ll Miss About Living in China (And What We Won’t)

Yesterday morning, we got on an early morning plane to Vietnam and said goodbye to the life and routine we built in China. And although we can’t wait (seriously CAN. NOT. WAIT.) to be home in Canada, there are some things we’re sure to long for once we’ve left this place. So here’s a list of the top five things we’ll miss about living in China… And the five things we won’t miss at all.

What we’ll miss:

1. The Cost of Living

Groceries for the two of us for a week is around 150 yuan (30 CAD), a nice meal out is 60 Kwai (12 CAD), a half-hour Didi–like Uber–ride is around 20 yuan (4 CAD). Not only has this enabled us to save a good amount of money, but we’ve been able to use the extra room in our budget to travel, which has given us so many precious experiences. And we just know that having to pay twenty Canadian dollars for chicken breast when we’ve been paying a tenth of that in China is going to be PAIN-FUL!

2. The Food

We mentioned it in both of our three-month check-ins that the food was a delightful surprise when we moved here. We’ve loved trying all the strange dishes and it’s been great eating dumplings and bao tze every week. Life just won’t be the same when we can’t grab a quick meat and rice bowl for lunch.

3. The Accessibility of Fresh Fruits and Veg

There is at least one, if not two or three, little stalls selling fresh-from-the-farm produce on every block. You’re never more than a few steps away from good bananas, sweet potatoes, broccoli, even dragon fruit, pomegranates, and mango. Sorry, they just don’t taste the same back in the Great White.

4. Ease of Payments

Okay, at first we found WeChat and Alipay totally overwhelming. As foreigners, we did have to take a lot of steps (going to banks, uploading documents, etc.) to be able to start using the apps to make payments. But once we did, life became unreasonably easy. We barely have to travel with wallets anymore. Just a phone at full charge. Cash? What’s that?

5. The Kiddos… Sometimes

Are we going to miss arbitrary tantrums, being sneezed on, and having to sing the ‘Clean Up’ song from Barney every day? No. But after seeing the same group of four toddlers every day for seven months, we’ve become kind of attached to them.

Without really being able to speak or communicate verbally, we’ve had to get to know each other on a very special and different level. We’re going to miss the way their little faces light up when they see us in the morning, the long and animated stories they tell us about their parents in Chinese (to which we smile, nod, and repeat hao hao dwaye hao, or good good right good), and even when they all insist on piling onto our laps at the same time.

How could you not love these sweet little (and often snot-nosed) angels:

What we won’t miss:

1. Being Foreign

Life is just more difficult when you’re in a place where you look much different than the rest of the population and where you don’t speak the language. Simple tasks, like getting a bank account, a gym membership, buying groceries, and finding your way around are exponentially more frustrating and time consuming. Plus the added pressure of being so visibly conspicuous, being pointed at, and having our pictures taken all the time becomes pretty tiring. It will be nice to be in a place where we can feel comfortable almost anywhere.

Let us just say we know that we are so incredibly fortunate to have lived most of our lives in an environment where this is not the case, and we are very aware that so many people don’t get to feel comfortable anywhere–even in the countries they do live because of any number of factors, from race to language to sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ability and beyond.

And even in China, being white, English-speakers has carried a great deal of privilege in its own right. While we would never equate living abroad for eight months with an entire life of that lived experience, it has given us the tiniest piece of insight into what life might be like for new Canadians, non-English-speakers, or anyone who doesn’t have the privilege of feeling comfortable or at home where they are.

2. Only Being Able To Drink Bottled Water

Even though we knew that most of the world didn’t have access to drinking water, like most Canadians we never really had to think that much about it until we moved to China. In Canada, you turn on a faucet and can enjoy unlimited drinking water–a fact we probably took for granted. Even though acquiring drinkable water in Dalian is fairly easy, we won’t be taking that privilege for granted anymore.

3. Being So Far From Family and Friends

While it’s been amazing knowing that no matter where we are in the world, we can keep in contact through email or Skype, it’s not the same as being at Christmas dinner with your family or going out for a night of celebrating on someone’s birthday. Also our dogs. We really miss our dogs.

4. Cleanliness of Things

Look, we get it, there are different cultural values when it comes to cleaning and cleanliness. Here it’s normal not to pick up your dog’s poop or to spit huge loogies onto the street. It’s not our place to judge, but it will be a great relief not to have to constantly dodge excrement on the sidewalk on our way to work each morning.

5. Constant Surveillance

We’re registered at the police station. We scan our faces and fingerprints each morning at work. Parents watch our classes from their phones through cameras in the classrooms. Our bags are scanned airport-security-style at each subway station. And someone is definitely taking note of what we’re doing on the internet. Big brother is watching, and while it’s just become part of life here, it will feel a little more comfortable to have some of our privacy back.


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