Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

As our time in China ends, we naturally have thought about our time here, what we have liked and what we haven’t.  So we started to list some.  We’ll start with the experiences and challenges that we are looking forward to being done with.  In a few days, we’ll end on a positive note, with a post of what we have been fortunate to experience.

10 wasn’t enough so here are:

The Top 12 Things We Will Not Miss About China

12.  Squat toilets.  And having to bring our own tp to public restrooms.

11.  No air-conditioning.  Although most public buildings are heated and cooled, the systems are unreliable and thermostats are set well beyond what we consider comfortable.  The office that Dave works in is often over 80F in the summer, and public places like trains stations can be miserable with so many people compounding the problem.  Getting accustomed to being sticky and hot is part of working in China.  Winter is better but similarly out of our normal comfort zone.  Indoor temperatures in the low 60s are not unusual.

10.  Unreliable and censored Internet service.  It’s not just Facebook and Youtube that are blocked in China.  We had to purchase a private vpn service to allow Carol Ann to reach some of the sites she uses for her job, even the WordPress blog site that you are reading this on is blocked, and Google maps is often inaccessible.  The Chinese government’s internet censorship is a complex and huge bureaucracy, employing thousands of people.  Sharing a one-line vpn was a hassle.

9.  Lack of manners.  It seems contradictory, but rudeness does not exist in China.  Pushing, shoving, shouting, cutting in front on the sidewalk, in line, or the highway- all are not considered rude here.  They are just how people move about and get what they need to.

8.  Language.  We are very conscious that we are visitors here, but the tonal language is extremely difficult to learn and our vocabulary is minimal, even after several months of Mandarin lessons.  The huge variety of complex written characters adds to the difficulty.  Everyday things like telling the hair stylist how long to cut our hair or asking our driver to make a quick stop at Starbucks or the grocery store are excruciatingly difficult.  Some of Shanghai is bilingual- such as road signs- but that disappears quickly in areas less frequented by Westerners.

7.  Noise.  We obviously can’t have the same expectations in a city of 23 million that we do in our home town of 50,000, but there is never a moment of peace.  From jackhammers and quite literally 24/7 construction sounds to fireworks and firecrackers at any hour of day or night to constantly honking horns, we long for a quiet day.  Not even the parks are quiet places of refuge.

6.  Not seeing stars at night.  The combination of city lights, smog, and hazy skies that are common in most Chinese cities prevents seeing stars at night.  We relished the views during our trip to Australia where the lack of population and clean air provided incredible views of thousands of stars.

5.  Chaotic and dangerous roads.  Cars weave and wind on the road, with lane markers being irrelevant and the daily deadly dance with taxis- they actually do seem to speed up and aim for pedestrians- is an experience we will definitely not miss.  The girls and I often played a “game” where we would guess how many points a driver would get if they hit westerners, American, blonde American, or multiples at the same time.

4.  Smoking.  As Carol Ann likes to say, Americans may be killing ourselves with heart disease and diabetes through our poor diets and lack of exercise, but the Chinese are going to collectively die from lung cancer.  There is a pending health epidemic of massive proportions with the hundreds of millions of smokers.  It is everywhere, and no smoking signs are routinely ignored.  When the country’s largest tobacco company is state-owned, making billions of dollars a year in profits, it’s hard to see the situation changing anytime soon.

3.  Food.  Most Chinese food is different but not unappealing- though there are exceptions (chicken feet is the classic example).  With less meat and more vegetables, it is much healthier than western diets.  But the ability to recognize and know what we are eating is something we will relish back in the US.  We also must constantly be careful to avoid any food that may have been washed with contaminated water.  Especially with Jenna’s nut allergy, traveling is a struggle.  When we do find something familiar, it is usually unhealthy fast food.  We yearn for our first backyard cookout of burgers and hot dogs on the grill with a fresh salad and yummy watermelon.

2.  Pollution and sanitation.  From garbage and sewage in the streets to open air meat markets without refrigeration to luxurious 5-star hotels without clean drinking water to some of the worst air pollution in the world to other less mentionables (trust us when we say you don’t want to know), the sights, smells- and the risk of illness- can be overwhelming.

1.  Freedom.  The Chinese people go about their daily lives on the surface and appear to be like any other country.   Yet, the internet is censored.  They do not control their destiny in careers or family-planning.  They do not vote for their leaders.  And, most importantly they have no freedom to worship God in the way that they choose.  There is nothing more precious than freedom.  China is far more open than in the past, but the single party government still has total control of power.  Even with all of our imperfections, we are incredibly blessed to have the fundamental freedoms bestowed upon us as Americans.

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