I speak with a lot of friends back home and they tell me how lucky I am in terms of my financial situation, such as being in China with a low standard of living but making the salary I would make back in Canada. I’m not sure people necessarily realize that as much of an incentive it is to go to another country, there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make too. Being away from friends and family this long is wearing on me, and simple things, such as not being able to buy fresh herbs/have a garden makes me a bit sad at times.
I remember when I first got to Shenzhen and I was all about visiting new places and all that. I went out a lot and met a lot of people I really don’t remember (haha!). It happens to the best of us. 6 months to a year, the whole idea of going out and exploring places, or things you though were comical starts to annoy you. I’ve been there. I’m at the point if I have to wait in line and it’s busy, I get very impatient. I rather do a lot of online shopping here than go out and face the crowds. I know people cope by going to HK a lot, where more people speak English and you can get more “Western” products/restaurants.
I feel that a lot of people find it hard to cope because they don’t try to move beyond their expat circles. Sure, it’s nice to speak to somebody who understands you, but the more distance you put between yourself and the Chinese culture (I’m talking about always drinking at foreign bars, eating at foreign restaurants, etc.), the harder it is. I try my best to support the local economy (hubby has a good hair cutting guy, very nice) and as silly as it seems, it’s kind of my connection to the local community. I’m at the point where staying home is just nice, and just because I’m in a foreign country, doesn’t mean I have to go out and explore all the time (though there are still a few places in Guangdong province I want to head to). I also find people get a lot more negative and eventually may not have nice things to say about the people and the place. I fell into that trap previously, but now I try my best to understand why certain things happen. It still annoys me, but it makes me feel better when I can understand why something happens.
Some of the ways I cope and relax when Shenzhen gets to be too much:
-Go the local market, or walk around where hubby gets his haircut. Lots of photo ops there (wish I wouldn’t forget my camera half the time!) and for some reason, looking at fresh produce and coming up with dishes based on what veggies look delicious makes me happy. When you get to know the vendors (you definitely need some Chinese skills there) they’ll be more ‘honest’ about freshness, price, etc.
-Make random experiments for myself, like make western dishes (not counting salads, or things like pasta!) using only ingredients from local supermarkets. My last experiment with baked tamales was a partial success, am going to try Swedish meatballs next.
-Learn Chinese. Believe it or not it really helps. Plus I like learning new things, being with a tutor gives me more accountability.
-Visit poorer areas of Shenzhen. I’ve been too lazy to do it, but I’m going to try for this weekend.
-Gym/yoga: trying to hammer out a routine where I can find a good balance between gym and yoga at home. It’s been a bit crazy trying to balance extra crazy school schedule this year too!
-Practice expressing gratitude and positivity everyday. There is always something good about being in China or China itself, I just have to remind myself.
-Finding a community with similar interests (other than drinking!): I hang out with a few flickr friends and I’m going to try and connect with photographers in SZ who are interested in photographing the same subjects as I do.