"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China

Love Happy Everyday
August 30, 2010, 9:36 am
Filed under: the expat life

For two whole days, I have been a new resident in Dalian.  The shock of it all has not worn off yet.  They say that the first couple of months is the honeymoon, then comes the culture shock, then acceptance… I don’t know about that, though. I feel as though I have been culture-electrocuted, and then again, I’ve had moments when I could really appreciate what an incredible experience this could be.

This sure isn’t my neighborhood in Manhattan.  For one thing, I live in a six-floor walk-up…on the sixth floor.  This is not a huge deal, except for the first night, when I had to lug a forty-two pound suitcase upstairs. Even then, though, I didn’t really mind–in fact, I was pretty proud of myself.  After two nights of cold showers, I also figured out why the hot water didn’t work.  Chinese people generally shower at night, and I have been too.  So I decided to test the water in the morning…and it was hot!

It turns out that I am also an hour outside of the city; I had expected to live in the city, and in fact, that was one of my main criteria when looking for a job in China.  Living in the boonies will take some getting used to, especially since I am the only non-Chinese person around here.  In all fairness, it’s not like I live on a farm or anything–it’s more like a small town, or an outer-borough.  The nice thing is that it’s quiet and, I would say, pretty friendly.  Most people are pretty receptive when I try to speak to them, and they are incredibly willing to help me find my way. Yesterday, I asked a woman where the bus stop was so that I could get to the city, and she went out of her way to walk me there.  On the bus, too, people were quick to let me know when I had to get off (I couldn’t understand the loudspeaker announcing the stops).

Living out here definitely has stressful moments, though.  Communicating with people is a serious problem.  I’m finding that my textbook Chinese isn’t getting me very far. This is partly because I’ve been away from it for so long, but also because the local dialect here is very different from standard Mandarin.  I’m finding this very frustrating, in all honesty, but I’m trying my best to stay positive and not be discouraged.  On a message board, another expat said that your vocabulary will grow into a combination of both dialects; right now, I’m operating under that hope.

Another problem is the shock of realizing just how isolated I am.  I know that living in this environment is probably the best way to improve my Chinese and to assimilate to the culture, but I can’t help but coldly acknowledge that I am completely alone here.  The best way to mitigate this shock, I’ve found, is to get out there and converse with people.  Yesterday, I ate dinner at a restaurant on my block and talked to the manager for two hours.  (He spoke a little English, so we could get by.)  Mainly, we talked about learning languages and such.  He is a Dalianren (a person from Dalian) and graduated from university six years ago; in those few years, he has already been married and divorced.  Today, after I went for a run, I stopped in a store to buy some water and chatted with the owner there too — again, just about learning Chinese. She said that it takes a lot of strength and commitment to learning a language in a new place…yep, I agree with that one.

So right now, I am split down the middle between feeling utterly lost and scared and utterly lost and excited.  Half of the time I think about bailing and catching the next plane home, the other half I think about how awesome this is and how well I’ve survived thus far.  I’m thinking two things are in order… First, I need to readjust my personal goals.  In addition to learning Chinese and becoming a successful teacher, I also hoped to mingle with other expats from all over the world.  I may just have to throw the idea of having a social life with other foreigners out the window.  Second, I may also have to shorten my time here.  I have to admit, the idea of being here twelve whole months is weighing on me.  So, I am going to ask to sign a six-month contract; if I absolutely love it here, I can always sign up for another six months, but if not, then I will be able to go home without feeling like a failure for bailing.

Either way, my lack of Chinese skills and my culture shock have put me at a disadvantage, but I am trying to look at my life now as a challenge to be mastered.  The challenge is multi-faceted: language acquisition, getting teaching experience, and a attaining a higher level of open-mindedness to maneuver in a new culture.  The first goal, then, is to get survival Chinese.  Once this has been accomplished, I can then focus on learning how to have deeper conversations; this is the only way, I’ve realized, to connect with other people and build a life here.

Besides, I’ve already had a number of small victories.  Aside from the hot water, speaking with locals and taking a packed bus into and out of the city, I have finally succeeded in using a squat toilet, a skill that has eluded me for some time.  I have already learned much more Chinese as well, including some of the local dialect.  I managed to make one of my co-workers laugh (she knows enough English to understand jokes).  In general, I’m finding that I’m more and more able to talk myself out of my bad mood when the culture shock hits home.

Maybe another personal goal should be to find humor in every situation.  Like a good expat, I am on the look-out for examples of “Chinglish,” that is, English that is incorrect or just plain weird.  I was thrilled to find one such example my first night.  It turns out that the school has bought me new sheets that say “love happy everyday.” Is “happy everyday” a Chinese phrase or something? Because I remember a few months back, when I corresponded with a different school, my contact once ended her email with “wish you happy everyday ^____^” (smiley face included).  So, here’s to a happy everyday!


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Sounds like things are better. And congrats on another blog post. It is a great way to keep in touch with those at home.

Wish you happy everyday (LOL


Comment by Alex

I am thinking of you! I hope that after a little time you will love it.


Comment by Chris

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