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

Livin’ the Chinese Lifestyle . . . in North America
April 9, 2014, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Asia abroad, Chinese culture | Tags: ,

Now that I’ve repatriated – perhaps permanently, perhaps not – I find that, basically, my life inside the house really isn’t much different than it was when I lived in China. I think it’s common for expats to adapt to the customs of their host country and to then preserve them when back home. So here are some parts of the Chinese lifestyle that I’ve imported into my North American life:

  1. Cold water leaves me feeling…well, cold. Americans scoff at the idea of drinking hot water – and they’ve got a point. Why drink boring hot water when you can drink tea? (We’ll get to the tea later.) Well, some people find hot water just as soothing as hot tea! And some of us (me) are too lazy to perform the extra step of making tea. Why does it need to be hot? Chinese people believe that cold water is harmful to the body – really, that anything cold is harmful. I remember teaching in warm, stuffy classroom, thinking I was going to die from heatstroke, while all of my students sat bundled up in their winter coats. The cold won’t kill you! I wanted to shriek. This example is a bit extreme, however, I do believe that hot water can aid digestion and make you feel much warmer on a cold day.
  2. Shoes are for the outside. Imagine bits of gum, dog poo, and an assortment of bacterial cultures swimming along your living floor, or worse yet, in your carpet. OK, I happen to be a major hypchondriac, but still, I think I’m on to something here. Plus, it means you can get away with cleaning the floor less often.
  3. Everything can be eaten with chopsticks. Even salad. Especially salad. Here in the Sates, a friend of mine came over for an impromptu meal of pasta and tomato sauce. When all I had to offer her were chopsticks (we’ve only recently purchased silverware), she laughed at the idea of using Asian utensils to eat Italian food. Until then, I’d never thought twice about it.
  4. Tea occasionally wins over coffee. I’ve always hated tea, particularly herbal tea. Names like “orange spice black tea” and “cinnamon sunset” all boil down to the same flavor for me – water. What a let down! I’ve always attributed it to my weakened sense of smell. However, I can actually taste Chinese tea, and I’ve really grown to like it. My favorites are green, pu’er and damai (barley). Also, if you’re coming down with a cold, try drinking hot green tea with lemon. The taste is on the bitter side, so you may have to gag it down, but it will make you feel better within hours. And if you’ve just had an amazing meal but ate too much and you think your stomach is going to explode, make yourself a tall cup of pu’er for some relief. I know from experience … this happened a lot when I lived in China.
  5. After dinner walks. When I lived with my husband’s family, I’d adopted their habit of taking “after dinner walks”, usually near the beach where they lived. It sounds pretty blissful, doesn’t it? Taking walks by the ocean every evening after a delicious, healthy homecooked meal… To be honest, this is a habit I would like to continue, but here in this rough CA city I’m too afraid to leave the house at night.
  6. Dinner is optional, but lunch isn’t. The Chinese, along with probably everyone else who is not North American, do not believe that eating three meals a day every day is necessarily healthy. The meal that usually (but not always) gets sacrificed is dinner, either in favor of a few small snacks or nothing at all. That way, you’ll wake up nice and hungry in the morning, just in time for the most important meal of the day, breakfast. In China, a typical breakfast is some form of carb, such as mantou (cardboard-flavored steamed bun), with doujiang (soymilk) or cow’s milk. Throw in a hardboiled egg or two (or a “tea egg” if you’re lucky) and you’ve got a filling but light breakfast. There might even be a few vegetables on the table, or perhaps some tasty baozi, which is a steamed bun filled with meat or vegetables. Lunch tends to be quite large and filling – noodles or rice as your carb, meat, tofu or egg as protein, and vegetables. And for dinner? Fruit, perhaps with a side of veggies, or perhaps nothing. Add it all up and you’ve probably got the standard 1000-1200 calorie diet.

I don’t think I’d be able to part with any of these habits. They’ve become inseparable from who I am – and, I think, have contributed to a newer, healthier me. So thank you, China!


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