Oh yeahhhhhh. That.

Screen shots of 100% humidity and directions to find a place

Even though I last touched Chinese soil a mere 11 months ago, how quickly I forgot what daily life entails!

The pics above highlight two of those items. The first, on the left, is that no matter how many times I pumped myself up both silently and verbally (my husband can attest to the latter), I forgot how humid it actually is here. Please note that it was 100% humidity at 7:08am. But not to worry — it didn’t stay like that all day. By 3:31pm it was 96F with only 35% humidity.

The photo on the right shows how I have to prepare for any excursion where I need directions but don’t want to pay for the data to use my maps in real time. To begin with, I have a photo of the exterior of my apartment building and a mini map with Chinese street names for said building. This is crucial for when I inevitably get in a taxi and need to tell the driver how to take me home. If the map doesn’t do the job I show the picture and then s/he *hopefully* gets it. The other 11 screen shots show the steps required to get from my apartment to Du Fu’s cottage. Since data is at a premium, and I don’t want to actually buy a Chinese cell phone, I map out my route using wifi in my apartment before I leave. Most of the time this is sufficient and I get where I need to go, but sometimes it fails. That’s where the real fun begins!

Pro tip: load the map before you leave the wifi/vpn zone as GPS will still track you while you’re moving around.

And now for a list of further items I’d forgotten about in no particular order:

  • Men creating makeshift belly shirts. Employed as a cooling mechanism, the shirts aren’t actually completely removed, but rather the bottom is rolled up under the neck of the shirt so it’s about in line with their nipples. Honestly though, I can’t blame them (see: aforementioned humidity).
  • Noise. As with any mega-city of 14 million people, you’re gonna get noise. But what I especially forgot about is how scooters honk at you, the pedestrian, while they’re trying to drive down the sidewalk.
  • Which brings me to the next one — how many times a day I almost get hit by a car or scooter. Oh what’s that? There’s a green walk sign? Make sure you not only look both ways, but also in front of you, behind you, and in every possible diagonal direction. I’m sure there are rules of the road here. There has to be since I know people have to pass a driver’s test. What those rules actually are, or how quickly people put them out of their minds is the real question. With scooters AND CARS driving on the sidewalk, crossing the actual street is essentially a game of Frogger.
  • The stares. I’d say 2 out of 3 people I pass on the street open-mouth stare at me. I didn’t completely forget about this before I returned this summer, but it’s still a lot to handle sometimes. Like, hey, I’m just trying to buy this Coke without makeup and unwashed, sweaty hair in a ponytail. Move along, now is not the time to soak up this view.
  • Plans are never fully finalized. Like, ever. For example, showed up last Monday morning to teach and found that they hadn’t reserved classroom space for us at all the entire time we’re here. That part has been sorted out, but we’re still making changes to the end of our program even though we’ve all known we would be coming over for the better part of a year. I don’t get too riled up over this though. I know it comes with the territory and things eventually sort themselves out.
  • Squat toilets in combination with open windows. Nothing quite like the threat of mosquito bites to the nether regions while you’re testing the flexibility of your 30-something-year-old knees.
  • Let’s end on a high note, shall we? For all the things about China that are different from the US, I can’t stress enough how amazing the people are that I meet here everyday. Of course those that I come into contact with through teaching and living in this expat apartment are great, but I’m talking everyone. Down to the employees at Wal-mart (yes it’s where I shop now) who watched me struggle to read shampoo bottles and laundry detergent containers and then picked one off the shelf, made some improvised sign language about how it was good for my specific hair and good for my clothes and smiled at me. We actually couldn’t verbally communicate with each other, but it didn’t stop them from finding a way to help me.

Of the 30+ countries I’ve traveled to in my life, China continues to be one of the most exciting, challenging, rewarding, wonderfully strange places I’ve ever been. I love it here.