My China love affair began in 1998 – my first trip here to visit my sister who had come to continue her Chinese language studies. I found the cities we travelled to overwhelming large, active, and impenetrable without Chinese language skills. I was smitten.
I came on two more visits, finally moving to Beijing in 2003, with a plan to study Chinese for 6 months. I had just graduated from university in Australia and still had no idea what to do with my life.
My sister made my transition easier and pushed me to speak Chinese at every opportunity. She seemed to have so many interesting friends who could not speak English, and it was the push I needed to start really trying to converse in Chinese as quickly as possible. The city was alive with promise and something exciting around every corner.
Then SARS hit – well, it hit a little earlier, but as I’d come to learn, we often only really heard about things here well after they were in full swing. The foreign student section of my university turned into a permanent departure zone, with most international students being called home by their worried parents. For many nights in a row, I dreamt I was suddenly back in Australia with a horrible feeling of the unfinished adventure I had left behind. It strengthened my resolve to stick around and find out just what this country had to offer, and 13 years later, I’m still here.
It can be a tough place for outsiders to adapt to – without Chinese language skills, it can be frustrating, and hard to get things done. Without some cultural understanding, it can be confusing, exhausting and annoying at times. And with the world’s largest population seemingly squeezed on to one public bus in peak hour, it can be hard to get a quiet moment to yourself.
But if you can get past that, the challenge of learning to speak and communicate in new ways, the amazing array of food and the warmth and curiosity of the people here in China can be one big addictive adventure.
Life can be hard. And other people are often facing harder challenges than we can even imagine. The simple act of compassion costs nothing, but it gives people hope and reminds us that people are essentially good. Like the wonderful story I read today about this refugee family in Canada, or the warm fuzzy feeling I got from watching The Secret Life of Pets today.
Maybe it’s even just simply holding back our judgment of someone we do or don’t know. We can never really know why people say things or do things that are unacceptable or upsetting to us. Withholding judgment can feel hard and unnatural, but maybe easier over time.
And don’t watch that pets movie if you’re barely holding yourself back from getting a pet – it will push you over the edge into happy pet ownership!!
I realised a few years ago that I had somehow stopped comparing myself with other people and how much it contributed to my overall happiness. The realisation came when I was talking with a friend who could not stop comparing herself to others, how sad it seemed to make her, and how I found myself explaining this thing I had not consciously realised until that point.
The thing is, there’s aways going to be someone taller, more well-read, with a better job or whatever, than ourselves. That’s life. But making these comparisons only serves to build unhappiness in ourselves, since we can never win this invisible, unending competition. So I think it’s better not to take part.
- We can never assume to know what anyone else is going through or has been through to get where they are.
- Those pangs of jealousy when you hear about someone else’s great success, are better funnelled towards recognising your own desires and working towards them.
As an expat, foreigner, “outsider” living in China, I often find my otherness to be very freeing. From my outer-shell, I appear so very different that it is impossible to fit in (at least physically). I still struggle sometimes with feeling like an outsider, but it has helped free me from the expectations of fitting in and following society’s expectations. And it’s easier to listen to your own heart when the hundreds of voices telling you how to be have been dulled down to a whisper.