Sometimes walking down a street here in Bozhou can take me from excited to desperate in a span of just a few seconds! At times I really hate China, but then I love it to bits…
It’s a strange love-hate relationship that maybe a few of us foreigners living in China have experienced. Most people who stay on living in China long-term are well aware of the negative and positive sides.
There has to be a balance.
5 Things I Love About Rural China
- Open Doors
I had lived in Shanghai for several years, and while it is widely accepted there to spontaneously go and visit your friends, it is still a huge metropolitan city. This means anonymity and no way people would keep their doors open for anyone to come in.
Here in the village it’s still like back in the old days. I love the freedom and openness. Neighbours are all friends, and everyone has their doors open to everyone. One of my favourite activities is going for a stroll after dinner. Every time we stay at my parents-in-law’s house we will just wander around the village and randomly visit neighbours. There is no need to previously make an appointment (as it would be necessary in Germany… like three months in advance…). Even if people are having dinner right when you enter, no one will get angry at you. On the contrary, they will invite you to join, no matter how poor they are. They are happy about your visit and engage in small talk with pleasure.
Of course, this ‘Open Door’ has its downside as well…
- Dancing Aunties
One thing I have always loved about China are parks and open places. I love to see the joy people have meeting in the parks, singing together, dancing together.
You can find dancing aunties in any Chinese city. No matter if it’s a small rural village or a huge metropolitan city like Beijing. They are everywhere and they are amazing. I am not saying their dance style is ready for Germany’s next Super Talent, but their passion and ability to enjoy life to the fullest is something we can learn from.
It always gives me pleasure to see the ladies dance on the public square in my parents-in-law’s village. This square has only been built a year ago, and since then it’s the local hot spot. My mother-in-law and her friends are regular participants, and even I had my fair share of China’s auntie square dance lessons.
- Food , Food, Food
Between hundreds of amazing (and easy on the wallet) restaurants, small hole-in-the-wall Chinese diners, and mouth-watering street food, there has never been a shortage of great eats in China.
Every corner of China has its own little specialities. Bozhou is no exception! There is one thing you will never manage to do here: A diet…
- Clear Skies & Nature
Contrary to popular believe, China has blue skies. Yes, even Beijing and Shanghai have blue skies (occasionally).
But living in rural China brings the advantage of regular blue skies and little pollution. Cities like Berlin or London of way more pollution than our little Bozhou. Most days throughout the year you can enjoy beautiful skies and sunny weather. I love this about living here! The local climate is much more to my liking than what I knew from Germany, the UK or Shanghai, for that matter.
- Low Living Costs
After living in Shanghai for a while, and trying to settle down there again beginning of last year, I am so glad we didn’t in the end.
Living costs in some of China’s big cities have sky rocketed to the top of the world’s most expensive places to live in. Since we live in Bozhou I am amazed at how cheap everything is. Of course, salaries are low as well, but compared to everywhere else you can still live a very comfortable life here. You can go out shopping without burning a huge hole into your wallet. My last days in Shanghai I didn’t dare to leave the house, being afraid to spent huge amounts of money on every corner.
5 Things I Hate About Rural China
- Being a Zoo Animal
This is absolutely the worst part about living in rural China! While it is possible to just disappear in the masses of Shanghai’s population, it is impossible to not get noticed in Bozhou with its ‘mere’ 4.8 million inhabitants of which there are only four foreigners! And it gets worse in Niuji village which, on an area of 97 square kilometres, has a population of 70.000 people. It sounds like a lot, but trust me in this sea of black haired people, I stand out like a shining golden beacon.
And there is nothing I hate more than the constant starring, the pointing, and the “laowai” labelling. You would think that after all these years, being fluent in Chinese AND the local dialect, people would start to accept you and welcome you into their circle… Unfortunately, in this more remote places you will always be the Outsider.
Many times I literally feel like a zoo animal. The previously mentioned ‘Open Door’, than becomes my personal hell, with people coming into our bedroom to catch a look of the ‘Foreigner’! There is nothing you can do about it (except locking door), but every time we go outside, people will stare and point at me.
- Lack of Hygiene & Manners
I remember the first time when I saw a mother prop up her child, so he could proceed to defecate on the side of the street. At first I thought this was a one in a time incident, eight years later, I have learned to avoid children who were crotchless pants and the sides of the streets where the aforementioned defecations would tend to occur. I have heard of stories similar to this in Shanghai or Beijing, but I can tell you, there is nothing worse than a Chinese village in that matter. I had to teach my sister-in-law that it is not ok for her children to defecate right next to the dinner table!
Another gross thing is that Chinese like to spit everywhere. Some believed it is unhealthy to swallow phlem, but most just admit to the fact that it is part of their culture. Personally I think it’s just absolutely unhygienic and should become socially unaccepted! But if you ever have the urge to experience this part of “Chinese Culture” in its full “beauty”, I invite you to one of Niuji’s Zuozhuo Feasts…
- Drinking & Smoking Culture
It is always difficult for a non-smoker to be surrounded by smoking people.
But in China it is worse! Even after China officially banned indoor smoking, there still exists excessive smoking in public areas which will make you a full-on passive smoker, if you want to or not.
Here in Bozhou the so called “Drinking and Smoking Culture” has been put to another level. I have written extensively about the social significance of cigarettes in China and the drinking etiquette, but I will always hate it and will always struggle to live with this part of China’s culture.
- The Internet
It’s no secret that China has a tight grip on the Internet. Commonly referred to as “The Great Firewall of China”, this drives me crazy. I know that there are Chinese versions of many of the sites that are blocked – like WeChat is Twitter, Ren Ren is Facebook, Youku is YouTube, Baidu is Google, but this is maybe useful for Chinese people, my family and friends, however, don’t use any of those sites.
To stay in contact with the outside world (and write this blog, for that matter), you need to get creative. Luckily, many companies have realized the potential of this new market and offer all kinds of solutions to jump over China’s Great Firewall.
Unfortunately, most of those solutions work great if you live in big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where the internet is faster to start with. But for me, in the middle of nowhere, it can become a nerve testing task to access your Gmail account or, god forbid, watch a tutorial on YouTube.
- No Real Friends
Developing a friendship takes time, no matter where you are. But while I find it incredibly easy in Shanghai to make friends, so far in Bozhou it has been impossible.
If you are always seen as the “Foreigner” than it is difficult to step out of this shadow. Every time I think ‘now I made a real friend’, I only get disappointed. Many people here want to be friends, so I can teach their children English. And as soon as you reject teaching them, they delete you from their phone. I am sure I am not paranoid, because this is an obvious sign of being used.
I know that it takes a lot of effort to make friends, and time, but sometimes it feels as if it will never be possible to find a soulmate here, especially as a girl. It is easier for guys, who can go out for a drink together or share a hobby. But most girls here in my age are very boring. It is common to get married with 20 and have a baby with 21. After that life seems to be over for them. No hobbies, no joy, only staying at home and living an incredibly boring life. I have difficulties to relate to those girls and find common topics to talk about, and I am sure for them it’s the same the other way around…
There is a saying in Chinese 没有苦没有甜 (meiyou ku meiyou tian), which can be translated as “Without bitterness, there can be no sweetness.” This explains life very well in China (and maybe elsewhere as well). There are good and bad aspects, but we simply have to decide what we can accept, what we can’t and what is the most important for us.
Even though I sometimes dislike a lot of things about life here in rural China, luckily the good things still overweigh the bad.
How do you feel about living in China? Do you hate it here or love it?
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