Thus far, I’ve spent about a week here in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, but honestly, what with everything I’ve been doing, it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I’m still working on my article about how I prepared for the trip, but right now I have what’s been on my mind the most these days:
Things I took for granted while living the U.S.
- Clean tap water. One of the first things we were told when we first got to Changsha was “don’t drink the tap water”. While it’s probably safe to brush one’s teeth with water from the tap (by some accounts), I don’t want to be sick my first week here. Regardless, there have been moments in which I’d go to brush my teeth and instinctively reach for the tap. It’s the little things that we as Americans (or any other first world country, for that matter) take for granted, that I think make the biggest impact.
- Cooler weather. I joke about Florida being one of the only places where you can die of heat stroke outside and hypothermia inside on the same day, but that’s nothing compared to Changsha. Changsha has a subtropical climate, and is known as one of the “furnace cities” of China, so the summers are very humid and HOT. According to the Weather.com app, temperatures for the next week are expected to range between 83 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity ranging between 50% and 100%. Compared to last week, this is amazing weather (apparently, it’s supposed to cool down even further around October). Needless to say, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, an umbrella, and a fan are necessities for me now.
- Safer roads. To put it plainly, there is no such thing as “pedestrians have right-of-way” in China. It’s not uncommon to see people driving mopeds on the sidewalk, beeping their horns to alert people to their presence (side note: honking horns are a constant sound in Changsha; bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper), and even people driving the wrong way on a one-way street. All that said, the roads here are generally safe for pedestrians, but it’s an extra thing to be aware of when you’re walking down the streets.
- English everywhere. The beauty and the curse of being a waiguoren (“foreigner”) is that if a restaurant or a food stand has an English menu, they will automatically take it out for you. The curse is that it can be very easy to use those as a crutch, especially when you go out of the cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and even Changsha. I’m curious how I’ll fare when I get to my placement in Cili, near Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province.
Things I’ll likely take for granted while living in China
- Yummy, inexpensive street food. Especially with the conversion rate, a healthy breakfast is super cheap here in China. I can get a couple baozi (steamed buns), noodles, or (my favorite) a shou zhua bing (a pancake with egg, meat, lettuce, and sauce) for about six or seven kuai (the currency of China, used interchangeably with “yuan” or “RMB”), which would roughly equal one US dollar. Be advised, though, that if you go for McDonald’s, KFC, or non-instant coffee pretty much anywhere, you’re inevitably going to be paying more (an iced coffee at a café is at least twenty kuai, while an iced green tea is nine kuai).
- Safer streets. For the most part, I would consider China much safer than the U.S. in terms of being out and about. Obviously, this doesn’t give one leave to abandon common sense completely, but when I’m walking down the street in Changsha (even at night), I’m not as quick to hold my bag close to me or look over my shoulder (unless it’s to look for oncoming mopeds or bicycles) as I would in U.S. cities.
- Public transportation. We’ve been using the bus system in Changsha, and it’s been very efficient. Even between cities and towns, there are buses and fast- and slow-speed trains. Back home in Florida, you need a car to go pretty much anywhere. As a person who despises driving in cities, I definitely appreciate this!
- Friendly people everywhere. The couple who runs the shop I go to for iced green tea, the woman who cooks lunch for our orientation group, even young children who like to show off their English skills by calling out “hello”—everyone in Changsha has been so kind to us thus far. It’s refreshing compared to my experience in the U.S., where hardly anyone says “hello” to strangers, let alone a compliment like “you speak very well”, unless they work in retail or hospitality, or are otherwise particularly outgoing.
- Public or group events. Maybe it was because my circle of friends was scattered after college and high school, but especially in Changsha, I’ve been doing a lot of group activities, including going to movies, English conversation, group dinners, and even archery! Even walking around downtown Changsha, I’ve noticed that the social dynamic is heavily based on group activities, from KTV (karaoke) all the way to evening dancing or early morning Tai Chi in the local parks. It develops a strong social network that I hope I can continue when I go to my placement in Cili.
I’m sure I’ll observe more as I spend more time here, and I’m really looking forward to the days ahead! With my current schedule, I’m hoping I can be back here next week with another post! See you then! Zai jian!