OK, time to talk about something else. It is true that life and work here can be complicated and frustrating. I often find myself rattling off a top ten list of things that annoy me, but being a complainer also annoys me. It’s all too easy to complain, but that doesn’t mean I hate living here or that there is nothing good about this place. For every negative thing, I try to come up with something positive.
1. For example, riding my bike around causes me to rise up in a bit of road rage, but I also try to find the fun and light side of commuting in a city of 8 million people. I ride my bike everywhere. I often (at least in the summertime) feel like I’m 10 years old again riding my bike over to my friend’s house. “Hey, Katherine! Wanna come over?!” Yeah. Be right over! My childhood neighborhood didn’t smell quite like this one, but never mind – I’m not supposed to be complaining here. Anyway, riding bikes means that you don’t have to worry about traffic jams or parking spaces. Baskets and bungy cords makes shopping doable.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is safer to ride here, but the cars are more used to bicycles, motor scooters,
horse-drawn carts, three-wheeled dealies, and other forms of transportation. However, this doesn’t mean that they look. And man-O-man! watch out for the buses! Besides the variety of vehicles, the unpredictability of riding space makes commuting interesting: the cars are on the sidewalks and pedestrians are in the streets. Bikers go anywhere! Of course I wear a helmet (but I’m not going to discuss hospitals and doctors now, right?), even if I’m just going over to my friend’s house. When cars just squeeze by, I like to flip their side mirror just to demonstrate that they got too close. And there was the time I grabbed on to an open window and hung on for a couple hundred meters! We all got a kick out of that.
I admit that I do smirk at the newly rich who, when they think that traffic signals don’t apply to them because now they are driving the latest model Audi, snarl up traffic in six directions. I merely weave my way between lanes, up and down curbs, whatever it takes. I sometimes imagine I could be a darn good bicycle courier in New York City.
You’d think the rain would make it a pain to ride your bike. Yes, at first, but actually you realize the blessing: the traffic jams are worse, it can be difficult to get taxis and the buses are suffocating (windows closed in rain). So, even though I get a little wet and dirty, at least I can get to work on time without passing out. Only once did I not make it to a meeting because of the rain – it was pouring and the streets were flooded. I was knee-deep in water (once again I won’t mention what might be in the water). I got a flat tire and all the road-side bike repairmen didn’t open up on such a rotten day. What are you thinking riding your bike in such ? I just hauled my bike on the bus – the driver’s eye’s bugged out and I had a fun conversation with the surprised passengers.
2. Another bonus to living here is that I can get about 90% of what I need for daily living within a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Fresh fruit, veggies, personal care stuff, etc. I have my regular sellers that I go to. We have a little chit-chat and it’s nice when they throw in that handful of cilantro gratis, or round down the amount just to keep you coming back.
3. My Chinese friends are one of the best parts of living here. Many of the faults of their society are not lost on them, and it is interesting to get their take on what’s happening here. It is also fun to discuss the cultural differences and why certain things bug us and not them, and vice-versa. Without personal relationships, reminding me of the richness and beauty of these people, I couldn’t deal with the sometimes very difficult face of the general public.
4. Another great part of living here is my community of other expatriates who are also committed to making this a better world in China. We share ideas of cooking improvisations; the strange excitement we get when we find a random Western food item (such as spray Pam or Jell-O) in the grocery; and of course, the latest Chinglish sign sighting. We are committed to hang together, celebrate together and lift each other up. They are essential to thriving here and I can’t make it without each other.