As cliche as it sounds, travelling has changed my life. I have unleashed so much of my dormant likes, dislikes and personality from my time spent abroad. This year has made me realise that the memories we look back on are usually from our travels and adventures. Not once will I ever say, thank god I didn’t take that break or goodness I should have entered the work life earlier (!). In fact I missed out on three breaks in late 2019 because of work-related anxieties and I do regret it. For now, I’m glad that I have a series of very fond memories of China; the nation which spurred me to grow as a person.
Food can be simple and still very delicious
I shifted away from food I feel like I should know how to make and entered the realm of learning recipes that I actually like to eat. I have a penchant for vegetables and making them the centre of my dish. I even experimented with tofu. I learned to season the soya ingredient with various spices and sauces (the secret is to marinate the tofu before coating it in flour and shallow frying). Before my voyage, I thought food had to be complicated, and the more time I invested in it; the higher returns I expect. Throughout my childhood, my mother would spend copious amounts of time perfecting a meal for the family. If someone had told me that a satisfactory meal could be conjured under 20 minutes, I would have been more efficient in the kitchen. China shifted my entire relationship with food and I learned all of its beauties. Generally being surrounded by people passionate about food does that.
Ignorance is bliss
As an angry and well informed teenager, I thought it was vital to remain well-informed on current affairs. However, living with the great fire well meant that my social media accounts and western media were blocked. I wasn’t savvy enough to consume Chinese media apart from articles translated in English. At first it was I felt behind. I could see the look of horror on my friend’s face when she came to visit me and she updated me on pop culture. What do you mean, you don’t know who Cardi B is? Are you living under a rock? After the 4 month mark, I achieved solace in the ignorance and I felt content with focusing on my own life.
Attending work/social events without make-up on
This is huge for me, Before I had moved to China, I had lived in South Korea which is huge on cosmetics and tries to push for nothing short of perfection. ID photos are airbrushed, plastic surgery is a prerequisite for employment, and not to mention that men are pressured too into wearing makeup to hide their flaws. There’s nothing wrong with men wearing makeup but I wish neither genders felt like they had to wear make-up for societal acceptance. I hope we move towards a world where flaws are embraced. Although it still feels radically defiant to not wear make up in public, I’m glad I have unlearnt the behaviour.
Local travel is great especially using trains as the main form of transport
I fell in love with trains, the cost efficiency of the Chinese bullet trains meant that they were worthwhile taking and for short, time sensitive trips, I took the overnight train and slept while moving. The train schedules that favourted day time travel meant that I was always back at my apartment by early evening with enough time for groceries and prepare for work the next day. Although I did also have the worst travel experience in China too. I took a 3 hour slow train from Hangzhou to Suzhou and had to stand the entire way on a packed train as men chained smokes within the carriageway. The smell of chinese cigarettes and the disorenating rhythm of slow trains gave me intense nausea and vertigo the entire trip.
I learnt that discipline and self-care were two sides of the same coin
I worked a lot in China, I worked from 8am to the 8pm (with breaks of course). Looking back, I’m not sure how I was so energised for my days. Was it the long 2 month break I had during Chinese New Year which broke up my year? Was it utilising every hour I wasn’t working to do something for myself? My day was divided into work and self-care. For me self-care is not engaging in self-destructive, self-harming behaviour and aligning my desires with clear goals and methods. I had put myself first, I concentrated on work and my goals. My goals were to be fit, become proficient in Chinese and I believed strongly in consistency. I believed in routine. Every morning I was out of bed for 6:45am and at the bus stop at 7:15am and this natural rhythm really worked for me.
Never place your self-esteem with others
My self-esteem was tested regularly in China, especially when coming into contact with a lot of city people that felt like they had to prove how smart or cool they were. I felt a sense of judgement as I was tallied up for these factors. Similarly, being a female poc in China is a test in itself. Your blonde colleague is paid higher than you for the same job, your white friends are bombarded for photos and your colleagues swoon over your French husband for his height and eurocentric looks. Worse than all, you’ll meet white expats which walk around with underserved arrogance because they’ve lived for longer than you and speak below-par Chinese which means that Chinese women are disposable to them. It’s gross. Living in a society where white supremacy is not-so-subtle can be demoralising and it made me question my value. However, overcoming this made me realise that I never want to be a side piece (a supporter, a sidekick, whatever you want to call it), I always want to be the main act. I never want to place my value in the hands of others. I never want to try and impress people, I want to form genuine connections and if I’m not gelling with someone then I know I can move on because someone else will love my energy, personality and humour.