We’ve all heard about (and in some cases experienced) the reverse culture shock that accompanies life after China. Many return to the old country to find that its become rather difficult to live in, that their home has changed and so have they. What about the experiences that do live up to our expectations though? What about the little pleasant surprises that we weren’t expecting at home? How does life in China not only increase our appreciation of Chinese culture but of our own too?
Its something of a cliche, the expat who gets to China and discovers food of such immense quality and variety that the food back home seems inedible by comparison. Hmm. In truth while Chinese cuisine is a spectacular replacement for what you would normally eat, it seems that your old favourites are never really going to stop being, well, just that. While on my first return home to the UK I was distraught at the idea of no longer having such easy access to Hot Pot, Mapudofu, Guobaorou and other assorted favourites, I quickly came to realise just how much I’d missed some of my home staples.
Fish and Chips might leave the Chinese unimpressed, a fact they’re always quick to tell me, but after a year of Baozi and Jiaozi, the old familiar taste takes on a much deeper meaning than ever could have before China. It doesn’t just taste good, it tastes of home. This applies doubly for the Chinese who travel abroad. While we get to enjoy a seemingly endless list of famous and fabulous Chinese dishes when we travel here, in the West (or the UK at least) they get to experience what they affectionately refer to as ‘dog food’.
This one was always going to come up. China’s air is as infamous as it is awful. While no longer the worst offender for toxic air (congratulations Onitsha, Nigeria), the smoggy skies of China’s greatest cities are a source of constant anxiety and criticism from their inhabitants. Given this charge its something of a given that one would feel instant relief and liberation upon breathing in the clean, clear air of your home. This turned out to be far truer than I was expecting, the air quality at home didn’t just feel better, it even tasted better. I had gotten so used to the taste of hideously polluted air for so long (my old home of Shenyang actually managed to reach a pollution level of over 1000 micrograms per cubic metre last year in its infamous ‘Airpocalypse’), that I had not only gotten used to the visuals but the taste as well. A friend of mine even joked of his nostalgia for the ‘burnt tire smell’ that accompanied our winters there.
The air at home by contrast was totally clear and refreshing, and allowed to me silence that annoying little voice in the back of my head that wondered about the potential health risks of a nice stroll through the city. Not that the air at home was completely without problems however, one thing Shenyang’s ‘end times’ air did allow me to escape was the hay fever that occasionally plagues me at home. Its nice living near the countryside and having access to all of that fresh air, but there is a cost.
This might seem an odd one to throw in given the head spinning dysfunction and polarization we’re currently seeing in Western politics. With Brexit having seemingly divided Britain like never before, the EU in constant shambles and America running the two most hated (and dare I say, hate-able) candidates in the history of the republic, Western politics is a loud and angry place these days, but then maybe that’s the charm. We don’t disagree and it often seems as though we’re never going to get everything done, but we are arguing. There is a fascinating, if outrageous public conversation going on, one where everyone can state their opinion on and take part in however small a fashion. This, in contrast to the withdrawn and incomprehensible Chinese system, is a delight to behold (if occasionally a terrifying one).
Full of history and charm, China’s temples are an entirely different experience to that of a western church or cathedral. In even the most opulent and modern of Chinese temples, there is an emphasis on the outdoors, to walk to different rooms and areas of the temples, whether Buddhist, Taoist, or even in some cases mosques, one will find themselves walking outside, experiencing the open air and sky. In churches on the other hand, all is (usually) confined indoors, and one is guided through intimate stone corridors as you move about. The architecture could hardly be more different, when one compares the wide, colourful and often naturalistic temples of China with the grand, imposing cathedrals of Europe and North America, the difference could hardly be more stark.
It is only after strolling through a serene and tree strewn Confucian temple, that one can really appreciate not only the beauty, but also the unique character of traditional Christian churches, with their gorgeous stained glass depictions of the saints, sinister gargoyles and heavenly choir music. There is certainly no replacing the awe inspiring temples that China has to offer, there’s certainly plenty to be found at home that while totally different in style and atmosphere offer their own delicious taste of the divine.
The nature that can be found within China is a strangely under discussed topic about the country. While everyone gushes over the beloved Panda and some of the more famous mountains and landscapes (Huashan and Jiangjiajie being notable examples), it is rather rare to hear the general beauty of the Chinese countryside being discussed. This is a great shame, with the lush greenery and rugged landscapes to be found here, China stands (in my opinion) as one of the most beautiful countries in the world when one manages to escape the urban hellscape (and the armies of tourists to be found at more popular sites).
For all this beauty however there can be no denying that ones own country will still have the ability to hold your attention upon your return home. One does not need to go to great sprawling mountain ranges or dense forests to experience this, indeed my first and deeply satisfying taste of nature upon returning to the UK was a simple stroll along a canal near my home. The canal itself is hardly a spectacular one, but the tastes, smells and sights that the flora and fauna offered me here, all unique to my home, allowed me not only to savour what I had returned to, but also to appreciate its own remarkable character.
Your Own Language
The final one (and certainly one of the more obvious things) is the experience of hearing and understanding ones own native language upon returning home. While its perfectly easy to find plenty of foreigners out here who are happy to converse with you in English (or whatever your original tongue), there really is no shock quite like returning after time spent across the world to discover that everyone around you can be understood perfectly. Indeed it can be difficult at first not to eavesdrop on every conversation you can hear taking place. Although it is certainly difficult sometimes to give up the excitement of hearing (and ideally using) a foreign tongue everyday, it is certainly something of a relief upon returning home to hear people speaking your own language, both figuratively and literally.
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Keywords: return home life after china
China is a toxic country. From the food, to the air to the quality of the alcohol. I notice this every time I go home to Australia. I wake up feeling much more fresh with a better state of mind. Also the fact that I'm not waking up to some bozo on a jackhammer at 6am makes a difference.
I guess whoever wrote this was being tactful and avoiding mention of the people or culture. I don't think I'm the only one who enjoys not being stared at, not having racial slurs hurled at me because I look different from 99% of the population, or basic manners regarding smoking, littering, waiting in line... and the list goes on... all of those when I am outside of China.
Well, since I can speak from experience having returned home for 13 months after living in China for a decade and then returning to China I can tell you this... The food, air and nature are certainly aspects of home that are well appreciated. However, home is boring. Why? Because it is a place you already know everything about... you came to China for a reason. Most likely to learn and expand your horizons. Another thing that annoys me is when someone back home complains about something... they have no idea what they are complaining about... they have never stepped outside of the box and seen places of true poverty. Living in China will change you, it will make it almost impossible to see eye to eye with your friends and family back home. Instead of going back home to live and work, I highly suggest moving on to another place in the world and continuing the journey.
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