I’ve learned a thing or two about living in Haiyang. Things that reflect the fact that life is different here than back home. Not bad or good. Not better or worse. Just different. In case you are interested, continue reading. Who knows, maybe this information will come in handy if, in your future, you also find yourself living in rural China. Or, maybe it’ll just be good for you to know in case you come visit.
1. It’s all about layers. I’ve mentioned a time or two or three or four about the fact that it’s really cold here. We’re in the northern part of the country, so it’s cold, and even colder because the wind rolls off the Yellow Sea and finds its way into our little seaside village. The cold and wind go right through you and settle into every bone in your body, which can be debilitating. But layers can help you fight the cold. Pretty obvious, but when we first moved here, I kept forgetting to layer up. I knew it was cold outside, but I kept forgetting how cold it was inside too. I quickly learned after an outing here and there — to the grocery store, to a restaurant, to a government building — that indoor heating is wishful thinking and is in fact nonexistent here. So, I learned to always wear wool tights under my jeans and wear my heaviest socks when going out of the apartment for errands — no matter how short I think I’m going to be.
2. Heated floors are amazing. Hot water is amazing. Okay, forget what I just said about it being cold here. One delightful thing about living in Haiyang are the heated floors in our apartment. I’ve never had heated floors. Have you? It seems like such a luxurious thing to find in Haiyang. Surprisingly, it works pretty well too….almost too well since I can wear a t-shirt and shorts around our place in February and not be cold. Same goes with cups of hot water — pure pleasure when given to you at restaurants when you first sit down. All restaurants serve it. Your feet will still feel like blocks of ice when you leave the restaurant after you’ve eaten, but trust me, sipping on multiple cups of hot water makes dining out in the winter a little more pleasant.
3. Doggie bags actually exist. If you order takeout or, more likely, have leftovers from a restaurant that you want to take home with you, be prepared for how it’s given to you. Your food will be dumped into a very thin, see-through, tiny plastic bag. I first experienced this when I ordered a broccoli dish from our village cafeteria. The waitress came out and placed the warm bag of green stuff into my hands. Hmm…not very appetizing. Something just felt wrong about it. My stuff from Target goes in plastic bags; my food should go in something else like Styrofoam or plastic containers.
4. There is no such thing as a free napkin or piece of toilet paper. I wish I would’ve listened to my mom and stuck with the Girl Scouts, but I dropped out after one year of being a Brownie. It would have prepared me for living in Haiyang where you always have to be…ahem…prepared. For example, I consider a napkin an essential tool to have on hand while eating, but it’s a hard thing to come by in most restaurants here. If you are lucky, you can ask for and buy a package of napkins at some of the nicer joints. Just be warned that what you are really buying is a package of the flimsiest tissues you’ll ever come across. You would need five packages of these tissues to get you through one meal. Most restaurants and other publicly available restrooms you come across also won’t have toilet paper. I had no problem getting over the squat toilets here thanks to some of my previous travels, but I kept forgetting to bring my own TP with me. Annoying to say the least. Oh yeah, and don’t expect soap to be provided either. Hand sanitizer is another must.
5. Just because a taxi driver says they know where you live or where they are going, doesn’t mean they do. I learned this the hard way when I gave our address to a taxi driver who nodded and confirmed that he understood. Okay — I admit it — perhaps this was because woshoudebuhao. When I realized he had missed a crucial turn, I showed him the card that I carry in my wallet with our address on it. Obviously, the address is in Chinese. Ah, crisis averted…until he missed another crucial turn. At that point my husband intervened and told him in Mandarin that we had to turn around. The taxi driver said don’t worry, he knew where he was going. And he sort of did since he stopped right in front of the nuclear power plant. He was close, but the nuclear expat village was where we wanted to go. Accepting defeat, the taxi driver then listened as my husband gave him directions on how to get us home.
6. American holidays are not celebrated in China — except they are. Technically, the Chinese don’t celebrate American holidays. Not really earth-shattering news. Yet when we got here, every store we walked into blared both English language and Chinese language Christmas songs. Finding fake Christmas trees and decorations from garland to cardboard cut-outs of Jolly Ol’ St. Nick was pretty easy. They were in the grocery store and a little flea market in downtown Haiyang. All this Christmas stuff kind of got me pumped up and so we decided to go out for a Christmas Eve dinner where the same Christmas songs repeatedly played and decorations were hung from the lights. It felt like Christmas was in the air. Apparently even the taxi drivers were feeling it. There was not one to be found at 8:00pm on the eve of the baby Jesus’s birth. I think Valentine’s Day is going to be the next big one to take off. V-day fever was all over Shanghai. It hasn’t made its way to Haiyang yet, but give it a few years, and I bet it will.
7. Just accept it: spitting is ingrained in the people. I almost don’t want to tell you about this. One, because it’s a gross topic. But I talked about vomit in my last post and dead baby horses in another, so I might as well lay it on the line for you. Two, I hate to make generalizations, especially since my experience in Haiyang is probably different from some other American who is living in some other part of China. But this is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed in Haiyang, Qingdao, and Shanghai, so I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I tell you that the Chinese like to spit. I’m not talking about a little spit…like if a gnat flew into your mouth and you were desperately trying to get it out. I’m talking about hawking loogies. Big, loud ones. I’m a squeamish person, so this is one thing that I’m still struggling to get used to. Every time I leave the spit-free zone of our apartment, I know that I’m going to hear someone spit. I’m sure the frequent spitting has to do with the frequent smoking that goes on here. Or, maybe the Chinese see it as a way to cleanse the body, which I guess it is. I shouldn’t begrudge them of that. Still, I just wish the spitters would spit quietly and nowhere close to me.
8. Brooms make a good snow removal tool. We had snow quite a few times over these last few months. Nothing major like the Blizzard of ’96 when my sister was able to do back flips off our deck into the snow, but a few inches here and there. While I would use a shovel to deal with snow in most amounts, the village maintenance crew used brooms.
9. Mail actually arrives. Everyone told us that we would never receive mail here at the village….talk about living off the grid. I believed them until I got a Shutterfly album from my sister two weeks after arriving. Guess they were wrong. Oh, but wait. I never received my mom’s Christmas card, which she mailed on December 17. Hm…I guess they were right. Wrong! Just this very morning I got a knock on my door and who was there but a friendly representative from China Post to hand deliver my mom’s card and my cousin’s wedding save-the-date. Exciting!
10. I don’t have a number 10…yet. But, I’ve only been here for three months. When I learn another 9 things about life here, I’ll update this post.