Half way already! It’s a little weird that some of my fellow Oxford Seminars classmates started a little before I did, and yet I’m writing a reflection on being halfway through the experience well before they are.
Yet, here I am, at the halfway hump.
I find it’s usually about half way through things that I realize I’m only just starting them. I’m just starting to make good friends here. It’s usually easier to make friends with foreigners because we share a common background, experience, and love of beer. But there are only about three other foreigners in all of Rugao, so this hasn’t been easy. That leaves me with the locals. I tend to prefer their company anyway, so this isn’t a problem, but the culture and language make it much more difficult to bond with them. Lately though, I’ve found some people from Rugao to spend some time with trying local food and playing badminton.
I’m starting to adapt. That means separating the really important things I miss about home from the not so important. The things I miss most are:
The 4th of July
This halfway period falls right around the 4th of July, and it sucks. For me, the 4th is the most important holiday. It’s the least complicated and the most fun. Fireworks, swimming, barbecuing, drinking, and enjoying the summer—that’s all there is to it.
I’ve been drinking a lot of Nescafe here. It doesn’t even look like coffee. When you live in the Pacific Northwest, coffee is a way of life. In the summer I switch to drinking iced coffees and relaxing at one of my favorite coffee houses like Northwest, Sterling, Café Olé, or Anna Bananas.
Strangely enough, I really miss eating Asian food. Mostly this is because I LOVE Thai food, which isn’t readily available in Rugao. Chinese food can also be quite different from province to province and the food we eat in the U.S. is usually from places like Hong Kong. It doesn’t resemble the food in Rugao at all.
Beer, Wine, and Spirits
There just isn’t a down-season for beer in Oregon. In the winter there are Ninkasi IPAs and heavier beers. In the summer there are all kinds of summer ales and lighter selections, not to mention an endless carousel of beer and wine festivals. I miss whiskey, too. In China they drink baijiu, which is a hard alcohol “rice wine.” It’s usually terrible. Recently, I tried a very high quality brand and I actually really liked it. Still, it’s not exactly Kentucky bourbon or Irish whiskey.
Oregon and Portland’s non-stop Fun
Rugao has 1.5 million people, but it’s really just a sleepy little town without much to do. Portland only has about half a million people but it also has an urban vibe and a ton of fun things to do. It’s a year-round revolving door of great food, drink, concerts, festivals, activities, and entertainment. It’s an hour drive to East to Mt. Hood or an hour drive to the West to the beach. If none of those things seem interesting, it’s also easy to go to Seattle, take a trip down the 101, or head to California to see the Redwoods.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) puts Portland at right around 50. That’s within the best-rated “green level.” The rural areas around Portland are even lower. Rugao, which is famous for its “low pollution” is usually around 100-150. We’ve had some really bad days, too, when it got closer to 300. The other day at 4AM I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me.
I’ve been running on-and-off since I I competed in track in high school, but I’ve gotten a lot more serious about it over the last year or so. I’d just gotten over some injuries, and my performance was exploding. I even competed in some races and actually did really well. Then I came to China where the rules of the road are chaotic and everyone parks on the sidewalk. The heat made it difficult. The pollution made it more so. It’s also pretty hot, so eventually, I just succumbed to being a couch potato.
Everything in China is so complicated. Just for example, I tried to buy 4 train tickets but the ticket office didn’t accept Chinese bankcards. This is 2014! What sort of major business only accepts cash? Of course, I didn’t have several thousand RMB in my pocket so I had to run to find a bank. Then they needed all four passport numbers, but we only had two. This was to buy a train ticket from one Chinese city to another. No one will check my passport. I am not leaving the country. I swear, I have to show my passport to legally pass gas in this country.
China can be difficult and I miss many things about home, but it’s a worthwhile experience. I’m learning a lot and having a good time. I’m finding my stride here, which is a good thing. Before I know it, I’ll be heading home and wondering where the time went.