To say that I have felt challenged since arriving to China would be an understatement.
Since I landed here, I have gotten lost, been unable to communicate, and been unable to find any WIFI spot outside of my place. But the biggest challenge of them all was the language barrier in China, at a time where I needed to communicate the most…..lunch time.
Contrary to most countries I have travelled to before, the number of people I have encountered in China who could actually speak English has been close to none. Finding someone who could speak a bit of English has been as hard as finding a working public WIFI network. This might be because Changchun is not quite the tourist destination in China….oh well.
But nothing has been more challenging than getting food and knowing what I’m getting beforehand. With my Chinese and Mandarin being quite terrible, my understanding of menus and whatever I grab at the grocery store has been nothing less than a nightmare.
My First Grocery
The first order of business on my very first day after arriving was to get some food into my fridge. After all, if I was going to make this place my new home for the next while, I would need to have food to cook for myself. So I walk myself to the nearest grocery store.
It was only once at the grocery store that I realized that things were more complicated than I thought they would be. My lack of Chinese combined to the lack of English on products made this a clusterfuck of an experience.
Picking up detergent. Which one is the detergent and which one is the fabric softener???
Getting snacks. Is that a squid on the package???
Getting milk. Why is it not in a fridge???
Picking up eggs. Why are there so many colors?!?!?!
Even though I did end up finding most of what I wanted, I still picked up many things I’m still unsure about. Time to google how to cook ramen noodles I guess.
My First Restaurant
Saturday night comes and I felt like going out. Better yet, I felt like treating myself, so I take myself out to dinner.
As I walk past some restaurants, I come face-to-face with the brutal realization that Chinese is hard…..not that I didn’t know that already.
Every single sign on every door is written in Chinese! Besides a few fast-food joints and a bar, there was no sign of whether a place was a restaurant, or what type of food they served.
After walking aimlessly for over 30 minutes, I finally took my courage with both hands and walked inside one of them. Once at a table, my waitress comes in:
Ni Hao, I say to her.
Awkward 3 second pause…..
One minute later, she came back with THIS:
Embarrassed, I thought nothing better than to say xièxiè (thank you).
I looked around me, trying to make out what other people were eating so I could easily point at their plate and order the same thing. Nothing.
The waitress came back two minutes later.
Beef?, I ask.
She sends a confused look in response.
Chicken, you have?
She replies something in Chinese.
In a state of panic and no longer wanting to look foolish, I point at an item on the menu and hope for the best.
Don’t get me wrong, all food is food, and I’m of a mentality that you gotta try everything at least once before deciding to not like it. But that night I was not feeling very adventurous.
I should have, because what came next was something I could not imagined ever asking for, not even on a day I’d feel adventurous.
I received a platter of fried fat…..
I’m not sure, so I pointed at the fridge and made a drinking motion with my hand so I could get a beer.
To my surprise, the taste of fried fat was not at all too bad. I ate about half the plate until images of that time I got food poisoning in India came back to mind.
At this time, my first times doing pretty much anything have been hard. The language barrier in China is harder than I thought; however, even though it poses a challenge, I am loving every minute of it.
After all, it is for this feeling of new and of discovery, this feeling of being lost, that attracted me to China.
Ever been challenged by the language barrier? Tell your story!