I already wrote about why living in China can be annoying, it’s time to write about why living in China is great. About a month after I moved to Shanghai, one of the first non-Chinese people I met asked me how I liked it. I said I liked it, so far. She scoffed and told me, “if you still like it here after two years there’s something wrong with you.”
Well, it’s been two years as of January. I guess there’s something wrong with me. Here’s why I think living in China is great.
The public transportation is amazing
Shanghai has the largest metro system in the world. Downtown, at least, you can’t walk for fifteen minutes without running into a subway station. The cars and stations are crowded, but very clean, and signs and announcements are in both Chinese and English. I’ve started getting impatient if I have to wait more than five minutes for the next train.
If you have to go out to the suburbs, or for any other reason your stop doesn’t drop you off close enough to where you want to go, or maybe you just want some fresh air and exercise. There’s no less than three different bike sharing options you can use. Scan the bike with your phone, and bam! off you go dodging the scooters zooming past you in the bike lane.
What if you get tired of Shanghai, and you want to see a new city? Why, you’d have to sit in a car for hours, or buy an expensive plane ticket! Not in China.
China’s high-speed rail network goes to almost every place you’d want to go, and quite a few places you probably wouldn’t want to. You can ride a train from Shanghai to Beijing in about four and a half hours. That’s four and a half hours to go about 818 miles. For comparison, the driving distance from Chicago to New York is about 790 miles.
There are constantly new routes opening up. The six-hour bus ride you read about in your guidebook is probably now a two-hour comfortable train trip. It’s amazing.
Chinese food is fantastic
Everybody talks about how good Chinese food is, but you don’t really fully appreciate it until you come to China and try it yourself. It’s nothing like the deep-fried stuff back home.
The other day, we wandered into a beef noodle soup shop near our apartment. I asked the lady what was the best thing on the menu, and she recommended something I didn’t totally understand. I ordered two sets of it. In a few minutes, she returned with two bowls of some of the best beef soup I’ve ever had. As we were halfway done with the soup, she came out again, carrying two plates of ribs. They covered in some exotic spice blend I didn’t recognize, with tender meat that just dripped off the bone.
Chinese food is incredibly diverse, too. Shanghainese food is vastly different from Beijing food, which is different from Lanzhou food, which is different from Guangdong food, and so on and so on. Even a simple bowl of noodles will taste different if you travel an hour away.
Experiences like this happen all the time to us here. You can wander into a random restaurant, point to something and end up with an amazing meal.
There are also fast-food chains and big fancy restaurants, but the local food is best experienced in grubby little hole-in-the-wall shops where the waitress is a six-year-old girl and there’s a cat sleeping next to the cash register. It’s cheaper and much more delicious.
The parks are outstanding
I’m living in one of the world’s largest cities, full of top-class nightlife, museums and other entertainment. But, one of my all-time favorite things to do is just walk around in the city parks. Unlike in America, where city planners just slap down some grass and a baseball field and call it a day, Chinese parks are well designed green spaces with plenty of trees and vegetation, winding trails and a buttload of fengshui.
The best parks have hidden alcoves and quiet areas where you can sit, drink some tea, and forget about the modern world for a few minutes. Many are based on classical Chinese designs, and are loaded with peaceful Zen moods.
But, the parks in China aren’t just for relaxing. They’re also social spaces where people come and hang out. Parents bring their children to run around and play. Old men fly kites. People play instruments or sing. Sometimes very off-key. They hold political debates. They write calligraphy with water on the sidewalk. Every park has its own game. Huashan Greenland is the spot to play cards, while Zhongshan Park is where people go for Go.
In the mornings, old guys will bring their pet birds to the parks to socialize. Other people will practice Tai Chi together. In the evening, people get all gussied up for massive public dance parties. Somebody lugs a giant speaker, and the crowd all dances together to music ranging from traditional Chinese loves ballads to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
The parks are the social hubs of the city. Maybe it’s because of the population density. Most Chinese apartments are far too small to hold a good dance party.
The people are why living in China is great
The people are easily the best thing about living in China. No, Chinese people will not say hello to others on the street. Yes, they will stare at you if you don’t look Chinese. When someone does this, you can choose to either growl and walk away, or you can choose to smile and say “你好.”
One time, we needed to make copies of my passport for something. I walked into what looked like a photo printing shop and asked the guy there (in very broken Chinese) if he could make copies. He took me by the arm and led me down the block. We walked into a real estate office, and he said something to the workers there in very fast Shanghainese, handed them my passport, and then motioned me to sit down and wait. The real estate employees came back in five minutes with my passport and the copies. I tried to give them money, but they refused to accept any.
That’s just one example of the kindness and charity I’ve experienced from Chinese people. It’s not even including how accommodating our boss has been with Rachle’s knee injury, or the coworkers that have gone out of their way to help her as she recovers.
Yes, of course, there are a few assholes out there. There are the occasional scammers in the tourist areas, and the occasional merchant who will overcharge you because he knows you’re a not from around here and don’t know any better. For the most part, though, I’ve felt incredibly welcome here.
That’s been the main reason why living in China is so great. It’s why we didn’t leave after our first year, as we’d initially planned. It’s also why I’m feeling motivated to learn Chinese, so that I can actually talk to the variety of interesting, warm hearted people that populate this country.
China has been getting a very bad rap in the Western media for a while now. And yes, quite a lot of it is very justified. But, overall, it’s a fascinating country and a great place to live. After two years, I still like it. If that means there’s something wrong with me, I don’t want to be right.