It took almost two weeks longer to get my Z visa to China than expected. The good news about that thoroughly frustrating situation is that I got to see more of my family and friends. The bad news about it is that I arrived in a new country only a few days before starting classes with my students. These two and a half weeks have been a blur of medical appointments, lesson planning, teaching, meetings, bank trips, trips to WalMart and IKEA to get my apartment set up, figuring out WeChat (which I am still working on because it is the main mode of communication and payment here – and I just figured out that it even translates messages!) and the simple process of learning the wheres, whats, and hows of a new country.
What is the best way to get to work?
Where do I catch the bus home?
How do I get a water dispenser in my apartment?
Where do I find food I can order when I don’t speak the language – who speaks English or, at least, has an English menu I can point to?
Where do I get coffee? Something I’m finding is hugely challenging unless you want to pay $4 at Starbuck’s!
Where is the bank?
A new city always means learning the basics – and a new city where you don’t speak the language creates its own set of challenges. I also discovered that the VPN issue in China is real. Without a VPN, many helpful websites are blocked. WeChat and a VPN are your best friends.
Fortunately, I live directly across the street from a WalMart and a mall so I have access to anything I need and won’t starve. These past few weeks – fighting jet lag, preparing for classes, and trying to get the paperwork for my residency – it’s just been hard to find the energy and time to get things done. But, thanks to a typhoon day and a few good nights of sleep, I am finally starting to feel normal.
I haven’t had a chance to see much of my new city other than the paths to and from work or other obligations, but the area I’m in is beautifully green. I love the trees that line the sidewalks and the water fountains placed in strategic locations and the street cleaners with their stick brooms and big hats to protect them from the glaring sun. I love the little kiosk huts that dot the sidewalks in place of the convenient stores that I became accustomed to in Taipei. And I have had no problem finding Western food if I am craving a good pizza or French fries or even a salad. But I’ve only found one street food cart serving buns and dumplings and feel as though I haven’t yet seen the true China.
Shenzhen is what I expected and not what I expected. There is construction going on everywhere as it is the fastest growing city here. There are tall, modern buildings near older, somewhat dilapidated buildings and others in between. There’s English but not everywhere or even as much as I found in Taipei. And there has only been a little bit of culture shock.
The first week here felt like a picture that was out of focus. The people looked different and dressed differently than in Taiwan. But the humidity and the heat were the same. The city smells different. The food is similar but different – more meat, less vegetarian options, less tofu, more potatoes and pasta. There aren’t 7-11s on every corner or drink shops side-by-side, but there are pizza joints and cafes and other restaurants everywhere! The people are kind but more aggressive with less smiles. The scooters are different, smaller and less prominent than the cars. The buses are a better option most of the time than the subway, at least where I live. And taxis don’t always have their light on when they’re available so you just stick your hand out every time you see one.
The picture is more in focus now. I’ve adjusted. I don’t expect it to be just like Taiwan now. I knew that intellectually when I arrived but, in my tiredness and in trying to adjust, I still emotionally expected it. I literally compared everything to Taiwan…and it always fell short. Now I am starting to look at it as its own city with its own pros and cons and not keep score. I can’t wait to see more of the city and discover what makes Shenzhen unique and special in its own right.
A new city and new challenges – I see good times ahead!