It’s funny the things we fear in life.
Sharks. Snakes. Spiders. Clowns.
Whatever your fears, no matter how legitimate or ridiculous, they can often be quite debilitating and keep us from experiencing much of what this world has to offer (like the time my fear of spiders kept me from exploring that one cave in Belize!).
When we first arrived in China, I developed a similarly limiting fear to my fear of spiders, and one that I must say I have never felt before: a fear of crossing the street.
Yes, one of the most difficult — terrifying! — aspects of living in China is crossing the street.
It’s not so much that the traffic is dense, though it certainly is. It’s just that it never seems to stop. And it definitely doesn’t seem as though that whole pedestrian has the right-of-way rule applies here. For the first month or so that we lived here, I would look out our apartment window at all the traffic and feel overwhelmed by the chaos. I can’t possibly go to the grocery store today — it’s on the other side of the road!
But as with all things we fear in life, sometimes we just have to face them. We have to find a way to confront them. We have to conquer them. Or they will ruin us.
And such was the case with learning how to cross the street in China.
Slowly but surely, I began to figure out the “rules.” The most important thing is to find a group of people waiting to cross the street and join in their clump. Focus on the traffic that is coming in your direction first. Wait until you have a clearing and then cross when the rest of the group goes. Stand to the far side of the group, so that if a car does come out of nowhere, they won’t hit you first. Gosh, that sounds so heartless now that I say it … but it’s true! Make sure you stay safe and let them be responsible to cross the street on their own. Once you get to the middle of the road, your group will pause and wait for a clearing in the other direction. If you can, switch to the opposite side of the group so you’re not the first in line to get hit. Most importantly: never stop looking in both directions the entire time you are crossing the street!
With time, I have also found plenty of foot bridges to cross instead of directly crossing the road. For most grocery store runs, I may only have to cross one street because there are so many bridges or side streets available. It may require a bit of planning so as to ensure I take the best route, but it’s really not as complicated as I originally thought. This experience has helped me realize not to take the small conveniences of life in the U.S. for granted, but also not to assume I will never be able to assimilate to a particular aspect of another culture simply because it is scary at first.
What we’ve been up to:
I can’t believe we’ve been here for six months already. Wow. At times it seems as though we have been here an eternity, while at others it seems as though we just stepped off the plane yesterday.
As much as we may find it difficult at times to settle in to expat life here in China, that struggle has certainly not kept us from getting out of the house (well, once I learned to cross the street, that is!) to explore this fascinating world around us (like when we recently ate pig spine!). I thought I’d take some time out to catch you up on a few things we’ve been up to over the past month …
Vietnam and Cambodia trip
We spent two weeks traveling through southern Vietnam and Cambodia. I know, I know, two weeks is not nearly enough time to see this incredible part of Southeast Asia. I think two weeks in southern Vietnam alone would not even be enough! There’s so much to see and so much culture to absorb. But alas, we don’t have the luxury to travel at our own pace as work responsibilities limit our travels to only one or two weeks at a time every couple of months. Not that we’re complaining. I mean, how many people do you know that get to travel to another country (or two!) every few months? This lifestyle won’t last forever, so we’re just soaking it all in while we have the opportunity.
We spent four days in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. Highlights included exploring Viet Cong tunnels, learning the Vietnamese perspective on the Vietnam War / the War of American Aggression, and sailing through the estuaries of the Mekong River. We’ll be covering this trip in detail over the coming months, but suffice to say, Saigon is one of my favorite places I have ever traveled (even though crossing the street there is equally as challenging as in China!). Can’t wait to share more with you guys, so stay tuned!
Cambodia was also an amazing trip, though very different from Vietnam (but I’ll explore more of that concept down the road!). We spent the first two days exploring the capital city of Phnom Penh, where we learned about the tragic recent history of Cambodia under the reign of Khmer Rouge, during which time over 3 million of the country’s 8 million residents were killed in just over three years. Many visitors to Cambodia choose to avoid the sites that focus on this aspect of the country’s history, but we feel very strongly that it is important to learn about the history of a place, no matter how unpleasant and heartbreaking, in order to better understand the country’s culture and economy today. From Phnom Penh, we headed by bus to Siem Reap, our base for exploring the temples at Angkor. We spent three days climbing all over these spectacular ruins.
Tianjin City shopping spree
We live outside of the city of Tianjin in north China, so we don’t always get to take advantage of all the shopping and culinary experiences available in the bigger cities. A few weekends ago, some friends of ours took us into Tianjin for a day of shopping at the flower market. Sounds exciting, huh? A whole day with flowers? Don’t let the name fool you too much. Although there are certainly flowers there, they have a lot more, including fabulous wood sculptures, wall hangings, furniture, and life-sized ceramic Mao statues. We came away with a few unique wooden stools, as well as a traditional Chinese circle shelf. Sadly, we were unable to buy this warrior guy.
After shopping most of the day, we stopped at a local restaurant, tucked away behind some larger buildings, to eat “choose your own noodles.” Ok, so I’m not sure that’s technically the correct name, but it’s what everyone around here seems to call them. You start by choosing your own raw ingredients (vegetables, meats, noodles, etc.) and then pass your plate back to the kitchen where they boil your selection into a delicious couldron of noodly goodness. When your bowl is ready, they signal you to come select your spices. I go heavy on the red pepper and fresh cilantro. Oh my goodness, I could eat this every day of my life. Ugh, I have to stop looking at the picture, I can’t handle such temptation!
The Forbidden City in Beijing
The Forbidden City, where the Emperor and his family would live, is an absolutely mind-blowingly huge complex. It’s definitely one of the more famous sites to visit when in China and I can’t believe it took me six months to get there! Although I enjoyed our visit and found it quite impressive, I must be honest … I’ve seen a lot lately and am beginning to lose a bit of my travel mojo!
Upcoming adventures and life events over the next few months:
— I’ll begin teaching English twice a week to a group of Chinese engineers.
— I’ll be heading to Thailand for two weeks in April to meet up with my dad. We’ll spend most of our time in Bangkok and the northern Thai cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Our goal is to relax and soak up as much of the Thai culture and landscape as possible — not to see as much as we can in two weeks!
— Spring hiking and camping trips to the Great Wall are in the works … crossing our fingers!
— In May, my mom will head to China for a visit — her first time out of the country! I’ll be showing her the sites around Beijing, and we hope to take her for a weekend trip to the area around Datong to visit the Longmen Caves, which have giant Buddhas carved into the sides of cliffs.
— Justin turns 30 at the end of May!
— In June, we’ll travel back to Thailand to celebrate our 3-year wedding anniversary on the beaches of Krabi. Please don’t hate us!
Stay tuned over the next few months for coverage of our time in Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as more reflections on our visit to the Forbidden City and sites throughout Beijing. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing several guest posts to allow me time to catch up on some of my other work, as well as to broaden the range of destinations we’re able to cover through this website.
What kinds of adventures do you have planned for the coming months? Share below!