We all have had those days – when no one seems to understand a thing we say in Mandarin, everything is chaos, and it seems like the universe is out to get you somehow. This is what my friends and I call having a ‘China day’; a day when living in China is excruciatingly frustrating and all you want to do is buy a plane ticket to anywhere else. While living in China is exciting and fun, there are many challenges you can face on a day to day basis that you wouldn’t have even thought of back home.
Many things can be frustrating: the language, the food, the energy and bustle of larger cities, cultural misunderstandings, and little things like how to read a menu or pay your utilities. There are endless opportunities for work and play, and life in China can be rewarding if you manage your stress and learn a bit.
As one of my good friends told me, everything in China can be difficult, but nothing is impossible. Here are some suggestions about how to deal with some common frustrations.
1. Get a massage
Feeling stressed out? Angry at the fact that some days no one seems to understand a thing you say in Mandarin, even though you are most likely saying it correctly? A massage will help you escape the street and stress and get away for a while.
There are so many places to choose from, ranging from a quick foot massage to a two-hour body massage. While there are many massage establishments in China, be careful about the one you choose and ask a friend for a recommendation. If you are in Shanghai, the Dragonfly is pricey but excellent, and they speak English.
2. Take a day trip or weekend trip
With China’s mass network of high speed railways, taking a day trip is easy. If you live in a major city, hop on a bullet train to a nearby town to escape the chaotic energy for a few hours.
If you’re not sure where you can go, do a little research beforehand of the best nearby places to visit. Or, if you need a longer break and have some cash to spend, there are so many amazing places all around China within a two or three hour flight or overnight train, and domestic airline tickets usually aren’t too expensive. Take a look at Ctrip to find some good deals!
Getting out of town for a day or two and exploring can help you reset and remind you of all the things you love about where you live.
3. Eat familiar food
There are some days when I can’t stand to eat another bowl of noodles or plate of dumplings and just need something close to home. There are loads of western restaurants in most first and second tier cities in China – even getting a hot latte might help.
If you’re feeling homesick or just tired of eating the same things head to a foreign restaurant you know of and treat yourself. On days when I feel homesick I treat myself to a large burger and fries, or a spicy dish of Mexican tacos! This is a nice little reset and I find myself craving my favorite Chinese dishes the next day.
4. Exercise and sleep
Exercise is one of the best things known to help with stress. Grab your sneakers and head outside for a jog, do some yoga at home, or head to a gym or studio to sweat a bit. Be careful of the air pollution; if the air quality index is too high you may do more harm than good. Exercising brings you to the present moment and makes you focus on what you are doing, so you forget about your prior frustrations.
Likewise, taking a break from the day and getting some shut-eye will help. Sometimes you just need to leave everything alone and take a nap, and that’s okay. A nap can help turn a bad day around. Remember to take good care of and be nice to yourself!
5. Remember why you’re here
One day I was having a particularly bad day, and I was venting to a friend about how frustrated I was with things in Shanghai. I was frustrated that no matter how much Mandarin I studied people didn’t seem to understand me, taxi drivers were seemingly very rude that day, and the air pollution was bad. She surprised me when she said “You know, you don’t have to be here. You can move anywhere else whenever you want.”
While this comment frustrated me at the time, it was so true. Although things can be tough when you’re living abroad, remember to practice some gratitude. Your day to day life in China is unique and you are probably in contact with many interesting people and things you wouldn’t meet or do otherwise.
We often take our day to day interactions for granted and what was once foreign has now become normal. Try and remember all the good things about where you live, and the bad day will pass. Hang in there and you’ll be loving life soon again!