Second Impressions of the Middle Kingdom

Beijing. The Northern Capital. I was spellbound when I visited it last year in December. Back then, I had no idea that I would return exactly ten months later to live… and work. I never had any grand aspirations of visiting China. Truth be told, this is probably the last place on earth I thought I would wind up. 

But I’m here. 

Who would have thought? Not me… 

I’m actually pretty far from Beijing. I’m in Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. It’s a seven hour journey by bullet train and if you’re thinking of taking the local – it’ll take you all night. Serious. I half-contemplated going back there for New Years’ Eve this year, but then I decided that I should try something new; and there’s someplace else that I’d like to go. 

My new home city Hangzhou is just an hour south of Shanghai by bullet train. I wish I could tell you a bit about the city – but I’ve got nothing. 

It’s been ten days since I got here but I started work the day after I arrived so I was busy busy busy. I desperately needed a couple of days to myself – to just be alone and relax and unwind my brain from other people’s stuff. I have not had a single day all to myself since… April this year. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from other people’s energy. 

I did my best at my first week of work, and then pretty much collapsed in my room for two days. I was unable to function. Every inch of me felt exhausted. And then I woke up this morning finally feeling okay. My batteries were recharged and ready. 

Although I’m not in a megacity like Beijing or Shanghai, the smog that hangs over the city is still there. There are good days and bad days. Somedays I look out and am surprised to see clear skies. And other days it’s so polluted I can barely make out the next building. This is despite the fact that I live in an area that’s full of trees and is pretty far away from any factories. 

I’m still staying in a hotel as I wait to figure out the whole apartment situation. In many ways China is very similar to Japan and in other ways it couldn’t be more different. I’m still trying to figure things out, find my way and get the ball rolling. I’m just taking it all in and taking it a day at a time.

China is not a place to describe. It is an experience. 

Although I love love love Chinese food, the food here in Hangzhou is taking a bit of getting used to. After all, I mainly existed on a Japanese diet of fresh fish, cabbage, miso soup and plain rice for close to four years. Although accustomed to Chinese food growing up, these days it startles my taste buds. Everything is too salty, too sour, too oily and not spicy enough. We Singaporeans may love our chilli with everything – but the people of Zhejiang Province don’t share my fondness for a numb tongue. 

I still can’t believe I’m actually in China…

Hmm… about that… 


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