Take my bed. When I moved into a furnished apartment in China, I plopped on the bed only to immediately worry I'd bruised my tailbone. OK, it's not that hard, but after a few months I'm fairly sure it's only a box spring with minimal fluffs of padding atop a slab of wood.
Then on a typical day en route to work, I join dozens in competing for sidewalk space that's already cramped with parked bikes, scooters and cars. Much like cattle, we shove, weave and jostle from Point A to B. There's no polite avoidance of bumping shoulders — instead, I've learned to push through.
However, I've learned that physical discomfort is just part of the expat experience. And in my search for personal comforts, many internal questions have plagued me, like:
•Say I've joined a friend in sipping tequila from a water bottle outside a club where I'll later enjoy free cocktails. Pause to clink our cups to Ladies Night. Where will I find the Velveeta mac 'n' cheese I used to eat straight from the pot to soothe my hungover soul?
•Maybe it's been a long day chasing 6 year olds around a classroom, or coaxing responses from reluctant teens, or feigning excitement about what sound "ay" makes. With my sweats in a Colorado storage unit and a wi-fi connection too weak to stream Netflix, how do I unwind?
The answers came to me as I redefined my comforts, improvising with what I have.
Unwilling to fork out currency for a padded mattress cover, I've topped my bed with a new duvet and cheap pillows to make it feel like "mine."
On my walk to work, I keep a podcast rolling to take my mind my mind off the crowded streets. Towering above other subway-goers, I tune into a song that suits my mood and sway to the beat until we reach my stop.
There's a little Sichuan restaurant near our school that has Dandanmian as good as any pseudo cheese-covered pasta I could make at home.
And thanks to the men's section at Walmart, I have a pair of XL sweatpants to put on at home. I've also staked out wi-fi's sweet spot when I need mindless TV.
What's helped the most, though, are hanging photos in my room. Taping pictures of my friends and family to the wall, I've surrounded myself with the familiar. I come home to memories of spontaneous road trips and hiking adventures, to family vacations and views from mountaintops.
In my own little corner of Beijing, I've figured out how to still have Colorado comfort me.