The China Monologues

Allow me to vent

I towered behind the couple. A sweat-soaked giant, irritated with yet another road block.

"Come on, people," I muttered under my breath. "Pick up the pace."

It was hot, I was late and these two were strolling under a frilled parasol.

So goes my daily commute.

I've expounded on the many wonders of expat life. But no experience — no matter how incredible — is free from small things that can make a girl temporarily crazy. Thanks for allowing me a moment to vent.

NO SUCH THING AS HYGIENE: The old man loudly clears his throat, summoning up all saliva and mucus in his reserves. Then, with practiced skill, he hocks a loogie that could drown a sizeable cockroach. Splat. There it lies, ready for someone to unwittingly step in.

Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

And there goes the soundtrack of Beijing streets.

What with the uncovered coughing, or unabashedly picking of noses on the subway, there's little people (especially men) won't do. Plus, after you've just squatted over a questionably dirty hole, soap is rare in bathrooms.

Thank god for hand sanitizer.

PUSH AND SHOVE: No one likes lines. I know I don't. But I do respect I do respect them and the purpose they serve.

Here, not so much.

While standing in line for a subway security check, I noticed the person in front of me was different. A few moments later, a new back was there.

Yep. I was being repeatedly cut by the most persistent and pushy of the populous: the senior, 5-foot-nothing local woman.


Here, cutting in line is a show of how clever you are. Only fools stand in line. The cunning slyly slip ahead of the unwitting or distracted. Or in my case, ignorant foreigner.

Nine months in, I've lost my patience. So that day, I fought back: Standing 10 inches taller, I took the scrawny linebacker stance, threw my arms out and braced my legs to block the path.

Push as they may — and they did — they couldn't get past the deranged laowai standing like a stretched-out fool. "You shall not pass," I said, channelling Gandalf.

LANGUAGE BARRIERS: After months of intermittent study, I am able to communicate, but barely. While I've recently picked up my efforts, I'm sure any 4-month-old baby could garble more intelligible sentences than I can.

Day to day, I muddle my way through basic interactions. Like an awkward parrot, I mimic my teacher's tones. But I'm also quite sure of the few things I do know.

So imagine my slight irritation when they appear puzzled as I make a basic request. Or as they smirk at my foreign accent. Selective comprehension on their part. Discouraging for this timid Chinese-language novice.

Ah, I feel better after that rant. Now I'll promptly STFU and go on enjoying the hell out of expat life.

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