It’s a point that’s been done to death, but for the sake of this post, I’ll repeat it here: Americans are spoiled. We are spoiled by our government. We are spoiled by our Constitution. We are spoiled by public transportation, by our education system, even by the weather. (I’m going on 22 years of being an American and I have never once encountered a killer monsoon.) On some level, most Americans are aware that their quality of life is the planet’s best, but this fact isn’t at the forefront of our minds until it’s made to be.
I had one such moment today. I have been engaged in a phone battle with one unnamed American bank for the past 24 hours because my debit card mysteriously stopped withdrawing cash from Chinese ATMs. My mom kindly agreed to wire me money through Western Union so that I wouldn’t starve (read: so that I wouldn’t miss out on my expensive daily coffee). I waltzed into the Western Union located just down the road from Beijing Foreign Studies University, handed over my passport, and waited for my cash. One problem: the money was wired for Alexa Penton, and my passport reads Alexa Lauryn Penton. Frustrated, I texted my mom to see what could be done. After an hour or so, she was able to add my middle name to the transfer. I reentered Western Union, now hungry and with dwindling cash, only to find that the transfer was ready for Alexa Lavryn Penton. With a V. Not a U. A stinking V. After a few more phone calls, I was finally able to get my cash.
On the walk back to my dorm, I realized that such “inconveniences” are abundant for a foreigner living in China. It’s an inescapable reality of life abroad. But I’d like to offer this piece of advice to Americans who are thinking about living in China: I encourage you to look at your everyday inconveniences as what I like to call “Grumbled vs. Humbled” moments. Where I complained (grumbled) to the Western Union worker, I could have easily allowed myself to be humbled by the fact that a whole 450RMB had just been wired to me from around the planet. Like, planet Earth. Within seconds. (Humbled!)
“I can’t believe I don’t have my own bathroom in this dorm room” is a grumble. Why not allow yourself to be humbled by the knowledge that most Chinese students live with 5-7 other roommates in the same size room, and their shared bathrooms only supply hot water during certain hours of the day?
“This market doesn’t sell diet Coke” or “Do I seriously have to boil the water each time I want a drink?” can be turned into a chance to try authentic Chinese tea on Beijing’s famous Tea Street–a once in a lifetime opportunity that will certainly humble you.
I don’t aim to criticize Americans or any other nationality, but simply want to offer a new perspective for those everyday inconveniences that we let ourselves become so frustrated over. China is a difficult, but magical place; allow it to humble you!
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi! My name is Alexa Penton and I'm an undergrad at the University of Mississippi pursuing degrees in Chinese Language and Culture and Art History. I started photography as a hobby in high school, and have since expanded my collection to 10 film cameras and one digital. Most of my photos and videos document my travels at home and abroad. I am particularly inspired by the qualities of light, memories, natural history, nontraditional developing practices, and nontraditional portraiture. I call Orlando, Florida home, but can't wait to spend a whole semester living and learning in Beijing!</span></p>