China-Life Lessons with Ellan

Dear All,

First things first. Why ‘TRMK‘? Well today I can finally tell you. As most of you know, the Chinese word for China is 中国 (Zhongguo), which literally translated means ‘Middle Kingdom’. Today is my first full day as an official temporary resident of China, therefore TRMK means: Temporary Resident of the Middle Kingdom. Welcome to my blog.

It’s hard to summarise a very intense events of these first three weeks into a (sort of) brief email so I shall give you some lessons I have taken on this past month instead.

Lesson 1: Patience is a virtue. Especially when it comes to Chinese bureaucracy. Expect to be rejected at least twice before a) the background on your passport photo is white enough, b) your own signature is good enough, c) you manage to make it to the right office before lunch break. Make it a game. For every hour you spend in line, give yourself another 10 yuan (Chinese dollars) of spending money. Buy plants with your spending money. I now have three.

Lesson 2: Buy plants for your room, an air purifier, filtering masks for external use, a particle counter for your living space, install the US Embassy Air Quality Index App on your phone. Remain amazed at by how very many parts per million your lungs are dealing with on the daily. The World Health Organisation recommends wearing a mask outside when levels reach 25 parts per million. Average day in Beijing in 80. Last week it stayed at 400 for twelve hours. In short, try not to think about emphysema. DO NOT THINK ABOUT EMPHYSEMA.

Lesson 3: Make friends with all the scholars in your dormitory who are likely to have been made to bring pickles, chutneys, spices and seasonings with them by their parents (think India, Sir Lanka, Pakistan, Greece etc.). There will come a time when you are less than excited about noodles and/or rice with wilted greens served in beef water for the third time today, for the seventh day this week, for the third week this month.* Your well-flavoured friends may just invite you to their room for instant curry and pickle in yogurt. New favourite phrase for bland food (Tamil expression): My tongue literally died.

Lesson 4: Road rules are for the weak.

Lesson 5: Sometimes, canteen food is not for the weak.
(I may or may not have had to swiftly exit an evening class on contemporary urban sociology to fetch anti-nausea tablets from my room. Long story short: I didn’t make it. I returned to class an hour later in a completely new outfit and there are now probably dozens of photos all over Chinese social media of yours truly in a compromising position).

Lesson 6: Embrace Chinglish (Chinese English). My top finds thus far are:

  • A tshirt at the airport saying: Lasagne Del Rey (a play on Lana Del Rey the singer)
  • Another tshirt on a very shy looking young many that told the reader: Be unique. Be a flamingo in a flock of penguins.
  • A sign on a public lawn that stated (of the lawn): Please don’t touch me. I am shy. Feet are for the feetpaths, not my soft stalks.

Included are pictures of me being very impressed by a shelf full of toys designed for grown-ups to buy (note the face mask). A picture of me outside my classroom building (note the facemask). And a picture of me and a bunch of new friends in the old city (note the lack of facemask and learn of the trouble I had breathing for the rest of the week).


*This issue is mostly my own fault for being vegetarian and also being unable to read the canteen menus properly yet.


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