A funny little thing as I grow older, is that my concept of time feels somewhat warped. Either things are going really slow or really fast, there seems to be no inbetween anymore. I either feel like I am 11 or 88. Becoming 30 is weird.
Of course when you are not 30, right up until you are 29 or so, it feels very far away. And most people around me liked to sum up all the things I for sure would do, change or become before or once I hit that milestone. It is now becoming 50, but that is way too far ahead for now. So I thought it would be a good moment to take stock and see if these predictions were actually true or not.
- Having a lot of stuff: not true
Up ’till I moved to China 5 years ago, I loved having stuff. Almost half of it was with my parents, because I did not feel like moving it around all the time, and the other half I mostly used. I also tended to buy quite some physical things still, mainly books. Which are great to read, but also pretty heavy to carry. Then I moved 4 times in the last 5 years, and my view changed. I started to question this whole idea of wanting or needing to have stuff, and managed to cut down on a lot of it. Being back in the Netherlands, having almost everything in 1 spot now and knowing what I have is very satisfying. I thought things would just pile up as I got older, but it turned out to be a choice, not a natural course of life.
- Not fitting in my clothes anymore: (mostly) not true
I used to consume a lot of food, and I still do, especially compared to most Dutch people. When I was younger, I combined this with a fast metabolism, half-hearted attempts at sports and generally convincing myself I was okay with not being very thin. Fast forward to 2019 and I started doing aerial silks fanatically. Not only is it the first sport in years that I actually enjoy, but it is also a pretty good way to ensure I am not going to grow out of my clothes anytime soon. Only perhaps in shoulder width, but my belly is flatter than it was 5 years ago. Also, now owning multiple pairs of yoga pants will also help me fitting in my clothes for the next 10 years.
- Getting children: not true
I have never really liked children and it is largely mutual. I try to look menacing to any kid that comes within 1.5 meters reach. When I was still young, around 12 or something, my mom once joked that there could be babies falling from the skies. I told her mortified that I would never go out again if that happened. Many people told me I would change my mind once I got older. I have not yet and I do not think it will happen. Especially now I have the age where more people around me get babies and I see more of them. Babies are not cute, they cannot do anything themselves and they cannot communicate anything clearly. I would much rather have a cat in that case. Which I coincidentally do.
- Stop crying: not true
How I wish this one would be true. I do not bruise easily, but I cry really easily. I think for the longest time I held out hopes that I would grow out of it and when I was younger I had the perception that adults never or only rarely cried. Perhaps it would only happen around the times that my hormones were whack and I could blame my period. Alas, it did not work and it is probably the reason I drink 6 liters of tea every day. I need to keep myself hydrated so I am ready whenever I need to be.
- Reading the paper daily: true
With one of my best friends I have the running jokes that everything I know or hear about I get from the newspaper. It is true about 90% of the time. I used to be very ignorant about the news and everything happening in the world, probably like more teenagers, but it all changed in my second year of university. I took some journalism courses and learned to understand the importance of knowing what is happening around you. Further than your parents’ backyard. I now think time spent reading the news is time well-spent. I will become one of those elderly people who will complain about all the bad things happening and how it was better in my days. I am earnestly practicing for it.
Nostalgia only gets worse the further you get from when things took place. Granted, it has only been half a year since I moved back to the Netherlands. It is probably a mix of being afraid I am stuck somewhere I tried to escape and being asked about China a lot (I am an expert after all).
I am also again in a bigger city which makes me probably see the differences a lot sharper. So here is some other stuff I noticed I am missing.
- Feeling no remorse about ignoring people on the street who want to sell me something.
- Blending in with the crowd.
- Mobile payments being quick and easy.
- Big shopping malls with food courts.
- Being high and having a view of a sprawling city.
- Parks with older people exercising and being way too good at tai chi, wushu or stretching.
- Chinese chess, mahjong or playing cards on the street.
- The variety of vehicles on the road.
- Zooming past people biking as fast as you can walk.
- Asking for something to get repaired and having someone come over the next day (even though it probably will not really help).
- Stores being open 7 days a week until 22.00 in the evening.
- Going to the newest restaurant because new stuff opens every month.
Conveniently, this is also a great way to remind myself of all the things I will be able to look forward to once I have a chance to go again. On the other hand, there were many things infuriating and frustrating about life in China.
Life in your own country just does not seem really exciting somehow. But I know very well that I am also very spoiled. Luckily, the good thing about having lived abroad for a while is being able to deal with spoiled people. Even if it is just yourself.
I remember that wanting to tell people the expat life has its glamorous moments, but in the end local life is largely the same anywhere. Something I should also tell myself now.
Service in China is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, things are possible here that are totally unacceptable in the Netherlands. On the other hand, things are impossible here that are generally accepted in the Netherlands.
- Calling a waiter or waitress – Admittedly, this is not as common anymore as before. The rise of Western-style restaurants also brings with it the usual struggles to attract someone’s attention. But there are still plenty of establishments where you will hear a “FUWUYUANR” regularly in between all the other conversations. I highly prefer it to side-eyeing, cheerleader-waving or raising-your-hand-up-as-if-you-know the answer motions.
- Making a mess – Whether it is yourself or the table, it is almost always accepted without any comments. Bones, fish grates, shells are all nasty and troublesome, but at least you can easily get them out of your sight by just dispensing them on the floor. Provided your hand-eye coordination is reasonable and you do not accidentally hit yourself.
- Free refills – I remember that there was still a discussion in the Netherlands if you could get free tap water. Also, if you order a cup of tea in most restaurants or coffee tents, you will have to pay the full price again for a second cup of steaming water in which you will use your first teabag. Not so in China. In most places you can refill water and tea endlessly until you feel uncomfortable about having had more free than paid drinks throughout your stay.
- Your living room from home – Unless it is really crowded, you can generally lounge the entire afternoon in one spot. Order one drink and refer to the point above to make sure you are hydrated throughout your stay. Most waiters will only approach you to refill your glass, or ignore you. They are also very skilled in doing that.
- Service without a smile – Some jobs can be very boring or mind-numbing. And you can see it right of their faces. People will serve you with as less interest in you or their job as possible. Not looking at you, doing only the bare minimum and certainly without a smile. In that way, many Chinese do look alike.
- Working is optional – I remember that for most of my jobs in the Netherlands, there are quite strict rules about when to use your phone. Not so much in China. Whether there are any clients or not, whether chatting or watching a drama, everyone is certainly not focusing on you.
- Inefficiency – I already mentioned that there are often a lot of people working anywhere and a large part of them are doing nothing. It is a bit similar to my instructions for working at a Chinese Japanese restaurant. Also, when a question is asked, they will be sure to not do anything directly but for example inquire if you are sure that you want what you asked for.
- Passivity – The customer is king is still sometimes the case in China. But that also means that any (illegal) smokers, irritating children, drunken men or screeching women will be accepted and not reprimanded. Jumping in front of you in the line? Pushing you in or out the subway? Being polite or not? It is all accepted as part of life.