Mushi虫 or Zhāng蟑? – Bugs in Japan and China.

Have you ever had a bug the size of a chestnut in your house? How about one the size of a baby mouse that can also fly? In China you can find all sorts of bugs and creatures. Some are outside, crawling the streets along with the rats, some are in the markets waiting to become barbecue. I definitely had a bug infection in my home back in China, at least once or twice. In the end, they all go away in the winter and there’s always “ayi” 阿姨 (cleaning ladies) that can help you get rid of them faster.

But have you seen the bugs in Japan? Starting with the noisy cicadas and ending with the small cockroaches that try to get into your home every summer start, bugs in Japan are as bad as the ones in China. In my first year in Japan, I woke up to the deafening noise of the cicadas almost everyday in the summer. I first thought they were fire or earthquake alarms, ice-cream trucks, anything but bugs. When my co-worker told me that she got waken up by the – and I quote – “stupid flying bugs”, I was shocked that some insects can make this horrible noise. Especially while reproducing.

I have never tried to eat any bugs nor live with them in the same place, but I got to know them well during these few years spent in China and Japan. I can say for sure that they are different from the ones in Europe (especially the cicadas). But in the end, we have to cohabitate. That’s why I never kill bugs…just throw it out of my balcony as fast as possible!

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Shopping Malls: where to go shopping?

We all love shopping. The 21st century has made us addicted to walking in a tall buildings and watching shinny things in glass windows. It’s an addiction for both women and men, the circle of money. And malls are a big part of this circle.

In China, shopping malls are mostly full of brand stores and expensive restaurants. The minimum you spend in a mall is between 200 and 600RMB (almost 100US$) which is a lot of money compared to the outdoor markets. The supermarkets in malls are usually expensive and with foreign brands (even for cheese and meat). The cheapest restaurants are fast food and the expensive ones are indoor barbecue restaurants. There are karaoke rooms and cinemas in almost every big mall. And the people that go there are usually nicely dressed and obsessed with taking pictures and posting them on social media. But most foreigners in China go to shopping mall in order to find better quality products and a small taste of the food from their home countries.

Japan has a way of being the opposite of China in many ways. In Japan, malls are used for convenience. You can find stores for everything in the big shopping malls, not only brands. A typical mall in Japan has 4 or 5 floors with stores like: clothing shops, socks and accessories, book stores, cosmetics, stationary, tech departments, household things, supermarkets and food courts (sometimes, many others). The food courts have restaurants of all type and the prices are not too high. The supermarkets have bento弁当food (a box-packed meal with Japanese food) which you can even heat up and eat at the food courts. Some malls even have the “hyakuen shoppu” 100円ショップ (100 Yen Shop – a store with everything at 100 yen=1 US$).

In China I was scared to enter a mall and in Japan I couldn’t get out of it. In Europe and other western countries a mall is just a place to spend time, meet friends, maybe do some shopping. In China and Japan it’s an entire culture created around it and if you don’t keep an open eye, you can end up spending a lot of money on nothing. Like me.

 

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我不说中文。/ I don’t speak Chinese. – The language barrier

The language part was quite different. I have many friends that have lived in China and can speak only the basic Chinese to order food and go to the bus station. I myself couldn’t speak more than 50 words in Chinese in my first year. Most of us complain that Chinese is difficult to pronounce and has millions of “hanzi” 汉字 (Chinese characters), but in the end it’s actually our laziness that keeps us from leaning the language of the country in which we live. In 6 months of study at the Shenzhen University (only the Chinese beginner language course) I discovered that I actually enjoyed the language, it was like a puzzle that needed to be solved with every lesson. But people usually chose either work or study, and in China they mostly chose work because of the high salaries and the easy workload. And Chinese people want to speak English, so the pressure to learn Chinese is not that high – you will always find some nice Chinese friends that will help you with anything just so they can speak to you in English.

In Japan it’s the opposite, most of the “gaijin” come here to study and then work. Without speaking Japanese you cannot get a better job than English teaching. My Japanese level was very low when I first arrived, but it wasn’t 0. That helped a lot with my study, much better than in China. In almost 8 months I could speak as much Japanese as I spoke Chinese after 2 years. Was it the culture influence? The people? Indeed, I’ve noticed that Japan obligates you in an involuntary way to learn the language, in order to live here longer. The English teachers are the most isolated from the Japanese language because they’re not allowed to speak Japanese at work (the “English only” rule). But anywhere else, you have to speak Japanese. The pressure comes even from your fellow “gaijin” friends!

I have tried to learn both and make my way into both societies: use Baidu maps in China, go to the hair-salon in Japan and talk in Japanese to my hairdresser, order food online in an “hanzi”-only website, talk to old ladies in the park about how beautiful the cherry blossoms are…and other weird conversational situations. Japanese and Chinese are indeed difficult languages and living in these countries is not enough to learn them. Without stubbornness, you can’t learn either of them, and you’ll be lost and confused in the two “promised lands”.

 

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I’m hungry: food in Japan or China?

A lot of you guys have asked me which food I like best, Chinese or Japanese food. Now I like both, but when I first moved to Asia it was completely different.

Coming from a country with a lot of meat and potatoes and bread, the change to Asian rice and fish was indeed a culture shock. A colleague from my university who was studying in China had warned me about Chinese food and how she god sick for the first 2 weeks from it. I was lucky not to get sick, but I couldn’t eat meat for a few weeks when I first arrived in China. Everything looked oily and disgusting. The rice was dry and barely chew-able. The free lunch from the kindergarten cafeteria was just a way of making me feel more like a spoiled brat. But after a while I discovered some Chinese food that I really liked: baozi包子 (Chinese bun with meat or vegetables inside), fried noodles, any broccoli and cauliflower dish, omelet with tomatoes (the less sweet kind) and of course, my favorite – qiezi茄子(eggplant dishes).

The food in China is way cheaper, compared with the one in Japan. But the food quality in Japan cannot be beaten by any other country. The raw meat in sushi and the vegetables which you can find in any dish, they all make Japanese food healthier that any kind of food that I’ve ever eaten. You can find healthy food in China too, if you know where to look (I miss the steamed vegetables and BBQ so much!). And China has a higher advantage of healthiness against Japan: fruits! The fruits are very expensive in Japan, unlike China where farmers come and sell them in the city for very low prices.

The taste buds are different from person to person, so if I would tell you which kind of food is better, most of you would probably have a different taste. So why not go to China and Japan and enjoy the real food by yourself?

 

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Where to be an expat: China or Japan?

Because many people have asked me where in was better, 日本 or中国, I’ve decided to clear that up for those who still have the questions. How are foreigners treated in these two magnificent countries?

I’ve lived in both countryside and huge cities in China and Japan, but the differences were not that big. In China the first thing a foreigner notices is how people stare at him/her…it? So we all say that Chinese are uncivilized and that staring is rude. But have we ever stopped to think that in China…that’s not actually rude? By staring, Chinese people express their admiration and curiosity, they see foreigners as something new, different, beautiful. Of course, in Europe you stare at something that is weird. That would not be the case in China, though. They will treat “the white people” as something far better and advanced than them. You will have the freedom to do and say whatever you like (not insulting, though) and they will still adore you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received special treatment at my workplace or an outdoor event just because I was a young “waiguoren” woman: better salary, better presents, free entrance to social events etc. And after a while, it starts to feel less weird and you actually get to enjoy it.

In Japan,things are pretty different. The Japanese society considers you, the “white person”, an equal to their society. You will have to work as hard as the Japanese, speak the language like them, eat like them and not act differently in any way. When I first arrived in Japan I felt so bad for not being able to follow all the rules. It’s embarrassing to see others be polite and well structured, while you’re the one walking on the right side of the road instead of the left one. Sometimes you might get compliments for your big eyelashes or your natural curly hair, but that’s the most you will receive in Japan.

So which one is better? I’ll let you guys decide that for me. Have a day full of cherry blossoms! ^_^

 

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Gaijin/Waiguren Girl.

I’m Alex, a Romanian born in 1991 who’s travelling the world by living in different countries. I’m 170 cm, average weight and normal brown hair and hazel eyes. But I’m a “外人, gaijin” or a “外国人, waiguoren”, so nothing normal about that.

I moved to China in August 2014 and in Japan in August 2016. I studied Japanese in university and Chinese in China, but that didn’t help with the culture shock and the experiences that I’ve been through. So this blog is about how it is to move from a European country to an Asian one. Maybe in the future I’ll extend it to other countries, but for now let’s stick to China and Japan.

Why did I start this blog? Many people were surprised that I’ve lived in both China and Japan and the first question in their mouth was “which do you like best?”. I could never answer this question and it took so long to explain why. I’m gonna talk here about everything that I liked and hated while living in these amazing countries: moving to a new apartment, food, dating, drinking, traveling and many many many (めっちゃ, meccha) more. You will also see the most used words in these countries and how they influence the life of a foreigner (hence the name: gaijing/waiguoren). I’ll be funny and critical, maybe offensive, but always try to tell the truth (from me and my friends’ perspective).

If you have questions you can leave them in the comments and I’ll respond as soon as possible. Don’t be internet trolls or assholes, nobody likes them, and as my optimistic side would say “it’s easier to like than to hate”. So thanks for reading and can’t wait to read your comments! ^^

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