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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