Moving to China has been on my bucket list since the age of nineteen. I remember driving my Dad crazy, constantly talking about moving to China. Though dormant for a couple of years, this desire soon awakened again when I taught English to two Chinese young men living in Suriname. One of them grew up here, went to school here for eight years, so he understood some Dutch. Thank heavens, because our hour-long-classes sometimes seemed like three hours. The one born here acted as my Interpreter. I have to say, those were some very interesting classes. “Moving to China” again was on the brain. I researched living there as much as I could. Read expat blogs, joined InterNations and made friends with people living in China.
At that time I wanted to live in Beijing, so I researched Beijing extensively. It still is my dream to attend the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU); who knows what the future will bring. It is one of the best universities in China when it comes to learning the Chinese language. We use the books from BLCU at our school.
How did I eventually make the decision to move to China? Well, the year before I turned thirty, I sat down and had an honest conversation with myself. I asked myself if I would die happy if I dropped dead at that moment. The answer was, “HELL NO!” I had put off living my life for various reasons
relationships that ended in nothing, and I finally decided it was time to do what I wanted to do. I had to shake that “unfulfilled” feeling.
Moving to China really changed my life. I always thought I wasted my life, but everything happens at the right time.
Though I researched living in China for almost a year, nothing in the world could have prepared me for some of the things I faced there my first three months. Three things that I had trouble dealing with my first months there:
- It was my first time being a minority.
- Deodorant is HARD to find.
- Sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks are just there for decoration.
Growing up in the Caribbean in a multi-racial country (and a multi-racial family), it never really registered with me that I am a Black woman. Sure, I know what I look like, but it’s not something I had to think about every day. Walking down the streets of China, every single step I took reminded me of my appearance. Can you imagine how uncomfortable I felt my first few months there? When I go to The Netherlands, I am aware that some people have preconceived notions about Surinamese. We live in trees, we don’t have running water, we’re all dirt poor, stuff like that.
Some people even take it up a notch! Because I am a Black Surinamese woman, I MUST be uneducated, four kids by five fathers, living off welfare. These things I’ve heard before from Dutch people, and it doesn’t bother me. To me, that’ just ignorance at its best. There’s been some tension between our countries for a while now. But nothing in the world could have prepared me for my first month in China. Little kids pointed at me or either ran away from me, CRYING! Some people wouldn’t sit next to me on the bus, which was also new to me. I’d never been openly discriminated before. I didn’t know how to deal with it. It bothered me for quite some time. So much, that I even considered returning back home after just two weeks there.
After much consideration, a lot of talks with one of my teachers, I decided to stay. I’m not one to give in to defeat. Never was, never will be. I’m glad I made that decision: those ten months were the best ten months I’ve had in a while! Aside from the Chinese who gave me (what I thought to be dirty looks), there was also the African group giving me the stink-eye. Every single country had their little group, I was the only one left out.
My happiness overflowed when I spotted African students on campus. I thought, “FINALLY people who look like me!” I was so happy… until the women weren’t friendly to me at all. At first it bothered me, because I didn’t speak the language and really wanted to get to know people who’d been there for a while. Guess why they didn’t like me? They said I’m arrogant, because I’m a few shades lighter and have different features. It bothered me for a while, but after a week or two, I was like, “Bye, Felicia! Deuces!”
Moving to China has changed the way I think about race, hygiene, and safety while crossing the street. I had no idea hygiene and safety would be luxuries in China.
And I kid you not! Deodorant isn’t easy to find! I had to go to a mall many foreigners go to. It’s about half an hour by bus from where I live. Guess how many I found? Just one! And it’s not even a brand I use. One of my Chinese friends told me that Chinese don’t wear deodorant, because they don’t need it. They never smell bad. I asked her if she needs to have her nose checked, because I’ve smelled many who smell like wild lion. But it’s true, Chinese people I’ve met don’t use deodorant. This time I’m prepared: I’m taking at least six Dove deodorants with me.
Last, but not least… the pedestrian crosswalk! Now, in my country (and other countries I’ve been to, except Brazil), the pedestrian crosswalk is “sacred.” In China, it’s just there so the street isn’t just a big blank canvas. It serves no purpose. The only thing I can say when thinking of it is, “Aww! Look how pretty! Here it’s red and white, not black/grey and white.” Look both ways when crossing the street the entire time or you will get injured.