Recently, I've been thinking a lot about my first six months in China, and I have to say, my initial experience in Far East Asia made me draw some hasty wrong conclusions, among which the wrongest one was that I didn't want to stay.
My initial settling in Shanghai hasn't been easy, actually it was a proper shock mainly due to the language barrier. I'm comfortable in five languages, one being widespread English, so I thought I wouldn't have encountered so many difficulties, at least for the most basic things.
I quickly revisited my opinion when I realised I could literally count on one hand the people I met with who spoke a little English. Even at the hotel in Beijing city centre, none of the receptionists spoke English. I'm not a fan of "imposing" my language anywhere, this is why I like studying many different idioms, but admittedly, in China I was truly taken aback.
You don't realise the importance of the language until you absolutely need to make yourself understood by the person you are talking to and you are unavoidably met with a puzzled look of despair. This was my daily routine when I arrived in July until, well, not long ago.
Still now, the most common sentence in my personal vocabulary is "Ting bu dong": it looks like this 听不懂, and it means "I can hear you but I can't understand you". Mandarin Chinese is definitely a difficult language, and by difficult, I mean difficult. It's not words that you can just "pick up", if you don't know it, you are in the dark. It's like learning two languages, for between the spoken and the written there is no relation whatsoever: the written has 5000 characters, and as many years, under its collective belt; the spoken is a tangled web of tones that, although to a clumsy Western pair of ears sound perfectly the same, to Chinese people are totally different.
So, misunderstandings and the awareness of living in a nearly complete darkness, led me to regret my choice of spending six months in China and, as I started to think I will never be fluent, I didn't even want to learn such a difficult language.
All these seemingly impossible-to-overcome difficulties have been haunting me since the beginning but, oddly enough, little by little they are becoming the funny side of my stay in Shanghai. Now, I'm the first one to laugh when I don't understand or I can't express myself, and this is gradually revealing very helpful, firstly because I don't panic anymore and I just throw in all words I can muster, and secondly because people are more willing to give me the time to do such.
Apart from language-related adventures, recently I've been realising I'm slowly falling in love with China, its culture, its philosophy of life, its people.
This is a bit of a problem, and not just because here I can't get married (I know, it's sad, but not much I can do about it), but especially because I had different plans, which involved staying in China for a period between six months to a year and then moving to the Middle East for another six months to a year period.
However, at the moment, I can't see myself leaving China. Six months have already gone, the next half year will fly as fast as the previous one and I'm already thinking about extending my visa (again).
I'm not sure what has cast such a spell on me, probably the very easygoing aspect of pretty much everything in the Chinese lifestyle, or maybe the fact that you can do whatever you want and it will always be ok, or my gradual acknowledging that overcoming the challenge of integrating in such a different society is more rewarding than I thought it would be.
If at the beginning Shanghai was unsettling in a sort of "unwelcoming" terms, now it's the other way around. Feeling more "at home" than in any other destinations I've moved to is a bit scary, but certainly enjoyable.