“Why is it so hard to accomplish ANYTHING?”
I ask myself this question nearly every day. Of course most of the difficulty results from three small, messy, needy people. I generally feel like I could spend absolutely all of my time just keeping us fed, clothed, and decently clean. And we have an ayi (house helper) who comes twice a week to wash dishes and clean the floor and water the plants, which otherwise would have all died long ago! So how is it possibly so hard to stay on top of things?
I read a post the other day in which a woman described why she had so much more difficulty accomplishing her chores in China than when she lived in the US. It was a good read for me. I have never lived in my own home in the US post children, so I don't have anything to compare it with.
I've spent 9.5 years in China, and most of life has become so normal that I forget there really are a lot of differences between what my daily life would be like here or in America. I'm honestly not trying to complain or say “Oh my life is so hard.” Some of the things I like about life here are the relative simplicity, the daily walking and biking and stair climbing, the necessity of buying from small shops and making things from scratch. And obviously my daily tasks are nothing compared to the majority world.
But I wanted to give an idea of why it can by challenging to do daily life in a foreign country, so here are some examples.
- The supermarket is so loud, so crowded, and such stimulation overload that I avoid going whenever possible. People peering into your shopping cart, fawning over your children, shoving in front of you to weigh vegetables – just not my favorite.
- Buying food and daily necessities involves a lot of different stops. We go to one store to buy bread, another for paper, another for vegetables and eggs, another for light bulbs. A stop at the meat market, the honey seller, the fruit stand...you get the idea.
- Sometimes it's ridiculously hard to find what you want. A needed tool or office supply might be found only after searching dozens of small shops full of random things.
- You can buy almost anything online...if you can find it. But sometimes figuring out the Chinese name for an obscure item involves a great deal of guess work. We have to trek across campus to pick up any packages, mostly delivered to the gate farthest away from our home.
- A small fridge and freezer means it's hard to stock up on anything or make food ahead of time. And a third of my freezer is filled with coffee because...priorities.
- Almost everything is made from scratch with very few “convenience” items. Anytime a recipe calls for a can of something or a type of seasoning, that means extra steps to make it. Even something simple like spaghetti involves chopping a bunch of vegetables to make the spaghetti sauce.
- Most western recipes involve ingredients I don't have and require a good deal of substitution and experimentation.
- We never wear shoes inside, but our floors (white tile!) get dirty within about an hour of being cleaned. They show every single spot. And it is just so much dirtier here. I can't even imagine what would happen if we wore shoes in the house!
- Since we live on the edge of the desert, we get a lot of dust. Dust storms in the spring leave the floor gritty even if the (not so sealed) windows are closed.
- No dishwasher and no hot water in the sinks
- China doesn't do closets, and obviously we have no basements or attics or storage sheds, so storage is often a problem. Out of season clothes are stored in suitcases piled on top of cupboards. We utilize the space under our beds, behind chairs, and in corners. I'm certain we have a lot less clothes, toys, and household items than most our home-owning US friends, but I am continually reorganizing and purging because we have so much stuff!
- Our washer is much smaller than the standard US variety, so with three kids + cloth diapers, it's possible I could do laundry all day until I died and never be done.
- No dryer means an extra step of hanging clothes to dry and then taking them down to fold
- Fortunately clothes dry really quickly in our dry climate, but we still have to plan out when to wash clothes so they will all fit on the laundry porch.
- Kids' clothes get covered Chinese food grease stains and coal dust, and though I work real hard at it, I apparently do not have the gift of stain removal.
Other Household Considerations
- Old or not so high quality items constantly need fixing. Our toilet stops flushing, the cabinet doors fall off, the fridge stops cooling, pipes leak... We can either wait for days until a handyman can do a (usually very temporary) fix, or Kevin spends a lot of time fixing things himself.
- No AC means hot summers when it is hard to sleep or get anything done. And of course the windows are always open, bringing in more dust and allergens.
- We have no control over our heat, which runs at a set temperature November 1 to March 31 regardless of weather. (But unlike the southern China, we do HAVE heat, which is huge.)
- A smallish apartment means we really need to get outside every day or people start going crazy.
- We live on the 5th floor, so going anywhere involves a lot of stairs. Coaxing a tired two year old up five flights of stairs while carrying a heavy baby and a big bag of groceries is tiring.
- Making your own baby food is the only option (small amounts of canned baby food can be bought at very high prices)
- Our little three-wheeled electric cart makes life a lot more manageable with children, since they don't all fit on our bikes. But it barely goes faster than a bike, so it still doesn't make for speedy travel.
- Homeschooling is the only good, long-term option for our kids here, which means we'll be hauling over a lot of school books in coming years! It will be an ever larger time commitment on my part. It also requires creativity and resourcefulness (and a whole lot of YouTube) when you can't pop into the library, find some common supplies, or send your kids to extracurricular activities.
- Sometimes really simple things like getting necessary vaccinations involve an overnight trip to another city.
- This is the only life our kids have known, so they don't realize sometimes how hard it is on them. People watching them and touching them and wanting to take their picture every single time we go outside anyway ever. Ridiculous 30 hour trips and jet-lag and transitions. Trying to understand why you can ride without a car seat, slurp noodles from your bowl, and walk in the road in China but not America. They don't realize these things are weird, but they do feel the impact. And I realize and sometimes feel the weight of their childhood.
Like I said, one of the things I like about living in China is our lifestyle here. If I lived in America I would drive a car everywhere and use packaged foods and buy everything at the supermarket, and it would be very convenient but I wouldn't like it as well. I am grateful for some of the things that bring such inconvenience, but some days I admit – I wish it were all a little easier!