The Good: Chinese students are very disciplined and well-behaved in class. They are the best students I've ever taught. They and their families are extremely generous, and did everything they could to help us adjust to our time in China. Helen and John, our bosses, were the epitome of this kindness. They were more like parents instead of employers. Our apartment was great, and the job itself was wonderful. Another big benefit was that we were able to get out of debt (not including our college loans) and even save some money to bring home. I highly recommend Asia for any of our friends who need a job and need to be able to save some money. They really know how to treat foreigners over there.
The food was also amazing, with the exception of the weird foods like pig and chicken feet. But even strange foods like those have an interesting history behind them (in times of food scarcity, peasants were encouraged by the government to eat every available part of the animal).
Another great thing about living in China was all the interesting historical places to visit. I had wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors since I was little, so seeing that and other famous sites was a dream come true.
The Bad: Pollution. The pollution wasn't as obvious as I thought it would be, but I still noticed and suffered from it. It was painful to wear contact lenses there because my eyes would dry out so quickly.
Dogs are small and ugly in China. In many big cities, it's illegal to have large dogs, so people compensate by having those small, yippy, ugly dogs. I really don't like dogs like that. Mop Dog was the only exception.
Smoking is something that just about every man does in China. They have little concern for others, and drop their ashes everywhere, including restaurants, trains, and supermarkets. I'm VERY anti-smoking, so this was a big deal for me.
The Ugly: I hate to say it, but hygiene isn't big in China. I polled most of my students, who are all pretty wealthy, and found that they only bathe a few times a week. I didn't really need to ask, because it was pretty clear anytime I got too close to my students. It was understandable for those boarding students, whose school only allowed them to take a (cold) shower twice a week, but that doesn't explain for the rest of the population. Also, deodorant doesn't exist in China, and my students usually wore the same outfit for several days in a row. All these things combined for some pretty bad body odor, which made close contact on public transportation, standing in lines, and just teaching in general pretty uncomfortable for me. But that wasn't as bad as their oral hygiene. Bad breath was really common, and I don't know if that was because of their diet or just bad brushing habits. I had a little talk with all of my female students before I left about hygiene expectations in the West. Many of them are planning on studying in the U.S. or Canada, and I had to explain that they could run into problems if they didn't take certain precautions. One of the hardest things to explain to them was about shaving. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a woman not shaving her armpits or her legs, but I had to tell them that westerners might look down on them or call them names if they didn't shave. It's incredibly unfair, but I thought it would be better to let them know then to have them get ridiculed at school (some are hoping to go to high school here).
There are no diapers in China. Well, there are, but nobody uses them. It's nice in a way, because of course it cuts down on what are really big contributors to waste, but it creates waste of a different sort. Instead of diapers, babies and toddlers wear split pants that allow the kid to crouch down and do his business wherever he is. Of course, this is pretty gross to see kids doing this on the street, public transportation, and right outside restaurants. I once saw a kid pooping in the seafood section of the supermarket. Eww.
I think I could have handled everything else in China with a shrug of the shoulders and cultural reasoning, but the traffic nearly drove me over the edge. There seems to be a very clear hierarchy in China, with drivers at the top, followed by motos, bikes, and then us puny pedestrians. As such, drivers seem to feel they are entitled to do whatever they like. Traffic lights mean nothing to them, and I've never seen a posted speed limit. Sidewalks? They're just convenient traffic lanes for those in a hurry, especially if you want to be going against traffic, or a nice parking spot. Nothing belongs to the pedestrians. There are crosswalks, but they make no sense. The light turns green when the cars are turning left across the crosswalk, so there's never a completely safe time to cross. And again, drivers seem offended if you try to cross the street. They honk and speed up when they see pedestrians, whether or not they are in the right (which they rarely are). I don't think I can ever fully explain what it was like there. Everyday took extreme willpower to make myself leave the apartment and go to work. I took to listening to my IPOD and reading my Kindle as I walked, because otherwise I'd get super-pissed at what was happening around me. Andrew was terrified to do that, but I was terrified of what I'd do if I didn't. I can't tell you how many times I've yelled at drivers, flipped them off, or thrown mini-tantrums at passing cars.
The Conclusion: China is an amazing place! I loved working there, and mostly enjoyed living there. But in terms of all the places I've been, I still think I preferred France, despite our financial woes while there. China was a nice conclusion to our four years living and working abroad, and if I could do it over again, I would.