It may have taken months for me to get my visa but once I had it I wasted no time. I booked a flight that left a week later and from then on it was a whirlwind! In the days before I arrived I didn’t have anytime to stop and actually think about the impending culture shock. Before I knew it I was touching down in Xi’an and everything was about to change. This is what happened in my first 24 hours in Xi’an. I’m not going to lie. It was not easy by any means and even nearly 2 weeks on there are still bad days. That is to be expected. It is going to take weeks to really settle in as there is so much to get used to.
The Language Barrier
I was collected from the airport by Jojo and Kiki, two other teachers from the school I am working at. They are both Chinese though as I am the first foreigner my school is employing. They drove me to my apartment which was about a 40 minute journey. I started to get a little bit intimidated during the journey though as they started to speak in Chinese to one another. It wasn’t that I expected or wanted them to speak English to me. I was simply starting to realise the enormity of the language barrier. I was starting to think about the problems I will face by not being able to speak or understand the language at all.
I was dropped off at the apartment at approximately 8:30am. The girls told me I could rest and that they’d come back at 3pm so we could go do a few things. However, despite it being 1:30am in England and that I had been awake for 24 hours, I was not tired. I also prefer to deal with jet lag by forcing myself to adhere to the new time zone immediately. However, off they went and I was alone in my Chinese apartment.
The first thing I did was head to the bathroom. I had needed the toilet as we were landing however the toilets in the airport were of course traditional Chinese squat toilets. I just wasn’t used to them and hadn’t been able to go. Now I could use the western toilet in my apartment in peace. Except now I realised how lacking my apartment was in any and all essentials. I had no toilet paper, no kitchen utensils and no food or water.
Now obviously you would expect to be without these things when you first move into a new apartment however it brought up so many questions for me. How was I going to do a food shop if I can’t understand what is what and how would I know how to cook things? Luckily I had some leftover snacks from the plane journey so I decided I could have them for lunch.
As I stood in my apartment alone I started to get scared, overwhelmed and very intimidated. I was all alone in another country. A country very different to anywhere I had been before. I decided the best course of action would be to try and nap until 3pm when Jojo would be back. However, the apartment was so hot I couldn’t settle. It was 42c outside and even with my air con on I couldn’t get comfortable.
I managed a half hour of restless sleep but woke up incredibly thirsty. In China the tap water isn’t safe to drink though so this meant I would have to go out. I couldn’t wait 5 hours until Jojo was back so I was going to have to go out alone. There was a little shop on the corner of my building however it still felt like a big thing to be going alone. I was worried as I didn’t know how safe my apartment or the area was. What if my key wouldn’t work and I got locked out? Would being a foreigner mark me as a target?
I made it to the shop and brought to bottles of water and some toilet paper. I would have looked around at what else was on offer but I was feeling much too dehydrated to concentrate. Back at my apartment I down the first bottle of water. I had a sense of accomplishment. It had only been an easy trip to a shop that was 200m from my buildings front door but it hadn’t been as scary as I’d thought. It was a small achievement and a boost in confidence. I was reminded that I am an independent woman who has travelled by herself before. I can do this.
Alas, the feeling was short lived. I was still desperately thirsty and was certain I was dehydrated. In hindsight I think I should have drank more on the plane. I started to sip through my second bottle and stood in the spot the air con hit just right to cool down. But ever there I was still too hot. I can’t handle this heat! It’s a question people often ask. Would you rather be too hot or too cold? It’s a tough questions as both options are desperately uncomfortable however in this scenario I would have much rather been too cold. At least then I could put on all my jumpers and curl up in my duvet. But in this heat I was helpless. I couldn’t do anything else to cool myself down and I was struggling to focus. Meanwhile I was psyching myself out. It was now 11am. I still had 4 hours by myself.
The Deep End
I start questioning why I decided to come to China. Why didn’t I choose to ease myself in. I could have taught English in a European country, Spain or Italy ,maybe. There would have still been the language barrier but not nearly as huge a culture shock. I desperately wish it wasn’t another 3 weeks until my friend is back from her holiday. It’s rather selfish but I needed a friendly face. I also knew she’d understand as she did all this for the first time too 3 years ago. Without any internet connection though I couldn’t even reach out the her or any of my other family and friends. I am alone and for the next few hours without support.
I sat on the floor right in front of the air con and continued to sip my water. The apartment finally feels cooler and I was starting to feel a bit better than I was. In fact I decide maybe to try and sleep again. My bed is disappointingly hard but apparently that’s a Chinese thing. However, I can’t get to sleep and instead start to feel quite shakey. I am no longer too hot but I haven’t eaten anything so I decided to have some of my leftover plane snacks. Suspecting I am still dehydrated I return to the shop and buy a big 4l bottle of water and a sports drink. I eventually manage to get half an hours shut eye and then, at last, Jojo and another teacher from my school, Three, were back.
Chinese SIM card
After my therapeutic cry I was ready to go to bed. However, just as I was about to fall asleep my power went out! I had evidently ran out of pre-paid electricity and therefore everything was turned off. Now this wouldn’t have been such a big deal except it meant the air con shut off! I managed to sleep for an hour without it but then I was woken by the heat. There was no way off cooling the apartment down as opening the windows didn’t have any effect as even in the middle of the night is was over 30c!
A Sleepless Night
I had my medical check in the morning and had been told not to eat or drink anything. They had said including water but this just wasn’t possible. I’m pretty sure that was a mistranslation anyway though as normally water is okay. I drank water to prevent myself from becoming dehydrated but I was too uncomfortable to sleep. I had a cold shower in the hope it would cool me down enough to get back to sleep. This night just need to be over as quickly as possible! The shower cooled me down for a while however I still couldn’t sleep. An hour and a half later I had another cold shower and this time managed a couple of hours sleep.
It was a rough 24 hours and definitely wasn’t how I would have hoped my first day would go. It was a big wake up call as to the enormity of moving to China. I am still glad I have made the choice to live here but it takes a lot of adapting and resilience.
Have you ever had a rough first 24 hours in a new country, city or town?