I haven’t gone into hiding. I got awfully and seriously ill. It seems like a silly time to get sick, however temperature variations might be the cause of everyone coughing left, right and centre. Living in Beijing we currently enjoy highs of 23c in the day and the lows of just 5 degrees celsius at night. No wonder my undressed drunken expat self decided it was mid-summer night and picked up a cold on the way home from a club. Or whatever it was, we will never know. I did not risk going to a doctor in Beijing, although at one point I was making my piece with the world as I thought these were my last hours on earth. Clearly I thought that dying was a better option than visiting Chinese hospital. If pharmacy visits anything to go by, it was a decision well made. Google translate enabled purchases of some kind of Chinese medicine to keep me alive failed at just about everything I expected them to do except for keeping me alive I guess. I’ll give them that. The only thing I bought at the pharmacy that I could trust was a thermometer that I had fun with tracking my fever variations. Wonder if there’s an app for that? Anyhow, I’m all well now and my negative outlook on China is subsiding. I swear I was ready to board the next plane home, but I knew for sure that I would be screened for Ebola at the border. If not Chinese, then UK for certain. So I stayed in bed.
So what is making me homesick? A feeling that is alien to me even after having lived around a bit has decided to take over me in Beijing. Well here’s why.
Food of starters..
Yes, I love Chinese food. Sometimes. Not every-bloody-day. It used to be a hangover treat and oh how much I would have loved to keep it that way. Here I am in Beijing though, pork buns for breakfast, dumplings for lunch, hot pot for dinner. All prepared by private chefs (just kidding!), not private but give them some credit. Because cooking is a hassle and eating out is too cheap, plus its social. There’s only so much you can eat until you get bored if not of the same thing that you eat all the time, then of the limitations of cuisine. Whoever said London is a food capital of the world, they were freakin’ right. Anything that is or is reminiscent of western food in China is expensive. It does cost more or about the same as it would back home, yet in comparison it costs double, triple sometimes five times more than its local nearest possible equivalent. Foods that are not so custom here, but that are so basic to us like milk or bread, overpriced behind comprehension. So I must say, I have been good at cutting bread and dairy out of my diet. Up until today. I bought cheese. I made toast. Hallelujah!
Not that any pricing makes sense in Beijing, where a beer costs half the price of a cup of coffee, but my cheese toast was probably more expensive than a lunch at campus cafeteria. I have not done much budgeting, yet I plan to.. So a lunch can cost anything between 5-20RMB (£0.50-£2) and dinner can start as low as 5RMB (50p) although I tend to spend a little over 25RMB (£2.50). Simplest things like dumplings (and I love them!) cost 1.25RMB (13p!!!!!!) for 5pcs. Crazy. So it does make sense that we all eat out and we have fun socialising. However, I have seen this habit set in that majority are sticking to the same dishes. Myself included. That’s why I am getting bored of it. Even the hot-pot, which is somewhat traditional regionally in Beijing, where you select your veggies/meats and cook them yourself at a hot-pot at the table (although the version we have on campus, you pick the foods they cook it for you and present it on the plate). I would say 80% of those veggies and meats I have not seen in my life and asking the staff is pointless and from experience, trying is risky. So I am stuck to those few things that I am certain tastes good.
I don’t find it fair going to the supermarket and finding products aimed at me, expat foreigner, inexcusably overpriced. Can’t help but feel being ripped off, since its a common practice amongst locals; if you’re white, black or otherwise foreign looking – you’re minted. Even if you are, why would you have to pay over the odds. Protesting doesn’t work here , you’ll either get deported or achieve nothing. So I stick to my toast in the morning and an occasional pizza when I feel like one. Thee’s always McDonalds too.
I will stick it out for a little while longer. No doubt, there will come a day that I will have to start cooking at least a third of my meals. Those who know I love to cook, will have faith in me. Especially given that I consider a dessert a basic human right. I’ll show them Chinese what a real dessert tastes like. So stay tuned, the food will be instagrammed 😛