By June Livingston
It can be very difficult living here. I do not mean the pollution, language barrier and all the other obvious challenges. I am talking about loneliness.
I have not got many answers but here are a few little things that have helped me. I often remind myself that life at home was not perfect. There were bad days there too. We are very privileged to live in China right now, and it is a pity to lose the initial excitement we had when we first came here. Most of us live very comfortably with plenty of domestic help, and so even those with young children have plenty of free time. Learning what we want to do with this wonderful gift of time can be quite difficult.
I know that just putting decent meals on the table can be a big chore. Or is it an adventure? The meals will not taste exactly as they did at home and the family accepts that. Maybe now is the time for new menus. The internet is a wonderful source of recipes.
Learning a little bit of the language is good. Personally I have failed rather badly in this area, but my friends who are more linguistically gifted or less lazy have nice chats with doormen, store clerks and taxi drivers. And don’t worry if your spoken English is less then perfect. We native English speakers make grammatical errors too. The more you speak, the better your language skills will become.
Retail therapy always helps, but that’s only a short term solution. And how much stuff can any of us use once we return home? But do be good to yourself. Enjoy manicures, pedicures, facials and massages. Find a tailor who can copy your favourite pants or dress for a fraction of the original price you paid. Read all the books you want, finish your old needlework project, or learn to knit. You have the time.
If your children are at school, become involved in their school in some way whether helping in the classroom or with sports and extracurricular activities. And if you have small children, find or start a play group the same way as you would do at home.
And where would we be without GWIC? Use the organisation as much as you need it. Go to as many events as you can. Remember that every confident woman you see at these functions was once a lonely newcomer too. It is hard work approaching people and introducing oneself, but you will be glad you did it. I remember once sitting alone at a morning coffee for about 20 minutes until a wonderful lady came and chatted with me. That day I decided that I was either going to sink or swim here. Join a GWIC interest group or become part of the executive team. You will meet great people and have fun.
You have to be much more aggressive socially than you were at home. Sometimes, people will come to you, but frequently you have to approach people and make the moves. Accept invitations, join groups, play tennis, go to the gym, learn golf, invite people over, meet for lunch, join an art group, learn to make jewellery, learn to bargain in markets and initiate shopping expeditions. I know people doing all these things and we are all enjoying ourselves. You can do it, too.
Use the buses and the metro. During the day, the buses are fun and cheap and you can just get off when the journey goes wrong. The metro is relatively easy and practice helps. Force yourself out of the apartment every day. You can even enjoy the visits to China Post. Now this is a special skill and not for the faint of heart.
Do not rely on just one or two pals. Who knows when a husband can be recalled, relocated or retired and then you are all alone again. Cherish the friends you make here as once you are back home, people there won’t really understand what you are talking about.
Keep some kind of journal – every month or so I send a long email to friends back home. You know the kind of thing – how many fridges can you carry on a bicycle? Sometimes I need to write when I’m having an awful “China Day” when nothing goes right.
Become friendly with a staff member in your residence who speaks good English. They can be extremely helpful when you just don’t know what to do, or where to find a particular service.
And when you are a little old lady sitting in your rocking chair, you will look back on your “Guangzhou Days” as some of the happiest of your life.