Alyssa’s Expat Life—Life in District 12

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For those of you who’ve never read or seen the Hunger Games series, you will not understand the title of this blog. However, those who have can picture what I’m working with here. It’s the only thing that popped into my mind when asked to describe what the sky truly looks like. Aside from being called as the next tribute, life here in Jinan/District 12 is dark and dreary—literally.

I have only felt the warmth of the sun for about 10 minutes since I’ve been here. And, it’s not because I haven’t been outside. There’s just that much smog. I understand that people who live here don’t know any better, however, that makes me feel so sad for them—that they will never see the true light of day, feel the bright sun shining on their faces. It makes me feel incredibly lucky. Also, every once in a while I will hear someone speaking Chinese on a loudspeaker by my apartment. It is a peace keeper? Hopefully I’ll never know.

Along with the pollution, Jinan in particular is just a dirty city. I’ve seen countless people throw trash on the ground without a care in the world. City workers do sweep up, but I even had trouble finding a trash can when I was eating an apple outside before class. That’s because there wasn’t one anywhere. Even the trash bins by my house are the small kitchen kind—not very handy for an entire apartment complex to dispense of their waste. Even inside my house I only have three small trash bins that are smaller than my office trash can at home. And the spitting, oh God, the spitting. Every five seconds I hear someone clearing their throat and shooting a big lugie on the ground. I don’t know how to spell lugie, because I can’t remember a time I’ve ever had to write such a gross thing down. Forget about picking up dog poop, and I’ve heard stories from my fellow teachers about people relieving themselves on the street. I’ve learned to walk with my head down, and as I’ve mentioned, there’s no way in hell my shoes are coming back to the states.

Chinese people also have weird quirks that would definitely not be acceptable in the United States. They LOVE hot water. I know some European countries don’t do ice, however here it’s steaming hot water. If you’re asked, “Would you like a cup of water?” Be happy if it comes out lukewarm. I even have a water cooler in my house, but the name is not literal. There is no cold water. Also, they call the heat the air conditioning. They use the same word for both, however they definitely don’t use the heat. I teach in a coat and scarf, and everyone wears their jackets inside the building. They have heat; I’ve felt it in very small increments. But, when it’s 30 degrees outside, why would you want to be miserable?

If you think St. Louis driving is bad, check out Jinan. There is no yielding. At intersections, our driver will go to the left onto oncoming traffic to go straight while navigating through the drivers turning left. People don’t look at where they are going, instead they rely on the other driver to honk to let them know they are there. They simply pull out without even looking, awaiting that honk. Why not just look at where the hell you are going? And, they park wherever the feel like it—forward and backward, on the sidewalk, you name it. These guys make New York City cab drivers seem like little leaguers.

There are no “lines” in China. If you stand there and don’t jump in, someone will easily jump ahead of you with no question. And if you get your change and haven’t picked up your items yet, they don’t care. They’ll lay their stuff down on the counter with yours. There is no tact with the general public.

I’ve noticed a lot of bad breath going on, especially when enclosed in a car with someone. Every cab smells like bad breath automatically, like the air freshener scent is titled “Halitosis.” I would ask, “What the hell are these people eating?” But I’ve seen my answer over the last two weeks.

The staring actually isn’t that bad. I heard that people will walk right up to you and stare at you like you are an alien. It hasn’t been that way so far. I will, however, smile at people on the street and get scowls or blank stares. I want to say that it’s not like this AT ALL at my school, but my school is very different from the outside world. They remind me to get plenty of sleep and to drink a ton of water, and they aren’t kidding. Coming from St. Louis with 110 percent humidity to the driest air ever here, I’m really glad I stocked up on Chapstick and I can’t get enough bottled water to drink. I carry it everywhere.

I’ve learned that dogs must speak Chinese, because I’ve only seen one dog on a leash since I’ve been here. They wander around with their owners leashless, and for some reason they listen. Maddux would be all over the place and off to the races in 10 seconds.

Lastly, I have to talk about navigating this town. Without someone writing something down for me, I am stuck at my house. NO ONE speaks a lick of English outside of my school. It’s not been like this in other countries. If you want to visit a restaurant that doesn’t have photos, you’re out of luck. If you want to go to Wal-Mart, or McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, unless you can say it in Chinese, you’re out of luck. If you want to visit the sites around town or the mall, you guessed it. I only have two small supermarkets in my town, which are glorified Walgreens. Very little food options at these stores. In other parts of Jinan it’s not like this, but we’re limited here in Sun City. I never have taken day-to-day life for granted in the United States, especially since wrecking my car and having to rely on a rental to get around for the last two months I was there. But, at least I was still self-sufficient. Here I’m really at the mercy of my school and them writing things down for me. Now that the dinners are over, I’m really hungry. None of the stores even have dish soap that I’ve seen, so I will have to venture out and find this elusive Wal-Mart eventually. And, I have to remember to bring extra cash for plastic bags to bag my groceries. Those are extra. Weird.

In closing I will say that this is all of the weird/bad I’ve experienced so far. Of course there is good and I will address those things in upcoming blogs. And as always, thanks for reading!

about author

I love the aspect of managing the entire product, not just being pigeonholed into one area of the creative process. Using my love of writing, editing and research as a catapult, I work with you in creating social media strategies.


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