The 3 B's of Health in China
At the "peak" of my health in the most surprising of places.
I worked endlessly through the summer to prepare for what seemed like a dream move across the world. I worked too many hours, sacrificed a fair few social nights, and I spent the majority of my free time creating my endless China bucket list; which I'm currently making my way through. Of course, I promote my travels all razzle-dazzle, but there are highs and lows that should be addressed. Something I really didn't consider before my move over here was how my health might falter and change. In fact, I didn't think about my health at all. So here I am now, at the peak of my health, in the most surprising of places. I've learned a lot about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, doubts and discoveries; and I'd like to share them. By the way, when I say 'peak' I don't mean I'm rockin' a six pack (though lord help me I'm tryin') or I have obtained all the whimsical knowledge that is TCM. I mean that for the first time in my life, it's become clear to me what areas of my health needed work. It became clear that I wasn't all that happy. I'm at the peak of self discovery, and I'm surprised that all it took was a trip to China to highlight my flaws. Here are my 3 B's of tackling my health in China. (Or anywhere abroad, but for stories sake..)
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of health, is the physical aspect of it; the Body. Whether it is in the way I eat, keep active, or my over all appearance, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities to be physically healthy in the most health conscious city in the world. That may be a bold claim, but I've experienced being suggested to check in to the hospital because I sneezed far too many times at the dinner table. Within the first week of being in Shanghai, I looked into expat gym memberships, to hopefully meet some friends and to stay in shape on my time off. Now, finding a gym in Shanghai is easy, there are countless ways to stay in shape, but to find the right price is it's own mission. I went through about 4 texting battles with gym managers to settle on a 116RMB gym membership - that's $2 a month - which might seem a bit shady, but that's just how it's done. Other suggestions, which I've considered, drop in Kung-Fu classes, Dragon CrossFit and Park Box. Park Box is SICK. Park Box is a series of mini gyms created out of abandoned crates, however you need a functioning bank account to sign up. Appearances are easy to keep up as well (hah). Mostly, because of the price, but also because the care for beauty and appearance in China is a priority. Anywhere you go you'll find a talented beautician. I landed a wonderful layers trim for about $5 at a hole-in-the-wall barbershop around from where I live.
Our communication was limited to my grabbing a clump of my hair and miming scissors gracefully running through it. But of course, it all stems from the inside doesn't it? It didn't surprise me that I'd find my perfect diet while living in China. People look SUPER young here, it's true. I've challenged myself to eat exactly like my host family, even though they would be very supportive of my western eating habits, I denied my western cravings and said "the more adventurous the food, the better!" Be careful what you wish for. Our basic meals are the same everyday - rice, vegetables, spicy tofu paste with steamed buns and millet soup - breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've had to cut alcohol, dairy, meat, flour, sugar, coffee and anything cold.
I've lost weight, my nails are stronger, my attention span has doubled and I'm less tired. This all goes without saying, but it really was an eye opener for me. OH side note. I have not experienced Travelers sickness ONCE and I eat A LOT of street food. I might blame it on the rad metabolism I developed from eating dirt and ants as a kid. You did it too, don't kid yourself.
But what is this experience if experiencing it alone? Which brings me to my next B, the Buddy System. I've always been a social cat - kay that's oxymoronic, but I like the sound of it - but I never really knew how my social life impacted my over all well-being.
I've always had such an amazing friendship group and support system that I never thought about what life would be like without them. I figured friends were an added bonus to an already solid life, I didn't realize how empty a life can feel without people you love around you. I guess I've just always put myself out there in finding social gatherings, but I've never immersed myself in a country where a small percentage can speak my language. I don't mean English, I mean MY language. Slang, crass, ugly truth language, because interestingly enough, English doesn't cut it when you're craving the comfort of home. You need someone to GET you. I hope that's not asking too much. I've really put in mass amounts of effort to find a consistent social group. This all makes me sound rather desperate, and maybe I am, but creating a social life as a mid twenties artist in the expat silicon valley of Asia is hard. But truth be known with effort and action comes result. I have found really great acquaintances through school and work, bonding over culture shock and the spending the holidays without family. At the end of the day at least I can say I've grown to be very comfortable with myself. I've always been confident in my own skin, but "a table for 1 please" gets really old, really fast. Needless to say, I will never take companionship for granted again.
Now, staying physically active, eating well, being social, tend to be at the forefront of most peoples mind especially when amidst a grand adventure, but I never really took into account if I was mentally strong enough to be here. The Brain, needs some love. Culture shock, can sneak up on you when you least expect it. It hits you like a sugar rush. I thought I was doing really well with adapting to my new life over seas, growing accustomed to what I eat and how I travel but one day I just snapped. I didn't realize how vulnerable I was to my surroundings until one day, I was getting off the subway and someone was trying to get on the train before I got off and I actually yelled at that person. I have never, ever, made a scene like that in my life and I was beside myself. When the novelty wears off what's left is the shell of your own strength and happiness, if it's non-existent what you're left with is uncontrollable frustration and exhaustion; very real emotions that have been hanging out with me as of late. This place has tested my patience and shown me that I was not a happy person when I left; though I thought I was. I've taken a few days to sleep, step away from social media and people in general, I watched a hockey game and I calmed down a bit. I started to laugh. Thank god, I found the humour in my behaviour. I laughed at what the outside might've looked like. Crazy foreigner thinking she can run this place like she grew up with this crowd to make any sort of judgement. I keep laughing now. My host father is a practicing Buddhist and spiritual healer, he's been a wonderful support for me. I'm not normally into that kind of lifestyle, but I say, taking other peoples happiness into account helps. I've taken the right steps and will continue to take my mind into account every day.
I prepared for this move. I saved every penny, I sold my things, I worked my butt off all summer to be here. I downloaded a hundred apps, I talked to travelers, but I never once checked in with my mind. It never occured to me that I may not be mentally strong enough to be here. This is the biggest lesson I've learned to date. And I take that with pride. I'm learning to laugh at myself more and more, because I'm constantely embarrassing myself. There's only one way out and it's through. So the next time you plan a big adventure, you're planning a move or you're jetting off to pursue a new goal think about the questions people have for you and whether or not they're actually important. "What's the weather going to be like?" "Have you gotten your visa yet?" "Do you have a backup plan?".
"Are you happy?"
Bonus. B. Bling. Shopping never hurts ;)
Merry Christmas x