Honest, rambly, longest post ever time. I have been quite unhappy in my daily life lately and I’ve been trying to find happiness in simple things, as cliche as it sounds. I have found that being unhappy can be a complicated and controversial topic to discuss with others. But it’s such an important to share your feelings and have a venting outlet can keep you from blowing up unexpectedly… because trust me, I’ve been there.
People seem very surprised whenever I let it slip that I am unhappy because I have a pretty awesome life. When you have access to clean drinking water, have a roof over your head and never having the worry of going hungry plus on top of all that you manage your finances well enough to afford frequent travel, people assume that you must be happy. Somehow it feels like being happy is an obligation and you might even feel guilty if you admit that no, you’re not happy.
Personally, I feel the need to specify that I’m unhappy about *insert one of many reasons here* to avoid shocked looks and references to my most recent trip. I happen to be one of those people who only post happy things on Facebook. I don’t really see how sharing my unhappiness publicly would make me any happier, I’d rather discuss something like that one-on-one. I also keep so much unhappiness inside that when I let some out, a flood of complains threatens to swallow me up completely, drowning relationships and taking over my life completely.
Now that you understand a little about the reasons I struggle talking about my unhappiness, maybe you’ll be able to read this without having the automatic responses that shut me up and make me regret ever saying anything in the first place. Yes, I know that everything will be okay. I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have what I do. I also know that I could work harder to have a more optimistic outlook on my life. But the truth is, you haven’t walked in my shoes…
Walking, or more specifically, taking the metro to work, is the core of my unhappiness here in Shanghai. Let me paint the picture for you. In an overpopulated city of 25 million people (New York only has 9 by the way) the metro can get crowded. When you live in the outskirts, the people crowding you are mostly farmers. Not only do they have lots of bulky baggage, but they aren’t the best at basic etiquette. I manage to exert a lot of patience with these hard-working people and almost always forgive them for acting the way they do.
I get much more frustrated with the rich, educated, iPhone X wielders who shove, push, run ahead as if they are on fire and cut in front of me on the metro every day. Now I’m not talking an accidental push with an immediate apology. Imagine men and women in expensive suits sticking out their elbows and charging into an already packed metro, showing people who are yelling out in pain without a drop of consideration or a second of hesitation.
This happens to me twice a day, Monday to Friday and always ruins my morning and afternoon without fail. Even the 15-minute walk before and after being on the metro isn’t always enough to calm me down. On a mediocre day, walking is one of the simple things that does bring me happiness and alleviates many negative emotions.
There are other rude behaviors on the metro that irk me, although being physically injured (I’ve been elbowed in the head four times this year without apology) tops them all. Yelling into cellphones (or at each other – not in an angry way), playing games or listening to music on the loudest volume possible (headphones cost $1), men shamelessly clipping or grooming overgrown nails and spitting on the platform or into the gap every time the door opens (there’s always a loud horrible vomit-inducing gargle before every spit) are a few other things that make me unhappy no matter how much I try to ignore them.
Another thing that happens on the metro, and anywhere in public really, is the pointing. Although most advertisements feature foreigners and most schools have foreign teachers, we are still a bit of a curiosity here in China. I’m not saying I’ve never noticed someone who looks different… we all have. I’ve even watched people out of the corner of my eye because I was curious. But I have never pointed, said: “look, a foreigner” or giggled directly at someone who looked, dressed or acted differently. This, also, happens to me every day that I venture outside. It is also the reason why I sometimes prefer to stay at home for an entire day or even weekend. Being outside is emotionally straining and being angry exhausts me.
The angriest I ever got in China was during a visit to the zoo where a mother poked her child, who was looking at animals, pointed to me even though I was looking right at her, and had her kid look at me instead of the lion. I had to lose my shit internally because I didn’t want to scare the innocent child, but I still wish I could have given the mother a piece of my not-so-innocent mind. Almost every expat I know has at least one similar experience, however, some manage to laugh at it instead of letting it eat away at them like I do. I’m very jealous of those people and if I were more like them, I wouldn’t be so unhappy. And yes, I’ve tried to be like them but I can’t turn my tears into laughter no matter how hard I try.
As always, when I discuss or write about these things that turn me into a bitter person that I don’t recognize, I feel bad. China is a fascinating place with so much history, culture and some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I’ve had strangers help me without me asking and go WAY out of their way to make sure I was happy, healthy and safe.
It’s a cultural thing that once you’re on the metro, you only worry about yourself and getting to where you need to go. I honestly believe that this will change with time. We can’t forget that China was cut off from the rest of the world not too long ago. There are so many ways that China is ahead of the West that goes beyond technology, including the impeccable timeliness of their public transportation and some of the fastest delivery services in the world despite the insane amount of people using the services.
Also, doctors and nurses are amazing at what they do – don’t fear the gigantic needles that they use for a blood test. I’m a huge cry-baby and I’ve never had such fast or painless blood tests anywhere outside of China. My boss jokes that it’s because they do so many blood tests/operations/*insert medical procedure here* in China on a daily basis, practice makes perfect, right? Another plus is the direct nature of Chinese people is extremely refreshing and often better than fake politeness that’s popular in the West.
I’d also like to point out that expats living in China usually fall into one of the extreme sides of loving it here and never want to return home or hating it. You know what category I am in, but most of my friends and colleagues have never been happier. It seems to be 50/50 since you either come to China for a year (if you last that long) or you’ve been here for years without planning to leave. It all depends on your attitude, needs, where you live, whether you take the metro, your level of patience, where you lived before, what you want in life, the list goes on and on and on.
There are more reasons why I am unhappy in my daily life, including living in an apartment that is tiny even though I know I’ll soon be moving into my own house. Again, #firstworldproblems. Somehow, knowing that something will happen soon can make it even harder to deal with a present situation that is not ideal. But maybe that’s just me… I feel so vulnerable to judgment right now, but hey, that’s honestly for you.
Some of the simple things that bring me happiness, for example, my walk to and from the metro, are sometimes ruined by factors that I can’t control. Like the pollution that hurts my eyes and throat that can only be prevented by an ill-fitting mask that makes my face sweat and break out. Or the constant stream of trash littering the path even though I clear some of it up every day without making a dent. Then there are the people who stop to stare at me… Sometimes it’s the e-bike drivers that offer me a ride to the metro, that make grunting noises (or clap) at me to get my attention, oblivious to the fact that they are being rude. Do I have a right to be mad?
I recently visited a Chinese farm and even there I found things to complain about. I do know that I complain too much, by the way, no need to rub it in my face. But I also found some long-yearned happiness there. It was among the unique upcycled garden creations that inspired me. In meeting the owner of the farm, a smart and beautiful lady who is a vegetarian and owns an architectural company. There was so much happiness (and oxytocin) from petting adorable dogs and feeding sheep, geese and chickens. It was a great plus knowing that they would never end up on anyone’s plate.
Finally, I saw the most amusing zen frogs, doing yoga, in a beautiful greenhouse filled with exotic plants – Chinese farms are very different from the European farms that I’m used it. I mentioned to my husband that I want a statue like it one day and he surprised me by ordering a set on my favorite Chinese website, Taobao, that delivered them less than 48 hours later.
I’ve bought many things for our cramped apartment to make it feel homier over the last two years. But these frogs, something that I didn’t even pick out myself, have made me happier than any of the countless items I’ve purchased. Which, as a hoarding shopaholic with an OCD for having one of each color/style of anything that I consider cute or cool (especially when it’s dirt cheap) is an obscene amount of stuff even for my standards.
They are now sitting on the living room table and every time I look at them I feel happy. They make me feel happy despite being pushed on the metro, or not already living the life that’s almost in reach but not quite. Even despite hearing the neighbors coughing up mucus every hour through the thin walls that have zero insulation and let in the biting cold of winter, the unbearable heat of summer and the unexpected pollution that is now worse in Shanghai than in Beijing…
*looks at frogs to calm down after each ranting sentence*
Maybe, if I focus on these cute little frogs (named Mufrogsa, Frogalicious and Frogward) for my remaining 81 days here, I’ll manage to stay happy. I was so close to given up on anything other than traveling making me happy. But if I can find happiness in a set of $15 wooden frog statues sitting in peaceful yoga poses (I don’t even do yoga FYI) then anyone can manage to find happiness in something unexpected. I promise you that there is one specific yet random, very simple thing, that they can bring unconditional happiness into your life.
I don’t normally share personal thoughts like this, especially when I know that many people will judge and criticize me or will try to fix my problems by giving me advice that I’ve heard before. One of my friends unknowingly motivated me to write this. She is beautiful, ambitious, smart, kind and is in a disgustingly cute marriage. Basically, she is perfect and has it all. Yet, she shares posts about her insecurities, some of which I can’t relate to and others that describe my exact problems better than I ever could. It makes me feel like I’m not alone after all.
So basically, that’s what I’m hoping that this long, rambling post will achieve. If there’s at least one person out there who has felt misunderstood, unable to complain or unsatisfied with life when nothing major is wrong with it, then I didn’t just waste an hour writing this. If my problems really are unique to me, at least I got all of this off my chest and I’m hoping that if nothing else, my zen frogs put a smile on your face even if you couldn’t get past the first paragraph of my incessant babbling.