This is disorganized thinking on further China stuff.

I’ve known for awhile that I’ve gotten too old to really enjoy sort of madcap foreign adventures (like this one in China) alone. I have too many self-care requirements, like cleanish public lavatories, ability to go to a drugstore and get an aspirin without going through a pharmacist who can’t speak English, ability to read signs, ability to make a plan (or at least know what’s coming and eat/dress properly), ability to find and purchase food that I can feel good about eating nutritionally (i.e. does not just taste amazing, cos no problem there), etc.* I think when I was 21 or so, that stuff not being available would have been okay, at least for a short time. It would probably still be okay if I had a non-local companion, actually, because I’m usually good at turning minor annoyances into comic shared experiences. But now? I’m out of my depth every time I leave my hotel room, and staying in obviously gets boring and lonely.

By the way, I 100% recognize that this is a problem with me. It’s not a problem with China. In the research lab I’ve been working in, most people have at least a small amount of English. Nobody is fully fluent, but they have six thousand times more English than I do Mandarin, so it’s pretty awesome that they’ve learned it. However (and again this is not a problem with China, it’s a problem with me not knowing any Chinese language outside of hello and thank you), as soon as I leave the research lab campus, there’s no English. I have tried to find a map in English, but my hotel doesn’t have one and can’t tell me who does. Google maps are blocked. I have a Chinese phone, but the battery runs out in 2 hours with all the apps and screen switched off, so it’s not okay to navigate with. I have a UK phone that I can use with wifi, and I’ve tried to get a map on that, but I can’t seem to get one that’s zoomable in English. Today I used a broad res map (like, showing the whole city and a dozen major roads, but nothing small or much use) and camera pictures of where I walked to try to remember how to retrace my steps.

I should probably back up and say what I’m doing here, and why I’m annoyed.


I have a shared grant for two back-and-forth exchanges between the UK and China to do a specific research project. Ostensibly, there are four people working on this project: me, my former PhD supervisor, a real high up dude in China, and his employee (who is at the a/prof level). So it’s operating a bit like a postdoc for me, except for the unpaid bit (which we coevered in a previous post). The two higher ups have done zeeeeeeero work on the project. I ... kind of get that? I know academia works like a ponzi scheme, wherein the PIs take a hell of a lot of credit for a number of projects that are truthfully being totally run by their underlings. But they haven’t really given me good empowerment to run things enough, and my a/prof Chinese counterpart (who is very nice!) isn’t really giving it commensurate attention either. So long story short, I’ve been doing all the work I can, and the work she’s not doing isn’t work I can pick up, because it requires local knowledge. And she didn’t make arrangements in advance for this, and it’s proving to be kind of impossible to arrange now (both in terms of the right equipment and the right places to look for samples). AND, she didn’t tell me that the research institute is closing for spring break today rather than next week when I scheduled my trip, so I have four dead days. Also, to my chagrin, I didn’t bring warm enough clothing, so it’s a smidge harder to go out and hang out normally.

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I guess in summary: I’m bored, lonely, tired of trying to make the best of it, and feeling like I’m wasting a lot of time, and I am not being paid for three weeks of work. (That also doesn’t include the desk-based data analysis I’ll do as well.)

How do you feel about travelling alone with no language?

How do you feel about coworkers - the ones who ARE paid! - not pulling their weight?

How do you feel about plasticity in your self-care?

*I find it hard enough to deal with this with a radically changed environment while having only IBS and minor skin sensitivity. I have NO idea how people with serious eczema allergies or food intolerances would cope. Hell, even vegetarians - they have some tasty-ass tofu here, but it’s all spiked with pork.