Culture Shock

The true terror of culture shock is that you never really see it coming.  You could be fine for weeks, and then, with little warning, suddenly be overwhelmed by the world around you.  Or, in my particular case, 24 hours and completely overwhelmed by my surroundings.  And I mean overwhelmed.

I have been to China before, and though I did get your standard culture shock experience, it was nowhere near the level that this is.  This is the kind of sick that you only get from bad dreams and too much to drink.  Something like the experience of all those who took the infamous ‘brown acid’.  Your okay, then your not okay, okay, not okay, trying to come back to reality, but never quite finding what you are looking for.

And how could I not be culture shocked?  I’m in an unfamiliar place completely on my own, trying to figure out what my next move might be.  I was feeling alright from the time I arrived all the way through this morning.  I managed to go out, get breakfast, walk around for a while, do some writing.  And then, right around lunch, I decided to head out for a walk toward Houhai, a Large lake in central Beijing famed for it’s bars.  About half way around the lake, I started to feel a sense of unease, one that I attributed to a lack of water.  As I walked, the feeling grew and grew, a nagging feeling of separation from my surroundings.  By the time I got back to the hostel, I had to get in to my bed and just go to sleep until this evening.  Sometimes it’s the best thing to do.

Bad culture shock can make you feel physically sick, can make you feel like you have lost your mind.  I’m doing much better now than I was this afternoon, but that sick feeling still lingers quite strong.  I miss my girlfriend immensely, but I called her and couldn’t even put words together.  I miss my family too, and though I didn’t need to call them, it’s strange knowing that they are sleeping when I am awake.  Jet lag, unfamiliar food, and the pure unadulterated roar that is a Chinese street were just too much for today, but I’ll try again tomorrow.  I’m guessing that this feeling will hang on for some time, but you have to take it day by day.  Freak out, stop, sip a soda, reboot.

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4 Responses to Culture Shock

  1. Hey Fabrizio,

    I recently went on a trip to China for some travelling and to practice my Chinese. My experiences of culture shock was very similar now to what you are describing. I landed in Shanghai with intense longing, fear and lack of comfort. I was bombarded by the unknown. My girlfriend was also in China luckily, so I called her too. Just hear some familiarity. I could also not get words out. It was intense.

    I wrote a post recently on my blog describing my experience in China. This was my second time going there. As much as I would like to provide a quick fix for you, the best thing is to just create some comfort zone until you get used to China again. I went out and bought myself peanut butter and bread which became my staple food for a few days, so that I can get some stability through it all.

    But I think in the end, it just takes time. Sleep in if you must. Lie in bed and don’t feel like you have to get up and be brave. I was shocked that the culture and China affected me so much. I thought I was ready for it, but I realized I wasn’t. This made me feel even worse, because I felt weak and stupid. I remember calling my girlfriend, tears in my eyes that I feel terrible and miss her lots and feeling like a wimpy loser. But that’s part of the culture shock. No-one expects it and like you said, you really don’t see it coming.

    Good luck man! Keep us updated. Keen to hear your stories.
    Regards,
    Niel (Confused Laowai)

  2. Ann Vull says:

    ..I feel that way when the beach is populated by Staten Islanders; I can only imagine how YOU feel… hang in there

  3. Fabrizio says:

    Niel,
    Thanks for the great comment, you have pretty much summed up the feelings I was having yesterday. I will say that today was much better, and I typically have one really bad day, followed by much reduced feelings for a few days after. But hey, the beauty of it is that sometimes it just comes out of nowhere! And fear not, many more stories to come.

    Fabrizio

  4. Fabrizio says:

    Ann,
    Staten Islanders are by far the more intimidating of the two.

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