Now I'm learning how to live life all over again, from speaking to renting

Updated: 2011-12-22 15:22

By Karl Arney (China Daily)

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Now I'm learning how to live life all over again, from speaking to renting

Living in China, I feel that I've had to re-experience rights of passage I dealt with long ago in the US.

The first was simply learning how to communicate, since I came over knowing roughly three Chinese words.

That was something I anticipated. Other things have been less expected, such as one I'm experiencing now - independent living.

During my first two years in Henan's provincial capital Zhengzhou, I worked for a school that provided housing for its foreign teachers. I never had to learn how to deal with the little things that come with having an apartment.

The school covered my bills, gave me water and even provided free meals every weekday.

All of this, combined with the fact that all of the foreign teachers lived in one building, made it very much like being in a college dorm again - only now I was being paid to live there rather than paying exorbitant college fees.

This was a great way to begin living in China - there's enough to adjust to without having to negotiate for an apartment as soon as you arrive. This year, I switched schools and left behind my second "dorm", much as I did my real one more than six years ago. I am grateful for everything provided by my old company, but two years in the same white room was enough.

My current employer provides teachers with housing stipends instead of housing, so I am learning to live on my own again for the first time. Making this adjustment has provided some interesting twists.

The first was realizing that in China a lot of bills are paid in lump sums covering multiple months. My girlfriend and I signed an apartment contract for three months, with the option for six more upon its completion.

We had to pay for the first three months up front, and I am under the impression that it will be similar if we re-sign. The Internet was the same - one large payment for the year. All of this is fine, but I wish I'd realized bills aren't actually monthly here. Finding that out at the last minute made for rough finances that first month.

Paying for gas was another learning experience. I expected it to be another utility that was serviced and billed. As it turns out, it is done by loading a gas card at the gas company in much the same way that you load pay-as-you-go cell phones.

Another new development is that we now have our first electronic bike.

This is proving educational in more ways than one.

Charging the bike was the first challenge - we live on the fifth floor, so there's no way to charge it from our apartment. Instead, we had to find an electrician to make us a charging station on the ground floor running from our fuse box. At the old place we could have pulled the bike up to the window to charge ... and had the school cover the bill!

I am also still learning how to drive the bike, since I drove a car in the US.

I'm all right by myself but am still working on driving with a passenger. So any time we are going somewhere, I wind up on the back while my girlfriend chauffeurs me around. This greatly amuses a number of locals, to my vague chagrin.

Moving to more independent living here remains a learning experience, and it's still hardly independent. Negotiations are done largely on our behalf by Chinese staff from our company, and we've never even met our landlord.

If adjusting to our babied version of independence is this challenging, I can only imagine the real thing.

Like most college age students, I couldn't wait to move out on my own when I was younger.

It's safe to say that China has taught me the value of moving slowly.