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China may not be the best place for an anxious perfectionist with trust issues to live

I’m just saying.

Le sigh.

Every time I feel like I have finally got a handle on my anxieties about living here, finding solutions to problems like air pollution, or just getting around the city, some new threat pops up. (I know, I know, the probabilities reveal that the stress will kill me faster than the anything else, but I didn’t say I was rational, now did I?)

Recently there has been a rash of break-ins at another very heavily expat-populated neighborhood. And when this happens, whispers about the Pfrang family of four who were violently murdered by a gang of watermelon knife-wielding thieves in a similar such compound, abound.

It is a terribly sad and graphic story, and unless you have a strong stomach, I advise against clicking to read. 

So, while the likelihood of such a horrific event repeating itself is slim to none, it is this dread risk that humans dredge up rather than tempered reality when considering the possible fates of themselves and their families.

The advice for such events is to not speak to or confront the thieves, certainly not fight back, let them take your stuff, and they will probably just leave you alone. Make sure you leave some cash and easy-score items out that you don’t mind being stolen in plain site so they don’t become agitated and attack you, just grab their spoils and run.

Naturally – I long for America. Where it’s okay to defend yourself against an attack and you’ll enjoy the protection of the law. Where the concept of personal space is generally appreciated. Where the local news tells you things like, “There has been a rash of break-ins at 13 Mile and Rochester Road,” so you can exercise caution in such cases. Or you have access to the actual police blotter! Or where your home alarm systems ring directly to police, and where police are trustworthy (yes, in general they are, despite all the recent news) and respond in a timely manner and speak English! 

Due to the generally decrepit infrastructure and lack of resources for things like staircases and ladders, Chinese people seem much more used to and adept at scaling walls and such, which is a bit worrisome as I hear sometimes the thieves come in through upper windows (when the houses are built vertically and there are 3 or 4 floors, this is unsettling.) Recently, when a worker asked if he could use my kitchen chairs for a repair, I informed him the last worker broke the chair using it for such a purpose and I’d rather he got himself a ladder. I turned my back for a second and he was scaling my window, which was shaking precariously, and he fell backwards, nearly cracking his skull on the stonework behind him, and then climbed right back up. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked out the window and saw some random man on my top-most balcony, the neighbor's roof, or up a ladder, just staring at me. This is China. You get used to such things.

To add to my stress, today also happens to be the eve of my first solo travels in China for a conference in Hangzhou, and this recent abduction and sexual harassment of an expat woman taking a taxi to her hotel is on a constant reel in my mind. The link is also frightening, but the woman lived.

I know most of these fears are not unique to China, they are just part of life. They are part of traveling, but again, irrational brains are not interested in such banal facts. They light up in a panic that requires potato chip and chocolate sedatives to fight.

They also make me wonder, “Where did intrepid Milena go?”

I used to fly to New York by myself for such conferences without a second thought, walking around by myself for hours, attending intimate concerts in the wee hours of the night in neighborhoods with high crime rates because they were trendy and not worrying a bit. Driving to Chicago in the middle of the night and falling asleep on the El the next day waking up at the end of the line somewhere. Staying at two star hotels in Florence by the railroad tracks and wandering around at night looking for food. Honeymooning in Bosnia, where I narrowly missed being abducted by two Bosnian policemen who wanted to “take me to the bank” to pay a bogus traffic fine and leave Mike with our car. Where we wandered the streets at night, dining in totally empty restaurants that just had to be a front for some kind of crime syndicate. I’ve done some really, really stupid stuff in my life, and had some brushes with horrible situations. Le sigh.

I honestly think it’s having kids. Having kids makes you put up this Wall O’Survival where you attempt to thwart any and every potential event, that however small, may threaten the well-being of your children, no matter how indirect.

Well, that’s all I have to report at the moment. Uplifting stuff, no?

Why the glum disposition? I think I’m still in the 3-6 month slump, to be perfectly honest. As my long-time expat friend kept asking me the first few weeks I was here, "Has The Shiny wore off yet?" And I kept wondering what she meant. Now I know. Yes, the shiny has worn off and it’s been a game of two steps forward, 1.8 steps back, just a sluggish crawl towards normalcy, because it's not just fun, games, food, photography, and sight-seeing. It's being a wife and mother of three in China. 

I see the moms at the bus stop and instead of saying hello right away, we just look at each other and heave a simultaneous sigh before we break into some cathartic laughter and chat about the goings-on (like break-ins and the like). It’s nice having these water-cooler community moments, and knowing that others understand where I am right now helps me feel not so crazy.  

Onward I go. I hope to report some exciting things from Hangzhou – I’m attending that Montessori conference I mentioned in my last post. I’m sure I’ll be excited once I get there. :)


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