a.k.a. How to survive Shanghai despite your daily diet of gutter oil and smog.
I rather not know how badly my health has suffered from being in China for the past year and a half, because I never quite feel 100% whenever I’m here, partially because there’s this dry-cough in the back of my throat that never goes away, and partially because I spend entire months (like January) on antibiotics for the 拉肚子 that inevitably comes from trying to eat adventurously.
Over time, I’ve learned the hard way to never eat the strawberries that smell so deeply of Spring, the ones sold in fruit stalls on the sides of the streets, because washing them under tap water makes them not just dirty, but also full of heavy metals. I’ve found that the third bottle of Tsingtao in, you’ll never make a good decision about street-side meat skewers, and go back for seconds of lamb (or so they say…) with cumin and MSG. I’ve learned that if I don’t check the Air Quality Index in the morning on a bad day (200 and above), my throat will burn even harder, because on those days, Shanghai becomes a toxic sludge of factory air and exhaust pipes.
And it’s hard, feeling as if your body isn’t your own. I’m constantly under the weather, too tired, under caffeinated, under nourished, too dry, too sweaty, too cold, too warm – depending on the day and where I am in China. It’s frustrating, because I am trying to normalize all of those things, even if it’s taken me a year and a half to even take the baby steps necessary.
I finally gave in and bought my own food processor/immersion blender on 一号店 and I will make my own hummus, I promise (once I spend at least an afternoon trying to decide exactly what J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wants me to do to the chickpeas and the garlic), but I’ve already been blending smoothies almost every morning (are they healthy? that’s another question). I’ve become one of those girls that slathers her face with face creams every night, because otherwise my skin would start peeling from the dry winter air. D and I finally invested in one of those 5-gallon water drums that people use in China, because that beats being perpetually dehydrated from running out of water bottles.
I keep oscillating between living in this ‘bubble’ that we create by buying 60RMB avocado smoothies and salads with kale (or whatever the Chinese equivalent of kale must be) and going back to immersing myself in China and trying to understand it, to make the experience really matter. But when I try to get under China’s skin, it gets into mine (or more frequently into my digestive tract) and I revert back into the comfort of kombucha and kale until I feel disgusted with myself. I’m still not quite sure where the balance between the two is, but I’m doing to keep trying to find it.