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EXPERIENCE

The realization that some malignant force is brewing comes late one night when I accidentally knock a pair of once-black shoes off the rack to find them a new shade of dusty green

I’d gone from simply going about my daily life in England with only the occasional glimmer of national awareness when renewing my passport or going on holiday, to announcing my nationality up to 50 times a day.

My Chinese exhausted, our 'conversation' devolved into a bad game of charades in which I frantically tried to mime a suitcase, arms flailing all over the place, and the unsuspecting official alternated between trying to direct me to the neglected suitcase on the baggage carousel and the toilets.

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It turned out the actual secret place was a cabin situated right next to the main path, with flashy Christmas lights attached to every square centimeter. This was the place where all the heads of Zhejiang Province came every Saturday to sing karaoke, she said

Living in such close quarters, you can forget about privacy. Thanks to a vigilant neighborhood watch made up of keen-eyed elderly ayi and shushu (“aunties” and“uncles”) who keep everyone informed of comings and goings, word travels fast around the lanes

In China I’ve learned that often the best thing to do is lose the little battle to win the war. It’s a lesson that I have not learned well, because it appeared I’d won three large rocks, but lost my house.