Happiness is Homemade

Home is where the heart is they say, so read on for useful ways on how to add a dose of love and soul into your space and never be homesick again!

Expats, Chinese, readers who have moved away from home to come and live here in our beloved Dongguan, this one is aimed at you. I’m sure we all know what it’s like to face homesickness at least once in a while, and especially those who moved here this summer to start a new job in teaching, hospitality, shoes, furniture, trading, or whatever else; and perhaps might be feeling a little low due to missing home comforts and family members.

For Chinese people, moving across their vast home country for work or education means parting with their families, and being close to family and upholding certain family traditions is typically something of huge significance in China. They also will miss their childhood home, schoolfriends and favorite foods from their hometown. For expats, moving to Dongguan from their homeland means the same thing, in addition to the culture shock. My experience during the transition in 2016 was a rollercoaster ride packed with highs and lows. From separating from everything I ever knew—my home, my relationship at the time, a nine-to-five job, my car, seeing friends and family during each weekend—to diving into something that nobody can really prepare you for; well it felt completely crazy. I remember that every day involved some kind of new challenge, whether it was figuring out how to use Chinese Didi and make my way around the city without getting lost, hosting a show on stage in front of 2,000 people, managing a class of 60 for the first time, or even just learning how to be alone. But these challenges are what makes Dongguan so great, and what makes you so great! We all know how much excitement, warmth and vitality that moving to Dongguan can provide us with.

In this vast melting pot of a city, we are taught to be independent, resilient, mindful and to appreciate diversity. And yet, you also are given numerous opportunities to meet people from all over the globe whom you may end up sharing some of your best memories with. Your senses are tantalized endlessly by novelties and your prospects expand. Adjusting to your second home can be difficult but very rewarding. The best way to settle in is to start by making your apartment or arranged housing feel homely. You may be living on school campus and realize that you would prefer more privacy; or perhaps your studio apartment is a little too small; or maybe your neighbors are not exactly ideal—but remember, this is where you should feel happy. It’s a space that you should feel able to relax in, and look forward to returning to after work, whether alone or with company.

Similarly, the space and events surrounding your house or apartment—your commute, your friendship circles, your time spent outside of working hours—all of this should also feel “like home.” You should feel comfortable within yourself and within your way of life, as much as possible, even if it takes a little time to adjust. So, let’s talk about how to make that happen by implementing certain methods or adjustments into your home and daily life, as well as not wasting the opportunity to embrace a new culture, enjoy novelties and grow as a person.

Find Familiar Food
We all know what it’s like to miss those delicious treats that you love because you cannot seem to obtain them any longer! Adapting to new styles of food (and also the supermarkets) can be a challenge. It can be exciting to try unexplored territory however, yet also a little frustrating if you’re fussy. Whether it’s Tim Tams, English tea or proper German sausage, it can be hard going without the things we like to indulge in. If you’re missing your favorite items from home, check out the stores around with imported products: Allgood, Spar, Walmart and Carrefour have import product sections, and you can always count on Corner’s Deli and Jay’s in Dongcheng, and Metro in Wanjiang, as well as Nogogo.cn and the upcoming HERE! Mall online. Make friends around your area and join WeChat groups, as somebody might just take a trip to your homeland and you could ask them if they can bring you a familiar treat back in their suitcase!

Cook Home Cuisine
Cook your favorite meals and snacks like you would as if you were home. Spaghetti Bolognese? Hummus and pita? Pancakes and syrup? Whatever you miss the taste of, you don’t have to go without it! You just need to know how and where. Write a quick shopping list, grab your wallet and pop over to a supermarket (as above) to get your ingredients. Whip up your favorite dish and fill your home with the delicious smells while doing something “homely.” Why not invite some friends over? If you’re feeling lazy and rather than cooking you are looking for somewhere to eat out, be on the lookout as there are plenty of options around Dongguan. With several Italian eateries around, as well as options for Brazilian cuisine, American, Indian, English delights, and much more, you’re bound to find somewhere that can transport you home by tickling your taste buds with some familiar flavors.

Your Favorite Scents
Speaking of the senses, this time we’re focusing on smell. Did you know that smell is linked with the emotional and memory parts of our brains? Hence why certain scents take you back to a time or place in your memory. Perhaps you miss certain scents from home? Whether it may be the comfort of your mom’s vanilla candles, the memories of festivities created by the aroma of mulled wine at Christmas, or the sandalwood incense you used to love when you would visit your aunt’s house; kick in the nostalgia by bringing those scents into your home. Whether you wish to fill your place with familiar scents, or you just want to create a relaxing atmosphere, you can find candles, incense and other scented items on Taobao, or in many of our local malls and stores. Or check out LADYBUG, the new scent lab in Dongcheng (see page 5). Go and explore!

Show the Family Around
Being away from family and friends can be difficult, especially when you’re new to it. Sometimes you will have days where you really wish you could just pop over to someone’s place for a cup of tea and a quick chat. Or even just a hug. But let’s face it, being here in Dongguan is an incredible opportunity, and you don’t have to stop seeing your loved ones because you are miles apart. Introduce your family to your new favorite gem: WeChat! You know that you can do video calls right? Get them to download the app and create a username, make yourself comfy and speak to them over video call. See your family’s faces while speaking to them in your home. Better yet, using your camera, you can show them around your new home! They will love it. And why not arrange a fortnightly date for calls to keep in touch?

Pictures Your Loved Ones
Have a picture-perfect space and be reminded of your loved ones. Perhaps you are missing the faces of your family and friends? Ensure that you never forget how lucky you are to have them by placing photographs around your home. I imagine that most people bring some photos with them when moving, otherwise if you have digital ones on your camera or computer, go out and print some at one of the many local printing shops around—it is very inexpensive and convenient to do so. I remember about two weeks into living at my first school campus in Donnguan, how happy I was to have brought a whole bunch of photos with me—especially the ones from some of the funniest times in the past. And remember to take lots of photos of your new experiences here as one day you will look back on those, too.

Foster a Companion
Now this one will not apply to everyone, but for some people it may be a fantastic idea. If you’re used to having a pet companion by your side at home, cat or dog or whatever, why not foster or adopt a pet? Maybe you considerably miss your furry sidekick and can see the benefits in adopting a little friend who would be very grateful to have you. Just think about how great it would be to have pet company again! You can really have your own little family here in Dongguan. Fill your home with as many furry friends as you wish! It will be a nice way to feel at home again and for sure it will keep you smiling and bring a little love into the place. See your dog’s tail wag as you walk through the door, or curl up on the sofa with your kittens—what could be better?

Host a Gathering
Host a homestyle party! Invite and gather friends and colleagues, and bring them into your home for a fun time and to get to know each other better. Bringing laughter, communication and togetherness into your space will instantly revamp the vibe and allow for you to start off the good memories that can take place in your living quarters. Why not show your friends a bit of your home culture? Host an English tea party and get some scones and jam in specially, or a wine and cheese night perhaps? Ask your friends to bring a bottle or a cheese from their hometown. Maybe you are an avid dinner party host back home, and you are known for putting on the best banquets in town; if so, then get to it! Why not create a group on WeChat for monthly parties among friends?

Make it Your Own
Make your house or apartment perfect by investing time and money into your place of rest. Inject your style with elements such as furniture, artwork and other such embellishments to create a cozy effect. Add curtains, rugs and nice bedding for a warm space. Or you might be more of a creative type and prefer to master your own space by putting together various materials. Use old scarves instead of curtains, upcycle items such as wine bottles to make vases, and use up old paper and paint to create your own artwork. Fashion your own project by building your very own furniture; there are lots of local shops with wood, materials, paint and other essentials around Wanjiang or you can visit Taobao of course. Otherwise, visit furniture shops or check out the “buy and sell” group on WeChat to see what items you can find if you prefer to buy rather than build.

Add a Little Rhythm
Put together a playlist of your favorite music, and liven up your home and yourself! It could be that first album you ever bought, or those songs you play at Christmas when spending time with your family. It could be a playlist comprising of tunes by your favorite DJs that you went to see at a festival where you had the best time of your life, or your favorite chill out tunes just to have some background noise. Whatever it is, play it to your heart’s content and sing, or dance, and feel alive! Music is made up of memories, moments, movement; music creates all of this too. Music is a mood-changer, and therefore ideal to allow you to express yourself and feel good. You may even miss the sounds of birds chirping—as sadly we do not hear this so much in Dongguan—you can even source certain sounds that may make you feel more relaxed.

Embrace Your Independence
Step into your new world and embrace your second home with open arms! For some, this new living space is their first place away from parents, or away from siblings or friends. Moving to Dongguan may even be the first place you have ever lived away from home which if it is the case, is very impressive if you’re miles away. You may be living on your own for the first time, which might seem daunting at first, but it means that you can be independent! You can have your own space, and you can make it into whatever you like. If you’re in shared housing, well it means you get to spend time with new friends and have a ton of fun living the “student lifestyle,” while still gaining your independence by being away from parents and family. It’s a win-win situation.

Get Yourself Into the Community
Don’t just spend your time indoors, get yourself out there and into the community! Introduce yourself to people in the kinds of places that you would normally like to spend time in, or even those you may not, if you want to try something different for a change. There are plenty of places to mingle in around here. Join clubs around Dongguan whether it’s to engage in sports, art, or other activities, and find your place within your new city. Why not join a club that makes a difference to our beloved city? Joining the group “Beautiful Dongguan” for instance, means making friends while cleaning up areas of Dongguan. Make friends and acquaintances, spend time with colleagues and open up to the possibility and probability that you will end up loving Dongguan as much as you love your first home, or even more perhaps!

Be Inspired by Your New Home
Wrap yourself wholeheartedly in the uniqueness of the location and culture that you are now experiencing; Dongguan has so much to offer. Delve into the history of where you are, be mindful and don’t waste time thinking about the past or where else you could be. Enjoy every moment of where you are! Taste the local foods and snacks, engage in popular activities like massage or KTV, or visit the temples and parks for something more inspiring. Begin to learn Mandarin or Cantonese (or both!) and speak to the locals who have lived here for years, people who you would never get the chance to speak to about certain things back in your homeland. Fill yourself with all things wise and wonderful in this beautiful city: your second home. Create a blog or share your story. One day, you may have some truly amazing stories for the grandkids, or, you may even end up writing a book!