With two years of life in China passed, I now find myself experiencing cyclical moments for a third time and I cannot help but pause and mark the reality of this. Somehow, me…this normal, average person…is beginning a 3rd year of existence in China. Bizarre. Here are my random thoughts:
- The simple fact that someone lives in China does not make them intrinsically cool or open-minded or fun. We get treated really special over here, our students give us a lot of attention and typically act as though they might kiss the ground that we walk on…but it doesn’t mean anything. We are not that cool. Some people are very cool people, some people are very interesting people, but moving to China does not automatically grant you any personality value that was not already there within.
- I miss our puritanical compulsions towards sanitation and order sometimes.
- I still miss driving.
- I care much less about the workings of Western pop culture (or did until everyone just came back from a summer in the US and are referencing movies and songs that I didn't know existed!).
- Yes…but. In a nation of so many billions of people, it is impossible to generalize. For every statement that I have probably ever made (or will make) there is always an exception. Sometimes the exceptions to a generality compose an entire province, sometimes the exception is still larger than the entire population of the U.S., sometimes it seems like an exception simply because “I know a guy who…” Anyway, we all make these statements all the time about “China,” or “the Chinese” as explanations for something or other…and we’re always immediately partially incorrect. There are a billion angles to this harmonious nation, and two years in Wuhan have revealed a few of them…but only a few. Nothing on this blog can give a definitive view of The Great China…just like a foreigner spending 2 years in Kingsport, Tennessee would be not fully equipped to comment on all of America based on that experience.
- There’s a line in one of my favorite “songs”…it’s an inspirational speech set to music that came out in 1999 or so called “Wear Sunscreen” that says, “live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.” I think about that sometimes as I find my interactions with some veering away from the southern hospitality and gentility of my upbringing. Wuhan is not NYC, but it has more people and is notorious in China for being a city of tough, hardened personalities. The dialect even sounds angry. Though my friends who I’ve met from Wuhan have all been so kind and giving and lovely in every way, a case study of street scenes alone would show a sharp-edged urban environment of people driving hard bargains on the street, working any angle to get ahead, pushing, shoving, and yelling at those who get in their way. Perhaps this urban mentality has worked its way into my thinking, or maybe I’ve just lost patience with some of the more intrusive aspects of being a foreigner here…but I find myself forgoing southern gentility in favor of blunt, direct, forthright assertions these days.
My first year, strangers would walk up to me on the street and ask to “make friends for to improve my englishes.” They’d follow this request with persistent requests for my phone number. Back then, I would politely offer my email address instead, or explain that I’d love to be friends but I’m very busy but maybe they could come to the school’s English corner and see me then, or that my phone was not working so I couldn’t share it with anyone...etc. Now, I just say No, Thank you. If they persist, I say No, Thank you. If they persist louder, I turn, stare them in the eye, and say No. Thank You. (ok, ok…it sounds really bad—but I’m only really really direct when they get really really up in my face—which does happen on a semi-regular basis)
- I have to fight harder to keep a humanistic worldview sometimes. US and THEM gets into my thinking too often…. it’s just harder putting it all into practice when you’re such the outsider here.
- Absolutely everything that is done in China can be partially…sometimes fully…explained by the following: There are a lot of people in China. When new foreigners move to Wuhan and are filled with so many “Why?” questions, I'm sometimes tempted to just repeat each time as a response, “There are a lot of people in China.”
- I’m very very very American. And Southern. It’s deep down in me.
- This is my last year in China. Of course, nothing is certain, but I feel highly confident that this chapter of life is coming to a close. I’m ready for this to be my final round of things in China and to start considering where the next chapter should be…right now it’s looking like India!
The truth is that along the way, there are days when I am absolutely confident that this is exactly where I am meant to be, there are days when I feel so utterly exhausted by the struggle of life here that I can’t remember why I came, there are days when I think I could stay another 3 years, there are days when I think that it might be best for both me and China if I just quit it all and leave tomorrow.
Before I first came to China, I went and sat on a cliff overlook in SW Virginia that has been a thinking spot for me through the years. I tried to take a moment and enjoy who I was at that precise time, the Lucy-before-China. Because I assumed that moving to a land so completely opposite would have to change me somehow. I didn’t move here for that change, I wasn’t searching for anything; I was just following where I felt I should go.
And now two years in, I’m not sure that I did change all that much. I believe much more in the possibilities of alternative lifestyles (uh….meaning, lifestyles that vary from the typical school-college-work-marriage-mortgage-kids-retirement path that so many of us are taught is the way of life), I am more confident in myself, more sure that it has been His Hand all along doing something with my life, I know myself more… I’ve learned a lot, I’ve practiced a lot, but in all, it’s not something that changed me so much as it’s been something that forced me to put into practice all the things that I have always been. Sometimes I’ve failed at that. There are some weaknesses that have come out in the process that have been given too much time and nutrition that I have to eliminate. But overall, the past two years have been vibrant, crazy, lovely, absurd, and wonderful.
And now I have one more year—round 3—to seize and try to do to the fullest all the things that I came here to do. I have one final year here in China to try to be someone who brings joy into this spot of the world, who reflects light into dark places, who learns to give her time and energy to others. We’ll see how it goes!