Note the new pics in the post below.
China has begun to feel like home. Unlike previous nomadic travels, I’ve begun to develop roots. I’d attribute this first to the people and, secondly, to my own personal rhythm. There is a kindness and hospitality here that makes it easy to feel comfortable and cared for.
But I also think things are becoming familiar and regular, which creates a sense of home—the place I tend go for lunch, running regular stairs for exercise, seeing people I know, learning names, developing rapport with students, playing soccer with a regular group of guys on the weekends, my morning cup of Nescafe (which I’ve come to cherish). I feel a sense of community and belonging, with my apartmentmate, my fellow teachers, the locals, my students, even the city itself.
It’s been a good week. Trying to be attentive to cultural distinctives, norms, tendencies, ways of understanding the world. Some are thought-provoking; other just make me laugh. Every time I take a taxi I expect to hit someone. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, and the way drivers weave in and out of lanes and drive full speed at children on bicycles fully expectant that the children will move at the last minute (which they do)—it can be a bit nerve-wracking. But I have yet to see an accident. They may drive chaotically, but it’s organized chaos—they are excellent drivers with quick instincts.
And they honk their horns incessantly. But they do it as a warning, unlike in the US where we usually honk if we’re getting impatient, or trying to send a message to someone we feel wronged us. There seems to be little ill-will here among drivers.
And there’s phone calls. If I don’t answer my phone, I will be called repeatedly until I do. They seem to want to talk to me right then, and cannot wait. Plans are also made spontaneously, so I have to be ready to adjust my own plans if I want to be social, lest I become a recluse because I pass on last-minute opportunities.
One of the more intriguing tendencies among students that continues to come up is a lack of those “self-actualization questions”: “who am I, what’s the point of my life, how did we get here, what fulfills my soul?” As I discuss this with other teachers, I find this is heavily attributable to family obligation, and maybe some more traditional tendencies toward group conformity over individual preference, or the denying of individual passions. The students I have are 19-21 year-olds, but they seem sheltered, and tend to be a bit emotionally immature for their age.
I’m still learning about this, so some of my thoughts are speculative. But while I will continue to insist that in China I am the learner and the host people are the teachers, I think maybe this is one of the places I have something to offer. Despite some deficiencies in the individualist mindset I bring from the West, my affirmations of the process of self-discovery, of personal call/vocation, and of freedom of expression are messages I believe to be relevant to my students.
I’m certainly not here to stir up trouble, but I am intrigued by the opportunity to challenge my students with those soul-searching questions—not to encourage rebellion, detachment from family, or disregard for others, but to point them down the path of discovering more clearly their “deepest gladness” as Buechner describes it, who they were created to be, as well as the way G**, whether or not they understand him in the way I do, is at work in the world.
And realistically, I only have the time and energy to invest in a few. But I also believe I can be faithful to my own call even if I don’t see the fruit. If that means I invest in a few and my efforts ripple out to others, great. If it means I just show simple kindness and graciousness and joy to a few and the ripples out, wonderful.
I’ve been grateful for the space to reflect here. I’ve been grateful for continual new acquaintances and friends. I’ve been grateful for how my musicianship has been a point of connection between me and some musical students, regardless of language barriers. I’ve been grateful for regular Skyping with Joann, my girlfriend back home, to prevent either of us smitten kids from excessive melancholy.
I’m grateful that I’ve begun to master chopsticks. I’ve been grateful for the fellowship I’ve experienced with the other teachers, including a meeting the other night in which nine C****tians—4 Americans, 3 Cameroonians, and 2 Filipinos worshipped together and reflected upon what it means to convey in tangible ways to our students even a fraction of the love of the One who extravagantly loves us.
And I’m grateful for the peace I feel, knowing I’m right where I need to be, even if it meant wading through indecision, doubts, other “failed” pursuits, and various fears to get me here.