As this season of my life begins to wind down (or speed up to a sprint), I’m trying to think more intentionally about how to spend my time well, how to be fully present in my work and relationships, how to end well. Though, I imagine this “end” is only the closing of one aspect of my relationship with China—my time as a teacher at this college in Xiaogan with this particular community of people.
I anticipate it is the just beginning of many relationships formed here (especially with the ability to stay connected through current and still-developing technology) and likely the beginning of my relationship with the country and culture as a whole, though I can’t articulate what that relationship will look like yet.
In blogging I’ve mostly written with gratitude, reflecting on the good and beautiful I’ve experienced here. I’ve been critical at times, but that’s been mostly overshadowed by writing with a kind of optimism and intrigue about everything. And, well, that’s just kind of me, and when I force myself to write about it and share it with others, I’m challenged to keep my eyes open to see this goodness and beauty, which is overwhelming and obvious if my eyes are indeed open to see it and my heart open to receive it.
And I’ll probably have more to say in the coming weeks about what I’ll miss about my time here. BUT…I thought it fair or at least worthwhile to consider and share some of those things I don’t necessarily think I’ll miss all that much when I leave. Time for a little negativity for a change… :)
DRIVERS. I haven’t driven a car since I came to China, and I have no desire to. Chinese drivers are not necessarily bad drivers…but they’re chaotic drivers. I’ve had so many close calls while riding on buses and in taxis. Actually, I was riding in a sort of rickshaw with a few students back when I was traveling in February, and a car rammed into the back edge of our cart, nearly tipping us over. I was a little shaken up, and a little amused. (We got out of the rickshaw and didn't pay our driver, though he didn’t ask for money.)
Traffic lanes are “guidelines” here, not rules, and drivers unhesitatingly drive on the wrong side of the road for several seconds at a time, weaving in and out of lanes. I would not know what I was doing if I was driving. But they do seem to know what they’re doing, as I’ve maybe seen only one or two accidents in all my time here. Still…I don’t like the chaos and numerous close calls.
LINES. Related to above, lines are a bit chaotic. Some people respect the order of a line, but many do not. People really like to push their way to the front, and are often very strategic and sneaky about the way they get in front of one another. Chinese lines are not for the passive. And it seems almost expected, like if I’m going to hold my ground in line I need to be a bit aggressive. But I’m naturally not, and often times now when I see someone trying to cut, I’ll either glare at them for a while, or hold up my hand and say “whoa!” Sometimes they get the hint.
Actually, the checker at the vegetable stand at the local supermarket knows this annoys me. Just last week I was waiting patiently for her to weigh and price my green peppers and broccoli when an elderly woman and a slightly larger man swooped in. But before I could make some kind of grunt of dissatisfaction, the checker saw me, recognized me (obviously), and weighed my vegetables first. Nice to have her on my side. :)
HONKING. Drivers are very liberal with their horn use here. In America, if someone honks their horn at you whether you are driving or walking, it’s usually because they’re annoyed with you. But in China, drivers constantly warn each other when—by my judgment—such a warning is not needed. And I startle VERY easy, so when I’m walking and not at all in the way of the path of a driver, but he thinks I am or that I might soon enter his path, even if I can hear him coming, he’ll honk. And I jump. And get annoyed. And then get annoyed with myself for getting annoyed at him.
SPITTING. Men and women over the age of forty or so are constantly hacking up stuff and spitting, often making it known a city block away when they’re doing it. Sometimes they even do it indoors and on buses, spitting on the floor. It’s gross. Fortunately my students think so too, so hopefully they won’t go down that path and become spitters when they are older.
LITTER. The streets are really filthy around here, as most people (but not all) don’t think twice about throwing their garbage on the ground, even indoors at times. Generally speaking, the people in Xioagan are pretty bad litterers. I suppose the one positive of this is that it creates a lot of jobs, as the city hires workers (for cheap) to walk around constantly and clean the streets, way more so than I’ve ever seen in America. So perhaps every piece of trash I throw on the ground creates jobs and feeds families; gosh, maybe I should reconsider my stance on littering.
SMOKING. Smoking is not prohibited indoors here, and smoking is also much cooler among college boys here than in America (never seen a girl or woman smoking here). I don’t care much for breathing in second hand smoke, nor do I like having to wash my clothes after being around smokers.
THE ATTENTION. This is a tricky one. This may be surprising to some, but I get tired of the attention here. I certainly love and appreciate that people want to be my friend and often want to help me in some way, and I do cherish all of my friends here. But even for someone like me with the kind of personality and wiring that seems to welcome attention, sometimes I really just long to be obscure…to walk down the street and not have everyone looking at me in a way that makes me feel more like a novelty than a person, more an “it” than a “he.”
Sometimes I just smile and consider it sweet when girls giggle at me and boys shyly smile and laugh with one another when they see me. I know it’s not mean-spirited. But sometimes it wears on me and I just want to shout at people. But I don’t, because, well…I’m usually nicer than that. But obscurity has never sounded so nice—to not be noticed by anyone other than those who really know and appreciate me, as many of my students/friends here do. But who knows…maybe I’ll come back to America and walk down the street and wonder why everyone’s not looking at me and start feeling really needy and long for the attention of China. I sure hope not.
18-21 YEAR-OLD RELATIONSHIPS. It seems like there’s a pretty common formula for many of the couples I see here: the pouty girl and the pushy guy. Nearly all of my students are single or have boyfriends/girlfriends back home and not here, so those I observe in passing are students I don’t really know. But I see the routine all the time. Guys act a bit forceful with girls, and the girls play the role of pouty “I-don’t-wanna!” girl, which makes the guys all the more “do-my-will!”-like in their interactions. It use to just be the guys that annoyed me and made me want to go get in their face and tell them how to properly treat women, although one of my fellow female teachers rightly pointed out that the girls don’t really help with their silly attitude. Ugh. So obnoxious. And unhealthy.
THE AIR. The air is just pretty dirty here in Xiaogan (and worse in Wuhan) and I rarely see blue sky even on warm days, because of the cloudy haze of smog (though it’s glorious when I do see blue). While China seems to be working hard at alternative energy, it’s also pretty polluted, which I’ve heard attributed to China’s rapid economic development…as if China kind of progressed faster than its environment was prepared for.
THE LACK OF A STARBUCKS. Sometimes an Americano sounds lovely, though I do get one about once a month when I go into Wuhan. And for that matter, I won’t miss the lack of many edible items I take for granted in America. I really do enjoy Chinese food, and feel like my diet here might be healthier than in America. But sometimes I just wish for a burrito from Chipotle, a slice of pizza from Old Town Pizza, an oversize cheeseburger from Deschutes Brewery, or a pint from Mcmenamins. I have a feeling re-entering America will have a similar effect on my weight as the typical freshman at college.
DISTANCE FROM LOVED ONES. Obviously. It’s hard, no doubt, though the joy that comes from making new friends and feeling valued here makes the distance from home bearable.
I don’t imagine I’ll miss any of these things. Then again, while I don’t look favorably on the abovementioned facets of life in China, they could become more endearing than unpleasant in a few months as I nostalgically look back on my time here. I’m open to that.
But, nah, they probably won’t.