For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. - T.S. Eliot
01.01.2012 6 °C
I woke up this morning with the sound of what I thought was last night's fireworks still ringing in my ears. At first, I was overcome with concern that I was going to have to resort to VanGogh-like measures until a moment later when I was relieved to find that the perpetual explosions were not of my ego but in fact the sound of the Chinese still celebrating relentlessly outside of my window. My relief to find that I was not losing my mind was quickly replaced by annoyance as I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I would not be returning to sleep. I made a mental note to purchase ear-plugs then got up to make a breakfast of bacon, eggs and grits, yum! This meal is a favorite of my roommate's and mine, as it is a nice taste of home. We came across it accidentally when I went to the supermarket for what I thought was quinoa and instead came home with grits. These sort of mix-ups happen a lot and I was quick to learn that if you don't embrace them and adapt, you might find your sanity slowly drifting away. Nothing in China is quite as it seems, unless of course something seems too good to be true, because in that case, it is.
As far as New Years resolutions go, mine pertain mostly to my time in China, as it is where I will be spending the majority of this year. First and foremost, I want to get my priorities straight while I am here. This past week, as 2011 reached its close opening the doors to 2012, has been one of many trials and tests of my patience and sanity. I have had to watch my roommate encounter blatant, unadulterated racism on two separate occasions, I have been cut off from communication with my family do to lack of home Internet access and I have had to wake up to a refrigerator of a house from the power shutting off. Our bus broke down on the way home from school yesterday, I left my favorite leather and cashmere Coach gloves on another bus, I dropped my wallet in a toilet one day and my cell phone in the same toilet the next, and I am fighting off a stubborn cold. I think that the Lord is trying to tell me to slow down. I knew Living in China was not going to be easy and I have been able to face most of struggles and obstacles thrown my way head on, but I have taken on too much and I need to get my priorities straight. I came here to travel, teach, learn Chinese, become better acquainted with a new culture and grow and there are many distractions in the city that have interfered.
I want to start seeing major improvement in my Chinese. I have been here for one month so far and though my vocabulary is increasing quickly, my tones and pronunciation need serious work. Because Chinese is a tonal language, if I don't focus on how I am saying each word, I could be saying any number of different things that I don't actually mean. Also, pronunciation is terribly important. If I had a Kwai for every time a Chinese person mistook my Chinese for English, I could stop working. Fortunately, I have made friends with a very kind and patient Chinese boy who is as determined as I am to get me speaking like a local.
I also want to start really focusing on my plans for what comes after China. I have a few options rattling around in my brain so far, the first being to move to Russia and teach English there while working hard to improve my Russian language skills. My other option is to join the lovely Shoshana Abrams in Tel Aviv, Israel and get my Masters in International Security and Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University. I have a lot to think about in the upcoming months.
Finally, I want to take advantage of being in Asia as much as I possibly can (while on a teacher's salary). For the first week of Spring Festival (Chinese holiday period that surrounds the Chinese New Year) I am flying to Seoul, South Korea. I have a friend living there who has been generous enough to allow me to stay with her and her husband. While in Korea I plan to eat a lot of delicious food, do some serious shopping, and go snowboarding! I am very excited.
For the second week of Spring Festival, I am still trying to weigh my options. I have considered flying down to the Philippines which would be an interesting experience, as well as a nice escape from the cold. I have not made a final decision on this however, because a part of me feels as though I should be in China, experiencing Chinese New Year to its full extent. I still have some time to decide.
Next week, I plan to take the train to Xi'an to see the terra cotta warriors, then head East to Nanjing, which used to be the old capital and is famous for the Japanese rape of Nanking during the second world war where an estimated 300,000 Chinese people were pillaged, raped and slaughtered by Japanese soldiers. The city is beautiful and right outside the city wall is Purple Mountain, which I plan to hike during my time there.
Eventually, I plan to book a tour of Tibet. I want to hike a little of Mt. Everest, and experience the religious influence and the mysterious culture of this controversial region.
The longer I am in China the more I find myself understanding the cultural differences and the varying mindsets of the Chinese people. When surrounded by masses of people speaking a language which I seriously struggle to comprehend, i found myself viewing everyone around me as a single entity of starers, spitters, pushers and line-cutters, and this dehumanizing way of thinking made it impossible for me to learn from the culture around me. When I started to take the time to meet the locals and to really get to know each of them on an individual and personal level, I was enlightened to how kind, intelligent, unique and beautiful they really are and now, though I am living among a population of 7 million people, the masses don't seem so overwhelming. I have made many new Chinese friends who have embraced me for my differences, have taught me about their own and have shared with me a piece of themselves.
(She got off the bus at a stop early because I was getting off and she wanted a picture with me)
This break down of the walls of identity that we innately wrap around ourselves is my favorite part of life abroad. People look, eat, behave and think differently. We hold varying beliefs and values, and we raise different kinds of families. When it comes down to it however, we are all of the same genetic make up, put on this Earth by a God who loves us and expects us to love each other. Galatians 3:28 says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." My roommate will even tell you that there is no difference between me and the local Chinese, as she claims that I am slowly becoming Chinese myself, the more I wear ear-muffs and furry slippers, crave dumplings, enjoy KTV (Karaoke Television), dance in the street for no reason and subconsciously weave in and out of people while walking at a speed-racer pace. This is just all a part of the assimilation process, I tell her.
Being a foreigner in a land strange to me, one thing that is clear above all others is that at their roots, fear and hatred are derived from ignorance and lack of understanding of the world around us. The more we learn about those different to us, the less scary a place the world becomes.
I wish everyone a happy new year and the best of luck in 2012!