Why is it that the most pensive posts are written in the late night hours? Maybe it’s because it’s the only time of day where I have time to stop and think and take in my day, week, month, year. Or maybe it hits a certain time and a haze just settles like an invisible hypnotist that puts me in a reflective state. Once again, “late night” in this context refers to anytime after 11pm. I do have a couple of more focused, topical Beijing posts in the works, but I sort of just need to write freely to release my thoughts somewhere they won’t disappear. I’ve been thinking a lot about what life will be like when I eventually return home, and it scares the shit out of me.
Perhaps my title would be better worded as a question, as I’m not quite sure why Chinese girls hold hands. But I thought it’d be fun to write a post about my theories. Here are a few:
Years of being crowded in on a subway leads to no perception of personal space. Chinese girls have tried to hold my hand in the past. I’m not a fan, mostly because I feel like they’re invading my bubble. Though it could just be that I have space issues. To avoid discomfort, I typically pull the “Oh, I’ve got to let go to scratch my face” and then move away move. Trust me, it works.
It’s their way of showing affection to one another. When I say hi or bye to my girlfriends back home, I usually do it with a hug. I noticed that Chinese girls here don’t normally hug; they’ll wave hello, and then grasp hands. So I guess…American girls body-hug, and Chinese girls hand-hug.
Living in China has definitely put things into perspective. The old me could not go a week without either Starbucks or Jamba Juice. Meeting up with friends meant sharing a meal, or dessert, or at the very least, grabbing a boba (pearl milktea). Either way, I spent a lot of money to eat and play. Spoiled? Not necessarily. Comfortable? Definitely. However, when you live in another country…without financial support from parents…with no job upon arrival…you learn to live without certain daily luxuries (by luxury, I mean a cup of brand-name coffee). One thing I’ve learned is that I can do without certain things because there are people in this country who survive on a lot less.
Before I came to China, I thought what most ABCs (American Born Chinese) thought about China: poor. Actually being over here, however, especially the past two years, I’ve seen how rapidly the country is developing. China has 115 billionaires on the 2011 Forbes Billionaires List, second only to the US. Tourism in other countries (such as France) has been boosted primarily because of a rise in Chinese tourists, who are using their newfound wealth to travel around the world. But despite the rapid growth of China’s economy, there still remains a significantly large disparity between the upper-class and the middle or lower-class. According to one of my students, there is no middle-class in China, just a country of people who are either ridiculously rich or ridiculously poor.
It’s interesting how most of my random thoughts come bursting out when I’m in a public place, but when I’m home alone I can sit there staring at the wall and be thinking of nothing. I guess it shows how much our brains are stimulated by what we see and hear. I tend to have random trains of thoughts, where my initial thought leads to another and another and it’s very possible I start out thinking about coffee and end up thinking about how to fix the world (I have yet to figure that out).
I was sitting at Starbucks reading eat, pray, love by Elizabeth Gilbert and this is how my train of thought went:
“It’d be really cool to write a book about my experiences in China. Of course, that would require a lot of writing. Although my blog posts and emails are often excruciatingly long anyway, so I don’t think it would take much more effort to write enough to fill a book.”
“I love writing. But to write a book, you need a beginning, middle, and end, or some sort of captivating story. Otherwise, it feels unfinished.”
“I guess that’s what blogs are for. Blogs are sort of like unfinished books. You have lot’s of anecdotes, words of wisdom, but there’s not really any finish. Unless you start and stop multiple blogs, which I’ve done.”
“What would I write about anyway? My experience isn’t that unique because I blend in so easily. I’m not blonde-haired and blue-eyed like most Chinese think Americans look like, stuck in a country where I don’t speak the language. I’m also not blonde-haired and blue-eyed speaking fluent Chinese, which eventually lands me a spot hosting my own TV show in Chinese. That’d be a good story. So, what? Chinese-American girl travels to China in her twenties to “find herself”? Finds herself stuck between two worlds, Western and Chinese, not knowing which world she belongs in?”
“What does that mean, anyway? To “find yourself”? Why is it that you find yourself in your twenties? Or you’re supposed to take time to do so. I think that self-identity is fluid. People change because the circumstances around you are always changing. Maybe I’m a patient person now, but maybe in a few years I’ll turn into one of those people who yells at the Starbucks barista for not making her Venti-decaf-half nonfat-half soy milk-2 pumps Vanilla-2 pumps Chai-extra hot-latte just right (yes, I’ve had to make drinks that complicated, and no, it’s not fun to be the barista in this situation).”
To continue on my last thought, I find it an interesting phenomenon. The whole American idea that your twenties is a time for you to find yourself, figure out who you are. Does that mean professionally? It would make sense, since a lot of people continue further education immediately after undergrad. And usually it’s with a goal in mind of being an expert in a particular field. That’s why some people “take a year off” to try to figure out what they want to do, maybe work different jobs to see how they like it. Personally, I think it’s just an excuse to take a year off and bum around sleeping in and watching TV, which you justify by spending 10 minutes of your day searching the want ads. But in the land of dreams, of “be whatever you want to be,” there is also the option of switching careers later in life, which many people do.
So does that mean that all your soul-searching in your twenties was wasted? All that time you spent studying to be a doctor is thrown out the door when you decide to open your own restaurant instead? No, I don’t think so. Because people are constantly changing. And that time you spent as a doctor is as crucial to shaping who you were then as opening your own restaurant is to shaping who you are now. Which is why I don’t understand what it means to figure out who you are. I do have a tendency to believe that when people say that in America, it is referring to who you are professionally. I think a lot of people define themselves by their professions, especially when they hold high positions. I guess being here in China, that’s one thing that has changed about my thinking. I’m seeing that there is a lot more to self-identity than what job you hold at the moment. Which is ironic because I’m in a country which places a HUGE value on face and social status. But I guess I’ve been blessed that the people surrounding me don’t care about things like that.
Suddenly hit a road block in my thoughts. Not sure where to go from here without being repetitive. Maybe figuring out who you are means figuring out what you want in life. But then, can’t you start thinking about that earlier? Who’s to say high-schoolers don’t know what they want out of life? Maybe when we’re 25, we think that high-schoolers can’t know because they’re too young and immature. But that’s all relative. Maybe a 40 year-old thinks a 25 year-old can’t know what he/she wants because he/she is too young and immature. The older we get, the wiser we think we are compared to younger generations. But there are people who grow up their whole lives knowing they’re going to be not only a teacher, but a history teacher at an inner-city high school. And there’s also people who are 60 and feel like no matter how many different jobs they’ve held, they still weren’t satisfied with what they accomplished.
I know there’s an underlying reason for these thoughts. That’s the reason I keep going around in circles. Usually when I do that, my thoughts form the shape of a tornado and I keep circling down until I reach the bottom of the funnel, where lies what I’m really trying to say. I just haven’t reached it yet.
One of the things I consider a small, personal victory in Beijing is when I can go an entire taxi ride without the driver asking where I am from. Because I’m Chinese-American, most drivers assume I’m a Chinese citizen. When I encounter chatty taxi drivers (which is actually the majority of them, but I don’t blame them, since it can be a lonely job), I like to spend my time conversing with them. Unlike people who work in an office and see the same people everyday, the Beijing taxi driver’s office is the city of Beijing, and drivers encounter different characters everyday. Granted, they’re usually people of a certain class, since lower-class Chinese citizens take the bus or subway. But I find that the drivers usually have something interesting to say about their observations of people.
So in a typical 20 minute taxi ride to or from my home in Beijing, riding with a particularly chatty taxi driver (such as today), you can imagine the amount of Chinese language that is exchanged. Which is why I consider it a small, personal victory when my Chinese is “biao zhun” 标准 enough, or standard enough for the driver to not realize that I’m actually from America. Here’s the trick: Speak quickly, don’t enunciate every word. I admit I cheat a little, and sometimes if I don’t understand the driver I smile and nod anyway and pretend to be distracted.
Actually, on a sidenote, I used to get upset or defeated when people asked “So where are you from?” because I assumed it was because they could hear my laowai accent. But I realized that it’s a common question, especially in Beijing. It’s sorta like how Americans talk about the weather. It’s a silence filler. Anyway, the question is particularly common in Beijing because this city is such a mixed pot of not just foreigners and Chinese people, but Chinese people from different provinces. The number of outsiders outnumbers the local Beijingers. At least, that’s what I think, don’t take it as an updated official statistic. There are people from Anhui province, Henan, Hunan (yes there’s a difference between the two), Shandong, the other Shandong, etc.
This post sounds like I wrote it just to brag about my Chinese…..until next time!
When my boyfriend and I arrived in Pingdingshan in Henan province, we still had to take a taxi to his hometown. It had been a long trip from Beijing, and we were both tired and just wanted to get to his home. What happened next, while frustrating in the moment, was not at all surprising. The taxi driver noticed a woman walking on the side of the road. He slowed down his taxi and rolled down the window. Then, he asked if she needed a ride. They discussed distance and price, and she hopped in the front seat. I feel like that’s something that happens all the time in China, though that was the first time I’d personally been a witness. 20 kuai later, she hopped out of the car and we continued on our way.
Soon after, we passed two men walking along the road. As the car slowed down, I thought to myself “You have GOT to be kidding me.” Wait, no, I believe I said it out loud. Apparently either the distance was disagreeable or the price was. Either way, it was not meant to be and we left them behind.
At this point, I started to get tense each time I saw a figure up ahead on the side of the road. A half hour trip was dragging out for a lot longer, and I was not a happy camper. True to my gut feeling, we stopped once again. Well, not so much stopped as much as slowed down. Not that it makes a difference in an impatient situation. I wanted to yell at the taxi driver, but didn’t for a couple of reasons. The first was that it wouldn’t have done any good. It sucked to feel so helpless, but I’ve learned that personal situations don’t always draw empathy here. The second reason I didn’t lose my temper at the guy was because we were in the middle of nowhere, and I figured that the only thing that would lead to us arriving at my boyfriend’s home any slower than this guy was if we had to walk the rest of the way.
While the third stop was the peak of my emotional distress, the fourth was when I had given up. I stared daggers at the back of the guy’s head, hoping he would feel the subliminal pricks. I got my silent victory when we arrived at the village and the driver had to drive through an unpaved, muddy road that was filled with small ditches. The guy complained the whole way and I smiled a huge smile, hoping he’d somehow see it through the dark. Petty, yes. But I went to sleep a little less upset than I was before.