Sunday, March 22, 2009
Let's never come here again because it will never be as much fun
You've all seen Lost in Translation, right? Yeah, it's like that. It's all like that. The strangeness, the complete alienation. The way everything floats by in a haze of foreignness. The way I live squarely in a world of concreteness rather than abstraction -- I can make myself somewhat understood in shops and restaurants, but not much beyond that. The way the bubble of concreteness makes me feel so one-dimensional. The way my foreignness is always on display, even when I feel like crap and just want to walk down to the store to get some food, everyone will inevitably turn their head and stare and laugh. Most of the time, I don't mind. But sometimes, it makes me not even willing to leave my apartment for entire days on end.
Here's the thing: I came to China, and to this city specifically, because of my friend, who told me I would live in the big dorm-like building with 20-odd other foreign teachers. Instead, I live on the other side of town, surrounded by Chinese people. I'm not blaming my friend, who genuinely had no control over this, but I am blaming the school for misleading me. If I had known the level of immersion I would be in, I would not have come here. I would have done this the right way instead of the easy way, done my full research and gone to South America, where I speak the language and the culture interests me, instead of just coming here because someone else was willing to take care of the particulars for me.
I was hoping that living here would increase my interest in China and its culture to something beyond a surface-level tourism. This has not been the case. The problem here may be Jinan, which is neither old, historic, nor pretty. It's a polluted, sprawling dirt pile of a city. I sincerely hope my interest in this country increases after I get paid and can start traveling in my days off, but right now it's all very grim.
I feel very guilty for thinking all these things. Here I am, in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, complaining. And I'm trying, I really am. It may be a matter of adjustment, of waiting. But right now, I am thoroughly not happy.
The teaching, however, is going wonderfully. Last weekend, my teenager class watched Mulan and then had a lively discussion about gender roles in modern China. The teaching, and that class specifically, may be the only thing that will keep me here for the length of my 6-month contract. It reminds me quite a bit of the year I spent in rural North Carolina, actually -- I was there paying my dues to my chosen profession, trying to get newspaper experience, but I was so lonely and miserable, and always felt so foreign. I didn't expect this here, though it makes sense.
Today marks a month of my being here.