There are people everywhere, more people than I ever thought could fit into any place, be it a bus or a sidewalk. They come at you like waves on the streets, bikes and motorbikes, buses and taxis, people and more people. There is no personal space here. Traffic lights don't matter, nor do traffic lanes. I'm more used to it now, the constant vigilance required just to get around this city that feels so vast and tall and endless despite not even being one of China's biggest.
Everything feels so much more strange and exotic when you don't speak the language around you. For the past couple of days, my roommates and I thought there must be some kind of religious services happening nearby because we kept hearing a man's voice chanting something strange and relentless. This morning, I found the man. He was wheeling a wheelbarrow through the alley, collecting plastic bottles for recycling.
The school gave us all little cards to show taxi drivers with our address on them. My apartment happens to be on a little-known sidestreet, the mouth of which is marked by a woman selling bananas. Taxi drivers have trouble finding it. Monday night, my roommates and I were trying to get home and instead got lost somewhere in Jinan. The driver was yelling at us, unable to find the place, so we paid him and got out, walked down ghostly empty streets flanked by closed shops. We hailed another taxi and somehow made it home.
The next night, my roommate Emma stayed at the bar longer than Jan and I wanted to stay, so Jan and I went home. We got to the door to find out that my key didn't work, and had to call Emma. Her taxi got lost on the way home. In the meantime, Jan and I sat in the cement stairway, three flights up at one in the morning in the middle of winter in a country where neither of us spoke the language, and laughed hysterically. The hall lights are on a sound sensor, so they turn on at the sound of footsteps or doors slamming. At first, we would clap our hands to keep the light on, then gave up and sat in the dark, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the moment. I still have the key. I will keep it forever as a reminder that sometimes you have to just open your arms and your heart to the randomness and craziness of the world around you.
I start teaching on Friday evening, and teach 20 hours of classes through the weekend. I am excited and terrified.
Internet is wonky at home, hence the radio silence. Should be back online for real by next week.