i thought i would walk through customs with a stamp in my passport and *boom* become instantly creatively picasso-ized.
i have been here two weeks and have barely picked up my camera. barely written a word. it could be due to the overwhelming check-list, the fried-rice stealing landlord or the human need to stop and absorb all of the change. it wasn’t until today, my first day in two weeks of being a chinese temporary resident, that i finally felt that need to click the shutter and to type.
with my headcold in one hand and my camera in the other, i traipsed out into the shanghai rain and stomped through the park to a cafe that tk and i had found the night prior. i ordered my “woo yao iced cappicino. xie xie” (i think that’s right) then climbed the wood steps to the floor 2 and started to scour for a seat in the midst of the crowd. maybe it is feeling sick that gives one the courage to be bold or maybe it was just my intense desire to sit down as fast as i could so i could stop the stares that greeted me when i reached the top of the steps. either way, i decided to “when in china” and in a very rude-american yet normal-chinese way, i sat down and shared a small table with a businessman without asking his permission. and in a moment that only the language gods could have created, he greeted me in english.
oh lord, thank you.
now, i don’t really need someone to say hello to me. but there is something about those rare moments in a district that is relatively foreigner-less that makes this moment oh-so-special. shanghai is the most modernized and westernized in all of china. that is, as long as you are within the city center. heck, you might as well assume you are in manhattan. but as soon as you take that line one to the district of minhang where yours truly lives, you might as well be in the middle of a rice field during the reign of ming dynasty.
i had the strangest feeling.
your world is not all it seems.
so tired of misconceiving what else this could have been.
i don’t even know if i believe everything you are trying to say to me.
so open my eyes, tell me i’m alive.
– mumford and sons
i pride myself on being pretty anti-ethnocentric and quite liberal when it comes to embracing other cultures. it is the left-hander in me. [not sure what that means…but left-handers are a half-dime hundred-dozen here.] despite what americans are usually known for, i am not going to show up in a random country and demand the comforts of america or assume that i know how these countries should be run.
that’s just how the french are and i love them for it! – bethany, 2004
seriously, the brits can teach americans a thing or two about beer and being royal – bethany, 2006
a korean kid eating their cafeteria meal of fish with the bones still inside of it is totally cool and safe – bethany, 2010
icelandic men are the mecca of the single woman’s life – bethany 2012
she just called me jennifer aniston and fat… but its totally okay…its her way of complimenting me…i think… – bethany 2015 (actually last week)
then i get to china.
and although i can say that i am a law-abiding chinese citizen who is embracing eating bull frog, inhaling secondhand smoke that will most likely ultimately lead to my death via lung cancer at the age of 33 and allowing myself to be physically pushed and prodded while on the metro like i am once again on the set of fifty shades of grey, there is finally one thing that i don’t know if i can ever get over:
my brothers are notorious in my family for clearing their throats [i.e. hawking a loogie]. stoppppp!!!! dude, you are soooooo gross! now, if you take that frustrating and relatively nauseas moment of my american life and times it by 24 million people, the result could lead to shutter island insanity. at least my brothers didn’t spit it at my feet, i think to myself as i hopscotch over the puddles of mucus along the streets. breathe, bethany. breathe.
i quickly learn from another expat that the chinese learn from their grandparents that if you have junk in your body, you gotta get rid of it asap. so out it comes on the westerner’s feet passing-by. besides that everyday occurrence, i think i am adjusting relatively well.
i realized they didn’t look at travel the way i looked at it, like medicine, like my chance to right all of the my wrongs that might exist in my life – kristin newman
simultaneously tk is having his own separate “welcome to china” experience.
perhaps it’s because he is a man who likes to get the job done himself but can’t quite yet without a translator which leaves him wanting to slam his head against the fingerprint-tinted metro windows. however, i think it is his “expat virginity” getting ripped from him that makes him so ready for a well-deserved glass of whiskey at the end of the day. korea is quite different from china. an assumption that i think many americans don’t realize. yet the experience of being an expat is quite similar country to country. different culture, routine, language and expectation, yes. but the same cycle of newness, learning and conformity that has to take place.
thus i think i am adjusting in the way that i know: there are daily frustrations and weirdness to come. of course, ordering lunch is going to take five minutes. of course, your bank card won’t work because someone at the credit card company put in the wrong information. and of course, you will want to yell at everyone in a moment of exhaustion “yes, i know i am white and i look like that person on that one movie, but stop staring!” tk heard my stories from afar but now he is living them. and between you and me, i love seeing him confront the chaos of life abroad. it is quite cute and really, really, really, really funny.
“this experience illuminated another fact: regardless of how you travel, as you get deeper into your thirties, you might be the only person your age out on the road at all, whether it’s in the hostels with the twenty-somethings, or on the fancy cruises with the sixty somethings. in your fourth decade, your compatriots are mostly at home, working, raising humans, getting husbands…” – kristin newman
being 29, married, childless and an expat is apparently rare. although i
try to convince myself feel like i have the naive spirit of a 21 year old, i also have felt the harsh reality of life like a 40 year old has.
i am stuck between the two.
i am determined to figure out what this middle-ness means. what living life a tad differently really feels like. but at this point, it is a mixture between feeling a tad bit misplaced and being completely exhilarated by possibility. that is about as far as i can explain it to be. and let me tell you, those two emotions are lethal. more on this later.
for now, i will leave you with a few images from my rainy walk from my apartment to the adorable neighborhood coffee shop i am still at…four hours and three-hundred stares later.
disclaimer: since writing this blog, i have spit in public multiple times. if you can’t beat them, join them!
hence my earlier point ^^