Well somehow against all odds (namely my laziness) I have kind of kept up this blog throughout my time in China, more or less. I’m not going to be winning any awards for consistency here. But since my first entry in China was written one week into my experience, and despite the fact that because of finals I have less than no time, in the name of symmetry here is my last entry while in China.
Since it is the end of the year and my time in China, for the near future at least, it’s time for the mandated reflection piece. However, keeping a travel blog is already a cliche and this kind of perquisite post is basically its own genre in itself, with its own template. So to make things a little more interesting and mock the genre I am actively contributing to, here’s a game I made up:
Study Abroad Reflection Mad Libs
1. Pick a:
(Crazy travel story)
(Time of day)
(Foreign Place Name)
(Foreign Food Item) (Foreign Food Item)
(Amount of foreign currency)
(Foreign Language Phrase)
(Notable foreign monument)
(obscure method of transportation)
(Place you were)
2. Now wax poetic about your nostalgia! :
I’ll never forget this past year and the crazy adventures my friends and I had (hiking mountains on Halloween and then spending five hours in a Chinese KFC), but the thing I will cherish most when I look back will be the quieter moments. The (middle of the nights) spent walking along the (Mae kong River delta) while breathing in the aroma of the fresh (chicken feet) wafting over the streets, as I savored my favorite treat, (Crackling Pork Belly) purchased for only (100,000 Vietnamese Dong). As I would pass locals on the street, some familiar faces, illuminated by the dappled light of the (neon Massage Parlor sign) , they would call out “(Wai Guo Ren!)” and I would smile and return the sentiment. And no matter how many times I would pass the (Chiang Kai Shek Memorial) while riding in a (Tuk Tuk) each time it still took my breath away. I know, wherever I travel in my life, I will always take some piece of (Asia) with me.
You know, maybe this type of writing works better with European things.
But fun fact, as soon as you realize that it’s just a series of formulas, travel writing becomes very, very easy.
That being said, I will miss my time in Asia, how it was simultaneously entertaining, invigorating and frustrating. But above all so deeply uncomfortable. I cannot stress how little I knew what I was doing my entire time abroad. Fortunately for me, although I had basically no prior experience with traveling, I did have 19 years of practice feeling stupid in simple situations. This meant that even when I was failing at buying fruit in a foreign language the feeling of embarrassment was very familiar. Little did I know that my life of awkwardly fumbling through basic interactions was preparing me to become a future jet setting as a world traveler (how my father describes my experience). I mean I put my foot in my mouth and have to ask for directions all the time, even when I can read the signs, so the confusion and stress of travel isn’t particularly new, except now at least I have a valid reason for being lost, because I haven’t lived there my whole life.
And all kidding aside, I do wish Asia, China especially, was romanticized a bit more. This side of the world has a tendency to get the short end of the stick when it comes to Western perceptions, mostly being considered dirty and weird, even uncivilized. And don’t get me wrong, coming from America, it is weird and there are parts that are dirty, but that’s not a fair attitude to address entire cultures with just because you’re too darn Eurocentric to be interested in cultures that don’t behave more or less the same as we do.
SO even though I have so many things to do, and I cannot stand this kind of sappy self indulgent writing, here is my honest to God attempt at waxing poetic on China, because China deserves it:
Upon initial arrival the city it can seem to push you away. At times it feels like no part of this experience will ever be easy, and that’s when the the traffic seems a bit louder and the smell of sewage and cigarettes are stronger. But then with time you can discern the patterns that come in the chaos of traffic, and each time you cross the street you do it with more and more confidence, until the traffic lights are more like suggestions than anything else. And once you find your rhythm in between the honking and shouting on the streets, it becomes so much more enjoyable to hum along.
There are so many parts of this experience that I would have never expected to miss, but I know I will; I’ll miss giving into my American-bred friendliness by smiling and greeting someone working as a guard or street cleaner. And they, usually an old man who is used to being ignored, will sometimes in response, laugh and smile back at you surprising you with a big, toothless jack-o-lantern grin. How babies will stare at you, you being the first person they have ever seen with a nose that large, and look at you, unblinking, mouth-agape, like you have two heads. Walking by groups of schoolchildren whispering excitedly to each other, only for them to pause when you pass and yell in unison a clearly rehearsed “He-loh!” and feeling like the most important person in the world. There is the mystery of passing an sweet looking grandparent lovingly taking care of their grand-child and wondering if they had a hand in the extremely violent revolutions that happened here fifty years ago, knowing that with a history this complex there is so much more than what meets the eye.
I don't know how I pictured China before I came here, but I know I was wrong, so much of the city was totally unexpected. There are the same shops I pass every day that I have taken for granted: The dumpling places that for some reason are all painted the exact same shade of green, with huge clouds of white steam bellowing out from the giant pots, selling the bowls of Jiaozi in broth for only a few kuai. There’s the tailor shop that has the fluffiest whitest cat I’ve ever seen living among the suits. And every time I pass, I check to make sure it is still there winding between a customers legs or stretched out on a table covered in tape measures and fabric swatches. As long as that ridiculously satisfied cat is still there, it’s a good sign. There is the dessert place “My World” run by the nicest lady named Sherry, who serves sweet desserts made of ice and fruit and always compliments us on how good our Chinese has gotten, even through that's definitely not true.
There are the parks, I love the parks, with the groups of kite flyers, each one willing their silk dragon to soar a little bit higher than their competitor. The musicians play, gathered under tile covered gazebos, all sawing away at some kind of high-pitched string instrument while it wails in a melodic whine. There are so many groups of people doing tai chi, or calisthenics at all times. Their movements are slow but precise, like a synchronized swimming team performing in a pool of molasses. Each person completely enraptured in their own personal activities in this public space.
I’m not ready give up my time here, I’ll miss the feeling of excitement you can get just by walking down a bustling street, when you’re forced to keep pace or risk being trampled. I loved the thrill of going out for a trip on your own, and at the time of embarkment feeling the level of overwhelming giddiness at your freedom that I imagine must be how dogs feel when you let them off of their leash in a really big field. This has been really amazing year of challenges and opportunities that, yes I will carry with me even when I’m back.