I am not ready to go home. I don’t think I’ll be ready for a while. And that in itself is kind of frightening. I’ve been having a few internal crises about being here in China. I can feel that I’m already changing (what gave it away? the fact that I stepped over some presumably human poo on Nanjing Xi Lu yesterday afternoon and didn’t even flinch), and when I come back to the US, I won’t be the same (wow, that feels like a heavy life statement, doesn’t it?).
It’s so easy to give in to China — to the 30cent Tsingtaos, to the rice, the baozi, to being bitter because nothing you eat, drink, or wear is real. It’s so easy to open my mouth when I shower and immediately realize that I need to spit out the water (is that why I keep getting sick?). I keep on thinking about silly experiences back in the US, like going into a CVS to buy some of those Bioré Nose Strips that I read are bad for me, but I still kind of like, and how bizarre such a seemingly simple thing would be now. I think the first time I go into a Stop & Shop or a Farmer’s Market back home, I’ll lose it completely. Just saying ‘hi’ or ‘how are you?’ to someone on the street, these are the sorts of things I miss. Even reading the Times last week and seeing a photo of the new Ivan Ramen shop filled with New Yorkers (while a little sad about their mediocre review), I am reminded of just how far away I am from home.
I guess I still feel lost in Shanghai. I’ve been meeting so many new people here and having crazy experiences (an impromptu rooftop pool party? check. a club with smoking monkeys? check and check), but it’s still not ‘home’. It’s hard not to feel out of place. The other day, I went to a Taiwanese shaved ice restaurant, where I had gotten peanut tea the week before (which was fantastic). I fumbled around the menu because I still can’t read many characters (pointing to something and saying 这个! usually works) and the girl working there told me not to worry, because she knew that I spoke Chinese. I can’t say that my Chinese is great (it isn’t), but the fact that she remembered and that she treated me a little better because of the few silly phrases I can say made me feel a little better, a little more at home.
Tonight, I watched the second Spider-Man movie, which was honestly not that good. And yet, seeing Peter and Gwen in Union Square made me miss the farmer’s market that’s there in November and December. It made me miss getting kombucha, artisanal face wash, and that cotton candy popcorn that they always sell in one of the stands. And then I was brought back to reality by my 28-year old Indian roommate, telling them off for the romantic tension. I don’t think I’ve heard the words “Do it, do it now, bitch” refer to a superhero kiss scene before. Carla, Saurabh, and I later went out to dinner for Indian food. This was the first time I had Indian food in five weeks, and there is something about it that definitely brings back memories of home, of sitting warm by the Elmhurst radiator and scarfing down Tandoor, the 50s-diner-turned-Indian-restaurant, that served the best bhindi masala in New Haven. Saurabh taught us to eat rice and spiced curry with our hands and although I made a mess of myself, it was an ‘immersive’ experience, which I’m always happy about, even if my hands still smell like malai kofta four hours later.
I have to remember to do things that make me happy. What makes me happy? I’ve been thinking about that lately. I’ve come up with a (non-comprehensive) list:
- Learning Italian (Duolingo seems to think that I’m back in the US though, because all of my exercises aren’t syncing)
- Reading books. I brought Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir with me and a few other books and I’m reading Masters of Sex on my iPad but it’s somehow not the same. It’s also not one of those books I feel okay telling people that I am reading.
- Watching Top Chef (why is the internet in China so crappy? There is a new season coming out in a few weeks, but streaming anything here is a little too ambitious for our shitty router).
- Subscribing to Bon Appetit (I think I’ll resubscribe on my iPad)
- The New York Times crossword puzzle (is it also blocked here, like the NYTimes website?)
Maybe coming back different is not such a bad thing.
Frivolous Monsters says
I’m not completely sure but I think the humourist David Sedaris wrote about the contrasts between China and America too, just like you above as it rung a bell, as he also lived in the former country for a time; for a reason I can’t quite recall. I have most his books but in trying to work out which one it was in to check this for you I gather that I must have heard it from his BBC radio series (where he reads them to an audience) as from an on-line review I think it’s the book ‘Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls’ as the review mentions him pointing out the “high visibility of excrement in China”.
Ahh yes! The Chicken Feet essay from the Guardian! Sedaris is a little too harsh on China (as he is wont to be, being David Sedaris), but the culture shock is quite similar. I feel like it’s really easy to dismiss China for being revolting or unsanitary, but at the end of the day it’s an amazing place (human excrement notwithstanding)