The air finally smells of Autumn. Somewhere between the pouring rain (does 72º count as an Autumn chill?), crossing Nanjing West Road and its shimmering boulevards in that dim light that is so reminiscent of October, breaking out my skyblue windbreaker, and steaming hot bowls of Pho (cilantro, red chili, star anise, rice noodles, bean sprouts, and lime), it finally feels like the seasons are shifting.
Lately, I’ve felt petrified. I always tell my friends to live fearlessly and not to act like pussies (in fact, I spent the entire first half of the Summer teaching Shane that that was rule no. 1), yet lately, I’ve felt as if I am freezing up, terrified, nervous, bordeline abrasive. And honestly, I’m not sure why. Is it nervousness? Hesitation? Fear? See, in real life I am charming, spontaneous, carefree, and perpetually flirty. I shower my close friends with affection. If need be, I can hold conversation with a rock for up to two hours (and I have, on rooftop bars in NYC), but when an interaction really starts to matter, I’m the exact opposite of what I preach.
I can’t be my affectionate self. I freeze up, act brashly, awkwardly, my palms sweating like they did when climbing the 80-foot grid at the UT, bracing my body weight against the metal railing (the metal that I discovered I was extremely allergic to slowly crumbling under my sweaty palms, making my skin itch and my nose scrunch up). I make weird, awkward comments, I forget what it’s like to be supportive, or nice, or simply how to put my wonderfully witty self forward. It’s infuriating and frustrating, because I just feel like I am sabotaging myself.
These moments keep bringing me back to my last months in the US, so conflicted over whether at my core I am to act like an American or a European. As an American, I am guarded, more self-centered, more oriented on a goal, a career, a future. As a Russian, I can be incredibly warm, but it takes such a long time for someone to get under my skin. I have only opened up to people in moments of vulnerabilities, moments when I felt like I lost power, lost my composure, my icy Russian demeanour: whether it was losing my wallet on the streets of New York, haphazardly translating French when the Russian TSA in Sheremetyevo couldn’t speak any other language but Russian (explaining that I had already been on the road for six hours helped alleviate some of the awkwardness), or running on two hours of sleep (did I mention that I often sleeptalk in these delirious states, rambling nonsense at people for hours without realizing what is happening?). And so this shyness is overwhelming, for absolutely no good reason. I swear I’m less of a loser when I’m less nervous.
Postcards from Shanghai
Last Sunday, I braved the narrow alleyways and crowds of Tianzifang in search of the post card shop. Among cards bearing images of the Bund (cliché), Tianzifang itself (super cliché), and Chinese longtangs (perhaps a little less cliché), I composed and sent postcards to a few destinations:
- Mom (I have to let her know I’m alive in China, right?)
- Grandma (She really loves getting cards from my travels. Last time I sent one from Tokyo, she was absolutely thrilled in the way that only a grandma could be)
- My favorite aunt (god, I hope none of my family is reading this, because I would get so much trouble)
- Ankita (after listening to me complain about my stomach ailments, she deserves more than a hastily scribbled message on a card)
- Bowen (because no one quite tells me to calm down and embrace life like he does)
- My college dean (I have to let her know I’m alive after graduation, right?)
Had I left people off? Probably. But it’s not often that I actually know the real (non-electronic) address of a friend. I realize that being in Shanghai is redefining so many of my relationships with friends back home. I used to think that going away meant losing touch with people, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s about the effort that both of us put in. I’m here, halfway across the world, some might say 12 hours in the future (it’s making managing my Fantasy Football team, where I am currently 1st in a league of 14, an incredible pain in the ass), but there are still people I talk to every day, as effortlessly as I used to back home, sometimes even more so. In a way, it’s easier to be more open, when a conversation is a few texts interspersed throughout the day. Now, I’m an awful texter, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I think it goes back to knowing someone well or not being scared, because some of the most honest conversations are ones I’ve had with friends back home since coming to Shanghai.
This week I’ve been focusing more on doing things I used to love after coming back into Shanghai after a mid-week getaway. Instead of talking of the Pinterest lifestyle of yoga, sunday brunch, and baking popovers while sipping on brandy alexanders, I decided that it’s important to stop being a pussy (Rule no. 1) and just go out and doing it. This week I:
- Voraciously completed my first Sunday NYTimes Crossword in months.
- Started reading a novel (memoirs are too depressing)
- Rode a vespa around People’s Park (fairly drunk. In retrospect I should not have done that, but now I really want a vespa)
- Thought way too seriously about picking up the Drum Set again, spurred by listening to a performance of classical dubstep from SICinC (light design courtesy of me)
- Added chickpeas back into my life