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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two Posts Today

Chinese Planning and the Roundabout
Weird dream last night…..dreamed I got really really tan…..I look weird with a tan. I think it's because there's this one spot on my arm that's either a recently acquired a birthmark (ha...a birthmark at 22) or just is mysteriously more susceptible to tanning. Dunno. I dunno if it's something I should worry about or not, but whatever.
Lately, I've been having a lot of experience with Chinese planning…..or lack thereof. Chinese people don't really like to plan ahead - this isn't just a couple of people, this is a cultural thing. My teachers lately have been canceling classes like crazy because they've either been asked to do guest lectures, been sick, or been grading papers. Ask me when I found out. I found out after I was sitting in class and either one of teachers came running in to tell me we didn't have class or I got a call one hour before from 'Wilson' in the international office. I'm not gonna lie, it's been nice to have easy days and unscheduled vacations, but still….I wish I had known about it ahead of time, you know?
Being blunt and direct is not part of Chinese culture. Chinese culture is all about being roundabout and dancing around the point. This is apparent in papers - the introduction has nothing to do with the subject of the paper until maybe the last sentence of the introduction, architecture - in classical architecture, the person who enters a building must go around a corner before entering the main part of the house, dating - most dating couple are not together a lot because they prefer to 'love from a distance and savor the feeling of longing and missing each other' (that's what Benjamin Xi told me), inquiries to anyone in a position of authority - it's better to ask through a friend and not ask yourself. 
My best friends here seem to be exception to this roundabout-ness - they seem to be much more American in the way they act. They swear, they always are mean and make fun of each other, they're blunt, casual and informal, and would rather play any kind of musical instruments rather than study. It's really refreshing to hang out with them because most of my friends here are so polite and….I don't know….innocent, that's sometimes hard to just be myself. I feel like I have to be America's representative around them. 
It's not that I don't enjoy hanging out with them - it's just that something's missing. It seems that a lot of the Chinese students here are living, but are not alive. My best friends, Freddy (Boss), Janson, and Ethan - they are alive and they make me feel more alive and energetic whenever I hang out with them. It's nice to just be stupid and be myself and not having to worry about what they think about me. I can't wait to hang out with them when they come to America to study in the fall.
School is ending soon, and I'm pretty sad about it to be honest. This life in Lanzhou has really been something special. 
I was talking to Benjamin last night about life here. I asked him a question which has generated some interesting thoughts within my mind. My question was: 
"When you were in America, was there ever a time where you were just living your life and forgot that you were living in America when something happened that really reminded you of the fact that you were living on the other side of the world?"
It's been interesting. For a lot of my time recently, especially the past month or two, I've just been living my life and forgot that I was living in China….even for days at a time. I know it sounds very strange, but even times when I have been speaking Chinese, I forget that I'm living in China - I'm LIVING IN CHINA. I don't know if it's possible for someone who hasn't done it to understand, but the idea that you're living in a different country is such a huge one, that it's hard to wrap your mind around. 
Ben told me that I forget that I'm in China is a sign that I've become extremely comfortable and adjusted to the life here and that I have almost fully assimilated mentally. I do speak English a lot, but even when I speak Chinese, a foreign language, I just consider it part of my life - I don't even hesitate to speak Chinese when I'm talking with someone or stop to think about the fact that I'm speaking another language. 
It's strange to think about how far I've really come - I went from understanding 20% of what my teachers say to 80-90% (except for Mr. Shang - his Hunan accent is so freaking thick), I can hold extended conversations (with occasional difficulties), I can understand more and more of the radio and generally have improved my listening, and I'm becoming less and less shy about speaking. I have finished 2 of my school textbooks and have moved up into the book my friend John is using - and he has lived in Lanzhou for more than a year and a half. He told me one time "Dude, your Chinese level is beyond ridiculous considering how long you've been here". 
Although I absolutely love every minute of being here and I wish I could stay here and become fluent, which I don't think would take more than another year or year and a half, but I am really ready to come home. I want to see my family and friends, eat Mexican food, drive, see East Texas' green trees, sleep in an air-conditioned building, not listen to people playing drinking games in the bar across the street every night, live in a city that's clean, and just have a brief holiday - you know what I mean? In the words of Charles Emerson Winchester III, China  has "taught me what the true meaning of going home is". China is a place that is beyond wonderful, but it is not home. Not yet.

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