It’s been forty-four days since I arrived, so let’s take a look through my camera’s memory card and some notebook entries, because what better way to describe this immense and absurd time in my life?
May 2nd 2017 –
Gua gua gua. Frogs outside my window. An unidentified bang. The pipes and the water heater. Cats fighting in the dark.
Sounds I am not used to. Smells and tastes that are becoming familiar but not natural. So many eyes on me. Honking. Yelling. Singing. Music. Noise pollution and air pollution. The constant sounds feel worse than the smog. Yesterday we walked past a skinned goat, hanging by its head on the sidewalk. Cars driving in all directions, getting stuck, backing up. More yelling and more staring. Staring back makes no difference, it only makes it more uncomfortable for me. But they keep staring.
May 4th 2017-
I don’t know if I love or hate the fact that Chinese spend their evenings at the mall. While I am generally frusrated when I realize how much life centers around consumerism, it is also a more social culture than I am used to. There are people of all ages here, it is not a bar-centered culture. But they buy, I guess.
People keep emerging from taxis, all dressed up to go to the mall. But do they really socialize? Or are they just buying things with the same people they arrived with?
I hate admitting that I am searching for other Westerners, but I really would appreciate sharing my experiences with someone in the same situation as me. Or even just to spend time with someone I can communicate with and who might even own a similar sense of humor.
List of things I miss
-Strict traffic rules
-Regular working hours
May 11th 2017
Drinks we have had so far:
-black soy drink
-espresso & coconut water
-local rice wine
-pineapple lemonade with QQ jelly
-milk tea with ovaltine (which I was recommended by my boss, who later admitted she had never tried it before, tried mine and didn’t like it)
-flower & goji berry tea
May 16th 2017
The most terrifying taxi ride coming home from the art supply store yesterday. Both of us clutching the little handles that they have above the windows in cars, trying to find out how to position our legs in the safest way in the even of a (what felt like a likely) crash.
Putting our own lives in someone else’s hands like that is one of the weirdest and scariest things, but I would still never want to drive anywhere here myself.
May 18th 2017
The people here are so different than what I’m used to. Sure, my cultures value “busy” as well, but not business calls at midnight busy. Not this kind of pride in working all hours. Or maybe I just haven’t been around to see it. In my eyes, it just looks like inefficiency. It looks like a group of people that get so caught up in mixing jokes and work, who conduct business over chatrooms, gifs and virtual stickers included. Having work to do at this hour looks like the inability to prioritize or focus on a task until it is done well. Like 12-4 siesta sessions and pit stops for snacks and tea in the middle of the day. It is meetings that start 30-40 minutes late because no one values being on time, and it is people disappearing from said meetings to take unrelated phone calls. It is cell phones out at all times, more texts and jokes and missing what was just said.
May 25th 2017
soft and rusty.
We desperately need groceries. Instead, we buy some noodles and sweet buns filled with butter at a stand in the mall. We try to check out a newly discovered shop, but they are hanging padlocks on the door as we approach. It is 21:04, their sign says they close at 21:30. We walk behind, accidentally trailing a couple of Australian boys who reek of cigarettes and Abercrombie & Fitch. We change our course, walk the other way around the block to avoid their pretentiousness.
We buy fruit from a guy on the side of the street. The back of his truck is filled with melons and there is a basket of peaches on the ground. April negotiates the price, trying to find out whether we are being cheated or not. The melon seller asks where I’m from, then repeats the answer several times. Meiguo.
Meiguo. I ask for two peaches through April, who doesn’t like them. We say our ‘bai-bai’s and head across the street, home, in the dark. We eat our watermelon that night. Cut in half, spoon in hand.
It will have been a month tomorrow. A month since I arrived in China and to this absolute surreal life experience.
I have been meaning to write down my first impressions, feelings and thoughts since then, while they are still fresh and raw in my mind, but a month has passed already. While I am getting used to the people, the noise, the traffic, the feeling of not being able to understand, all these things still baffle me every day.
Today we went to a collection of hardware stores to pick up supplies for a outdoor mural we are painting, and were met by total chaos. Paint cans and other items stacked on the floor, on the street outside, in a disarray on crooked shelves and randomly tucked behind other items. The never-ending staring, gazes that follow me from one place to the other, and cell phones that pop up to snap a picture of me before I hide behind a new stack of cans. Arguments in Chinese, yelling for no reason, and curious questions about me. I ask what is in a small unlabeled plastic bottle that looks like it should be holding water, the answer is “poison.” We ask about a paint tray, because we have to prime the wall, using paint rollers, before we start adding our details, we are told to use a bucket.
Everywhere and everyone is so loud. There is noise pollution coming from everywhere. People yelling, scooters honking, frogs gua gua-ing (that’s what they say in Chinese) and speakers blasting from every corner. Yangzhou is a relatively small city with a population of four million or so, and while it’s not unbearably crowded, the noise makes it feel that way.
Personal space is a lesser understood concept, and I have had cameras pushed into my face, as well as random people walking onto our terrace “just to look”, never apologizing when they are told to leave. I move back and forth from feeling like a weird celebrity, to someone’s pet,
A couple days ago, in a taxi cab on the way to our work site, we were rear ended. Nothing dramatic, honestly, I thought the car just stalled, and as the driver got out and walked to the back of the car I realized what was happening. A short minute later, after assessing the damage, he was back in the driver’s seat and we were on our way. From the emotional displays I have witnessed over lesser things, the casualness that is sometimes offered traffic situations, is baffling.
More thoughts will come as I am trying to preserve them while everything still feels foreign to me.
In a last-second move I ended up booking tickets, taking an unpaid leave and traveling to Florida to meet up with my sister and her boyfriend on their way back to the States from Norway. Seeing that I took no form of Christmas break this year (or last, I should add) I justified the trip and soothed my restlessness and need to plan and travel and plan and travel.
After the sickiest plane ride of my life, I arrived sniffly and stuffed up and miserable in Fort Lauderdale. Somehow I recovered slightly overnight and managed to enjoy the relative warmth and occasional sunshine — a much needed break from Nebraska winter. Of course, with my recurring luck, or lack thereof, I arrived with a full memory card in my camera, and no way to unload the solid 32GB of memories, so I settled with my phone. I will admit, however, that with the unpredictable weather and weight difference from DSLR to iphone, it was a slight relief and probably allowed my to enjoy the moments, by a fraction or so, more.
Read More “Miami from my phone”
In the face of what is to happen to the world tomorrow, as well as the fact that we have rolled into an entirely new year and I still don’t have access to any of my photos, I might as well focus on the positive aspects of the first two and a half weeks of 2017. So here it is, my current obsessions and/or life positives in an otherwise bleak week.
Miami. I had the chance to meet up in Florida with my sister and her boyfriend and soothe my neverending wanderlust for five days. Despite the lack of sun, I still enjoyed the 75 degree weather, in addition to a false sense of freedom and lack of responsibility. Hopefully there will be a post on this, sometime after I get my DC photos from November uploaded…
Citrus. Probably my favorite thing about the winter, after skiing, tea and cuddly clothing. I have been hoarding it like crazy and tried my first sumo mandarin yesterday. Absolutely obsessed.
Shameless. Jonas and I finally caught on to Shameless, after finishing all seasons of The Office for a second time. I enjoy watching this series while I draw, even though it gives me major anxiety and makes me so mad sometimes.
M Train by Patti Smith. I am making it my purpose to read a lot more books this year, with the aim of reaching 50 before 2018. So far I am two and a half books in, with Patti Smith stealing my heart and running away with it again. I don’t think anyone else could write so poetically about nothing — considering cutting my number down to 49 to re-read this.
Thank Yous. A tradition passed down from my mother and her mother — both who still check in on me to see if I have written and sent them after Christmas and birthdays. Don’t worry mama, I’m on it!!
Sale Shopping. Another one of my goals for the year is to buy less and try to buy second hand only, buuuuut I might have added a couple of spontaneous splurges to my life, just because. After this I swear I’ll be a better consumer..
New Projects. I am in the baby beginning stages of a new project that I can’t wait to pour my energy into and eventually share with the world and it is so stressful and so much fun!!
Coconut La Croix. No list is complete without La Croix. Right now we’re all about the coconut, interrupted only by occasional bouts of kombucha.
And of course, a quick shoutout to my all-time favorite pens, the Pentel Touch for thick inky lines and filling in the blackest part of any drawing without leaking and the Monami Plus Pen S I randomly picked up in China in the summer of 2015- great for thin sharp lines. Seriously don’t know what I will do when this one dies.
The year is almost over. The weirdest, longest and worst year in a while and my motivation has fallen off.
I have been working too much, getting too little done, and trying to find time to focus on what I want to do and where I am going next. I finally upgraded my 2009 macbook but didn’t realize I need converters to upload any of the photos on my camera, and am still putting that off.
Since the last time I checked in I went to DC, didn’t go home for Christmas and bought tickets to go to Florida and vacation with my sister and her boyfriend in two weeks. Until the next time, I will be focusing all my energy on making it through the rest of this year and bracing myself for what the next will bring.
I have to admit, fall is approaching extremely slowly here in Nebraska. Sure, it is cooler in the morning, I am wearing a sweater and did drink two cups of tea already today, but still the leaves are just not following suit. Outside is still so green, but at least that makes for a couple more weeks of exploration and road trips, as this weather was made for it.
And while I do (finally) have tickets to go somewhere in the coming months, I am still looking for ways to soothe my wanderlust and explore my nearby(-ish) area. Staycations and being a tourist in your own city are both terms I have heard and considered, but sometimes you just have to get in the car and drive a couple hours into the country for some apple pie and small-town loving.
On Sunday, my sister Amanda and I headed for Indian Cave National Park in Nemaha, with more-or-less unplanned stops in Nebraska City and Auburn. Our first stop included Arbor Day Farm, apple pie and apple cider slushies, as well as some extremely appropriate pumpkins and apple displays.
Oh, and if you have never tried an apple cider slushie, you are missing out!
Next, we let Siri take the reins and ended up on a dirt road with no obvious outlet, rather than in the State Park we had plotted in as our destination. After turning around and backtracking, we eventually found the entrance to the park – thanks for nothing, Siri!
The next couple of hours were spent driving around and exploring all the areas of the park, finding out how far my car can roll without touching the gas pedal (surprisingly far, actually) and finally finding the Indian Cave we came to find. Unsurprisingly underwhelmed, we explored a couple of hiking trails before rolling back through Auburn, where we also found the need to stop, because why not?!
Seriously though, there is something too charming about small-town America’s little quirky buildings and the things you might find when wandering through unknown alleyways.
And with this, I vow to myself to keep exploring, even when I don’t have the funds to go any further than my own state, because traveling is traveling, right?
(oh, and if you find a pink wall, you take a photo in front of it)