first impressions

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.

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