Thursday, July 19, 2007


What a difference a day makes.

In my case, a lot of days, but the concept is the same. When I found out, about this time last year, that I would be going to China, I was full of excitement, nervous anticipation, a little fear and a lot of gratitude. After years of feeling like my life was not going the way I had envisioned (good job, steadily decreasing debt, apartment, car, committed relationship, 401(k), substantial savings and all that), the letter from the Chinese government was a breath of fresh air. I felt like finally, something was actually working out. And so I was elated. I had been saying I was going to go to China for over a decade, and more recently when I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, I had begun to say with increasing frequency that I was "just going to pick up and move to China." Well, issues of escapism aside, that is basically what I did. As a result of the timing, I had about 5 weeks to get everything together and get on a plane. I picked up and moved to China.

I scoured the internet for scarce resources. Took history books and academic texts out from the library. Lacking in funds, I went to Barnes & Noble and Borders and read every China travel guide I could find. I was often disappointed by what I discovered, as most resources online and in travel guides were clearly geared towards a) backpackers or b)upper-class whites (race was evident by the consistent references to "pale" or "white" skin and "blond" or "light" hair). Despite my best efforts, I left for Shanghai with a list of tourists sites and little preparation.

Upon my arrival, I discovered that although I do not traditionally suffer from "culture-shock", as I am not only the product of many cultures but also fairly well-traveled, decently educated and do not expect the rest of the world to be like "home", adjusting to life in China was not going to be easy. Non-white Americans are apparently a rarity, and I often felt out of place. Although the African community at TongJi readily embraced me, I never ceased to be "the American". I was not as easily embraced by the American community, although this most likely has more to do with American individualism than anything else. Many of my blog entries speak to the difficulties I encountered, and so I do not need to repeat them ad nauseam. There were many things I had to adjust to, and living a dorm room, being surrounded by 17-20 year olds, constantly being stared and pointed at, and feeling isolated definitely did not help. However, there were many wonderful things that kept me going. I made a few good friends, I was one of the best students in my class, and despite the rough patches, I actually enjoyed Shanghai.

And, as you all know, I have decided to extend my stay here. I have learned many things during the past ten months, and I want to reap in joy that which I have sown in tears. My life in Shanghai is going well, and I will have here some of those things which have been so elusive for the past few years (except the 401(k) and the car). I have a grasp of the language, a growing community, and I genuinely like this city. Living in China, I think, will also have long-term advantages, enhancing and enriching my post-Shanghai life. My being here also gives many of you the excuse, if you need one, to visit China - and maybe stop by Japan, Korea, and Thailand.

I know that life, anywhere, is not without its difficulties, but now I can anticipate and eliminate or lessen the common difficulties of life here.
China's pollution is a problem, maybe I'll get one of the those air filters my grandmother has in her house. I have stockpiled hot chocolate and Great Grains, and I know a few people that will mail me "comforts of home" if I find myself in need. In order to alleviate one of the most annoying things I have encountered here, I am going to get a few message Tee's printed - "美国人" (American), "BROWN", "咖啡色" (literally, the color of coffee) and "Naturally Curly". Maybe I should get one that says "黑美国人" (Black American).

This brown-skinned multi-ethnic American woman with her naturally curly hair, basic Chinese skills, and student loans to pay off is signing up for another year in the land of dragons and tigers. So, get your vacation time and your bank accounts ready, 'cause I'm getting my apartment with guests in mind!

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