So I've been living in China for almost four weeks now. I admit that a few days ago, I had a brief panic/culture shock/homesickness moment, asking myself, "What the heck am I doing here in China!? And for a year!?" But thankfully, it passed after a few days, and I can clearly see why am I here, and that it's for a very good set of reasons:
a) to leave here speaking, reading, writing, and understanding Chinese.
b) to finally live in Asia and see how they live on this side of the world
c) to visit Korea and Japan and some other asian countries if I can
I have many other reasons too, but those three above are damn good enough. I'm learning Chinese because it's fun. Because I love languages. Because I'm good at learning languages. Because it's been a lifelong dream of mine. I kept asking myself, why, why ,why, but in the end, I realized: it doesn't matter. When I am in a Chinese class, or when I am speaking Chinese, or when I am practicing my Chinese characters, I am content and smiling. And that alone should be enough reason. If knowing Chinese helps me professionally too in the future, even better. But now, as I see it, it would be a by product.
And living here in China? Heck, I admit, I just got freaked out. Wouldn't you? I spent a year in Iraq, but I never felt as panicky and scared and freaked out as I did a few days ago here in Shanghai. I didn't figure it out for a while: in Iraq, as dangerous as it was, it was actually a far more controlled environment, and far less foreign. How so? Well, I arrived with the same group of guys I left the USA with. I landed and continued to speak English everywhere because I lived with American soldiers. The food was (breakfast and dinner at least) Western. And we all--every one of us--were going through the exact same thing. Here, in China, a) I'm alone; b) I know noone, c) I am walking around by myself constantly with people who don't speak a word of English; d) the culture is almost 100% immersion in that I'm living in a local apartment building; shopping at local super markets; etc.
But over the last few days, some things changed. a) I realized that my Chinese is good enough now that I can say what I want to buy; I can ask for directions; I can talk to the taxi drivers; etc. b) I found Western cereal and fresh cow's milk. My breakfast is just like home now: chocolate cereal and milk! I even found spoons. c) I found out that even though Facebook and Youtube are blocked here in China, Amazon Prime is not, and I started to catch up on the Walking Dead, and wow, just watching some American tv shows helps make me feel like I'm at home. And yesterday and today (Wed and Thu) was my first 'weekend' where I was actually free to do completely as I wish. (I work weekends, so my weekend always falls midweek). All the other days off I still had stuff I had to do, like buy stuff for my apartment; get a phone working; find a dry cleaner; get my residence permit; register at the police station; and the list goes on. Yesterday and today: FREE DAYS! It's been wonderful! I went to my Chinese classes, in the morning yesterday, and then just stayed there almost all day: doing homework; reading the new John Grisham book in Italian; reading my books on color theory and how to tell if someone is lying to you; and blah blah. Just free time! Fun time! I even went on a date last night with a girl, and that was fun. Helped me to put She-who-should-never-be-named a little bit farther behind me.
Bottom line, I'm starting, finally, after four weeks, to feel comfortable here. I'm settling into a groove at my job; I'm starting to better gauge how much everything costs here; and I'm starting to 'put my life back together' again. What do I mean? I am finally studying all my other languages again; I am starting to read my history books again; I am writing on this blog again; I have caught up on my PhD research for my dissertation; and I have even continued writing my new books (novels and non-fiction). All things that I usually did at home: I am finally doing them again here. And that routine--which reminds me so much of my life in NY--is again back on track. Even progress with the movie has regained momentum: a new agent in LA has picked us up and we're working now to get us US distribution by the end of the year. Excellent!
One things I've noticed: I need to stop thinking of the past or the present in terms of, "But it was supposed to be" or "It is supposed to be".... because guess what? There IS no supposed to be. There just IS. My life is not anyone else's life. My life's journey is not anyone else's life journey, so stop comparing to everyone else's life journey. I used to be SO good at not comparing, but got sidetracked the last few years. I think I am starting to regain that perspective. My life is MY life, and I don't care what YOU or ANYONE else thinks. So there. :)
My second thoughts about China and Shanghai:
POLLUTION: It's bad. It really is. I'm looking out my window now and I can see but outlines of the buildings in the distance because they are smothered in smog. Even on a sunny day, when I look up, it's impossible to actually see the sun. It is always enshrouded in a mist from Mordor. I still haven't received my pollution filter mask yet for PM 2.5 from England. I'm hoping it arrives soon. I don't intend to wear it daily, but some days, you can feel that it's a little stuffy to breath. And for running: I don't want to run again until I have the mask. I will feel a lot more comfortable doing so with the mask. This pollution though, it's sort of making me an environmentalist in a way. Why isn't this problem being solved IMMEDIATELY? Why aren't car bans being put into effect during certain hours? Why aren't expensive exhaust systems being required for all people who want to drive in the city? I'm not a fan of government intervention in most cases, but here, it is clear that if the number of cars and factories were reduced... the pollution might start to dissipate. Food for thought.
CHINESE LAUNDRY: Yeah, this is an American thing. I thought it was a Chinese thing. I thought they trained for decades in China and then came to America to make their fortune, haha. Umm, not true. It took me five days to find a dry cleaner. Whereas in NY they are on every corner, here a dry cleaner is like every 5 subway stops. It's unbelievable. But less so when I look out my own window and see thousands of windows with clothing draped from them, air drying. Just as I dry my clothes here too. There's a washing machine in my apartment, but no dryer. So I hang them up in my room to dry.
CHINESE CULTURE: The vast majority of people are not spitting. There are a lot, but it's not as if it happens every two minutes while outside. And the poop on the streets: it's only in some more deserted streets. Quieter streets. On the major streets like Nanjing Lu, and Beijing Lu, and my street, Xizang Lu, it's not an issue. And the people really love that I'm American. When I speak Chinese with them, they are always surprised to later discover that I am from the United States. Not many Americans who look like me can speak Chinese--that has become clear.
CITY LIFE: It really is the ONLY city in the world (and I have visited almost all of the major ones) that reminds me of New York City. The buildings. The sounds. The pulse. The buzz. The people. Okay, the people walk slower here than in NYC, and believe it or not, they push SO much more here to get on and off the subway than anywhere else in the world which doesn't make sense when you consider how slow they walk once they get off the subway. Literally, if you are trying to get off the subway, and there are 20 people waiting to get on: be forewarned. They are going to tackle you like a linebacker. And don't be surprised if you get an elbow to the ribs every once in a while. haha. It's so funny. They literally race to get on as if it's the last train leaving hell, and those who don't get on the train will be forced to spend eternity burning up in flames. I laugh every time, thinking, "what is the rush!? Where there heck are you going?! We all know you are going to walk like a grandma as soon as you get off anyway!" It's making my laugh even as I write this!
NIGHT LIFE: I found a Tuesday night swing dance club. So excited about that. I went last Tuesday and was Lindying away. It's fantastic. So much fun. And it seems that every night is a party night. It doesn't matter which night you go out, the clubs and bars are packed. I guess in a city of 22 million, that's inevitable, right?
I remember four weeks ago, it was one year that I was planing to stay. It's hard to believe that today, just 11 months remain. As terrible as I felt a few days ago, today I have a gut feeling that I'm actually going to miss this place when I head back home. The pollution? Not so much.
Oh, about the date I had last night: Actually a 21 year old American blond from Seattle who has lived here in China for three years and speaks fluent Chinese. My point: my gut feeling was proven correct. I definitely prefer younger Western women. Tall. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Speaks foreign languages. I think that's definitely my sweet spot. And it's nice to see that I can actually find girls like this here. In a city of 22 million, I was bound to run into one eventually.
Oh: I forgot to mention. Two great bits of news. One, I got a great gig. I was asked to record two 4-minute motivational messages based on my books. They are being packaged and are being sent out to about 250,000 college students around the US via email. Super stoked about that. AND... my music video, "The Sun Is Always Shining Somewhere" was picked up by Yabla.com to be used as a foreign language learning tool on their site, with interactive subtitles of the lyrics to be translated into five languages: German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Gosh, what an honor: the first work of mine to be translated into foreign languages. Awesome. That really makes me so so proud.
Okay, well, I have to get some work done before Chinese class today. I want to send out an inspiring email to my email list too, and try to do some writing in my novels and other books-in-progress.
ROMP ON HOMEBOYS AND HOMEGIRLS! (And P.S. - if you are reading this, please send me an email: I'd love to know who you are!)
Monroe Mann, Esq, MBA
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