Wow. So here we are at the end of another term and with it, the time I set for myself to ask some questions about next year as well as to make up for not having traveled this term so I'm kind of going all out for a whole month. I've been paid more each month than I was last year for taking on more classes each week, so I'm leaving for break with more in my account than last time and the extra initiative from once again, not knowing what to do with myself. I've been falling in and out of love with Zhuzhou, which is normal. I think most of it has to do with getting a grip on myself and my power as a teacher, really filling the role completely. There are days when I wonder about finding a teaching job around Zhongshan and seeing how the Pearl River Delta has changed since my family left (though it means going back to square one in a lot of ways: learning Cantonese, meeting lots of new people, building trust and relations). There are days when I think it'd be interesting to try my hand as a tour guide and continue working on my public speaking skills. There are days when I think about how much I've grown and gained from being here in Zhuzhou and and the things that turn up on my long walks, the excitement that people express at the chance to speak English which I imagine must be tiring to some who get solicited a lot based on their non-Chinese appearance but for me is its own fun. Maybe it's just fun for me as someone who can remember a handful of times someone clearly wasn't happy with how my parents had never taught me Chinese and either passed over me while I waited at the deli line in an Asian supermarket so they could focus on all the Mandarin speakers and not waste their time on someone uncultured. Or maybe it's just being someone whose particular talents have been in language arts and repeatedly imagining how limited or frustrated I might feel if I hadn't had the chances to use that talent as much as I have. Or maybe it's that for some it's such a huge deal and so uncomfortable, but to see someone run with it and reach out to help me when I struggle with Putonghua has always touched me. When I was preparing for China, I remember wondering about what kinds of antagonism or loneliness might wait for me. I'd both read and heard repeated warnings that I would never receive the same treatment as my friends would. Although physical features do seem to play an interesting role in the individual experiences of people living in China, I can't really say I've had anything really bad happen to me. People write me off as another Han Chinese in a country with a lot of Han Chinese, my community of friends, colleagues, and students know me already, and the more interesting moments tend to happen when I go out for pulled noodles or lamb skewers where telling people I speak a little putonghua sometimes leads to people excitedly talking to me in what could by Kazakh or Uyghur. I'm out of depth outside of basic Mandarin and romance languages. People say I don't look American, and in America I would probably take issue with it but that's because the situation would be a bit different. By now, I've already had the experience of being having people shout "cinesina" or "Hey, China" in other parts of the world so I enjoy the comfort and privilege of relative anonymity when out for a stroll.
I'm heading out soon for a month-long break for Spring Festival. Normally, I would just clean out my apartment and scrub out the corners both as a nod to getting a fresh start and so I don't have to come back to a dirty apartment after traveling, but this year I gave in and got myself some couplets and a few other decorations. Since I'm not teaching and all I'm doing is a thing for prospective students, it's been a lot of killing time and eating anything perishable at my place. I go for long walks and listen to the rumors of snow. Since I'm not engaged with lesson planning or interacting with my kids, I've been wandering around the clothing street looking at Chinese style jackets. A lot of what there is to do in Zhuzhou is eating, shopping, and drinking. If it's not one of those rare days when I'm really looking for a particular item of clothing and I have nothing to do, then I begin to remember how quiet this city can be. One of my walks turned up what looks like a teahouse with huge windows overlooking a street from the second floor of a building and I've mentally stored it away as a good place to sit and read or write and watch people. I've spent a lot of my free time recently dreaming about where I'll go and trying not to think too much about the usual stressors of catching trains on time, finding hostels, and getting lost. Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi, Osaka, Xi'An...it seems like nothing when listed like that but I know the kind of pace I move at and the sort of history nerd I am would easily leave me needing a week in just Xi'An. Accounting for travel time, day trips, and a day or two to do nothing because it's break and it's actually a pretty packed schedule for me. I was once again reminded of China's scale when I got the last train ticket I needed from Xi'An to Zhuzhou. 20 hours in hard seat. When I saw the terra cotta warriors in Switzerland, I made a day trip of it. I caught a 5AM train out of Lugano to get to Bern, had some breakfast, saw the six warriors and some renditions of what they may have looked like when painted, squeezed in a few other museums, some sightseeing, and took advantage of my after 7 pass to get back to Lugano late at night. Here I am in China, and the only direct train to Xi'An from Zhuzhou takes 20 hours in one direction. I waffled a lot on going to Xi'An. But then I realized I already spent a year in China saying I would go so I did the impulsive thing. I'm going to be so broke when I get back, but at least payday isn't long after I come back and school starts again. I'm excited. Every chance to see more of China is a chance to get a wider view of living and working in China, and I always love the chance to go see what I've only read about. I was so focused on the south last year, that heading north and actually getting a Beijing duck at the source is pretty thrilling. You can expect that I will be closely documenting the food I eat and that at some point I will likely start to miss Zhuzhou and wax poetic about stinky tofu and tang you baba. I've already decided that my first order of business in Shanghai will be getting my hands on some xiao long bao. So I guess you can expect to hear a little more from me in the next month as I bounce around, play tourist, and excite my little history nerd heart for the next month. Sorry again that I've fallen off this blog so much!
The first of two new year's is here and right now Xinhua West Road is an interesting mix of sparkly eyed Santas that with their big blue eyes, small flowers, and lots of red manage to fit in with the red decorations coming up for Spring Festival. He makes quite a pair with the god of wealth, Cai Shen, who's been making an appearance in shops here with his black beard and mustache, bearing a gold ingot and surrounded by all kinds of symbols of prosperity and fortune.
I'm a 3rd year WorldTeach volunteer.