Let's get the big one. I'm on my tablet tapping away with my thumbs because my computer was stolen. I've spent enough time on all the details of what I found so I'll just say that I only lost my computer, I'm lucky my backup drive and iPod which were also on my desk were still there (though I wished I'd synced my Dropbox and backed up more recently), the school has offered to help partly pay for a new one, and we're looking at options for the security and living situation of future volunteers. Aside from moments where I can't sleep because of a noise or heightened awareness when I come home and look to see if anything is different, I'm fine. I feel safe, it was partly my mistake for not locking the second door and changing the battery in my security camera so I'm extra careful about those now. I lso feel that since my computer was already taken well...they got what they wanted?
On a happier note, I found a Tai Chi instructor and I've made arrangements for weekly lessons. I decided to go with Yang style. I always thought I'd really want Chen style, which the instructor also teaches but both were quite hypnotizing and I started thinking that a style with emphasis on consistently slow and even movements may suit me better than alternating soft and hard movements. I may still try out Chen style, I think it would be valuable to learn about the oldest style which still retains more of the martial aspect of Tai Chi. The instructor was very nice, very direct, and very patient. He had short white hair, but a very youthful face. He even gave me a ride home and I enjoyed the cherry blossoms on the west bank of the river.
I also made a new friend. I haven't known him long, but it's a friendship I find myself valuing more and more for so many reasons. For one, I sense that he initially asked to exchange WeChat information to see if there was any romantic potential. We struggled to communicate through WeChat messages as I realized that I prefer written words so that I don't mishear anything, but he couldn't read Mandarin and was limited to leaving me voice messages. I went back to the grilled lamb cart downtown where he works and worried a little about whether I invited some pushy new creep into my life or if I'd get some thing about cold women like times when I've tried to express my disinterest in a romantic relationship. He asked me directly if I wanted a boyfriend. Not being able to explain that I'm not against it but it's not my top priority, or that it's easier for me to be friends and build trust over time, or list off any of the disgusting experiences I've had while traveling alone, I just said "I understand the question, but I don't know how to say it..." He gave a small nod and didn't push. It made me so happy when I realized I wasn't going to have anything on my hands like the man in Switzerland who told me how much he missed his good Japanese girlfriend and put his hand on my leg when I just wanted my train home. Or the man who asked if "horse penis" was a turn on the first time I went to Scotland. No demands, no anger, no shaming. I felt myself opening a little more and asked where he was from. "Hotan" he answered. I asked about his ethnicity, not wanting to make assumptions and he carefully said "Uyghur". As I spoke I realized that despite the large difference in circumstances between an American in Zhuzhou teaching spoken English and a man from Hotan selling lamb kawwap in Zhuzhou, what I did share with him was a language in which neither of us were native speakers. He knew 3 things in English and I knew pretty much nothing about the Uyghur language, but I knew what it was like to be far away from home and being proficient enough in another language to get by. He asked me if America was beautiful and if Zhuzhou was beautiful. It seemed that even if I wasn't sure about anything romantically, we both wanted to know enough about each other to not break ties. I kind of liked that since we were both limited to simple Chinese, we were forced to speak directly and be as clear as possible. I decided to try reaching out a little more and taught myself to say "hello" in Uyghur (yaxshimusiz) the next time I saw him.
I've found myself opening up a little more each time. Despite my concerns about looking like a ticket to America and some of my past experiences being alone in another country, he's never laid a finger on me or done anything inappropriate. I've also wondered to what extent my physical appearance has played a part in all this. I didn't get the usual run of questions about being American while looking Asian, but P. doesn't resemble what most people think of when you talk about Chinese people. I haven't mentioned I'm mostly of Han descent and I've never been asked. But this whole experience has made me happy. I've learned some complicated lessons while in China, and to bear this in mind while also becoming friends with someone else who is away from home and trying to get around on a limited vocabulary just makes it all seems so special.
To think you can make a friendship from a handful of words in a language native to neither of you. I don't know where I will be this time next year, but this is a lesson and a relationship I want to keep close to myself and remember what simple things are still possible in a complicated world.