I've basically given away my weekends. I do an extra bit of teaching on Saturday mornings in exchange for lunch and cooking lessons here and there and on Saturday afternoon I also do an English Corner with primary schoolers. On Sundays, my one consolation is that I'm not teaching tai chi. I just get to be the student as shifu walks me through each step and teaches me a new warm up with each class. Then it's back to the work week. I love getting the last minute news that I have a day off on Monday or Friday. A day to sleep in and be tied to no one. Getting involved in something through clubs or volunteering is one way I try to work with my reclusive and introverted tendencies, but I still value a day of nothing at all. Maybe 4 years of living in a country where everything is closed on Sunday has influenced me too. I still find a small voice in my head that tells me that I have to get everything done on Saturdays despite being in China. It's funny to think of the things that stay with you when you've lived in another country for a while.
I've been stuck. In a lot of ways, I feel like I've lost sight of things and forgot how important it is to just focus on what's in your hands when things become less than ideal. A part of me knows it's a natural part of living in another country over time and that watching the novelty and the honeymoon period of adjustment fade is both frustrating and an opportunity to put things in perspective. Some might say the frustrations are just part of developing a more realistic/fuller understanding of the place I live in right now. I find myself getting a little vicious at times about things that are so small. Like when I go shopping for electronics and people try to find me something "more fashionable" or tell me I actually want this in red, not black, because I'm a young girl (but I'm a young girl almost always in dark jeans and something black). Or tired of last minute changes (though it's mostly OK, if I go to school and my class is cleaning, I had nothing else planned anyway so I may as well relax). I feel like I've never quite hit the high and fulfilling feeling that pushed me along last year, not to the same level or with the same frequency. On the other hand, Zhuzhou is constantly changing and I find new friends and people who fill my life and expand my understanding of life in China. There's P, the Uyghur man I wrote about last time who sells nan (at times, still looking for something romantic while I'm not sure). There's my neighbor who used to live in Dubai for work and now makes dumplings while creating spaces for people to practice speaking English. There's the Hui family from Lanzhou who greet me from their pulled noodle shop every time I pass. My "mom" and "dad" who run the tea shop where I get my caffeine fix and a lot of practice in speaking Chinese. Actually, I'm sure everyone on my street says hi to me now since I frequent their shops. It's kind of on purpose. One of my most rewarding travel experiences while I was in college was the summer I did an internship in Dublin, Ireland but found myself pulled into the songwriters and poetry community after joining a writers group. Since then, I've made an effort to frequent a place and be known or join something while I'm abroad.
It feels like there are things opening up to me only now, though I wonder if I should continue given all the swings and cycles I went through this time. A part of me says if I leave and try something else and find I want to be here teaching after all, then it's better to come back with purpose having other experiences with me. A part of me wonders about my chances of coming back if I leave. At times, I love this city and its surprises. At times, I'm anxious because I haven't been in the US for more than 3 months at a time for the past 6 years and there are times when I feel like an anthropologist rather than a local (to be fair, I think back on everything I learned about intercultural communications when I'm here in China too: high context vs low context culture, long term vs short term, Edward T. Hall's Silent Languages...). I also know how much I still haven't seen and keep finding. I feel like I've accomplished a lot of what I had in mind when I first signed up. I tried teaching, I grew in public speaking, I exercised a lot of what I learned about myself and intellectually while here, I've been finding my way in the Chinese language, I've made friends, and I've looked at one of my biggest anxieties (that I really was so sorely out of touch and spent so much time with books in some ivory tower that I had no real skills to offer to anyone anywhere) and seen it was nothing. I saw Xi'An and the terra cotta warriors, I fulfilled someone's prophecy that I would climb the Great Wall, I saw Guangzhou and Zhongshan, I started taijiquan, and after 4 years in Switzerland thinking hard about where I come from and where I've been, I found my way to a position where my own interests and education fit neatly with someone else's questions. I still have a ways to grow, but I've found confidence in my time here as I learned to trust myself and value things about myself I never considered to be real skills or talents. I know one of the most difficult things in going back to America when I was in college was coming back with the person I found while away, and occasionally feeling that with everyone's expectations from the past I couldn't always find room for that person. But that's also a comfort. To know that whichever direction I take from here on out, I take that person I found with me and all she's capable of. For all of its frustrations, I'll always be grateful to China for helping me find that person.