Although I know by now that the best way to go ahead is to make no promises and hold no expectations (because that's the surest way to save yourself from disappointment and getting lost in "should be"s) I find myself mentally tracing out the cycles of reverse culture shock, what past experience has taught me about going back after being away. The familiar faces, the possibilities with the time laid out in front of you, the growing number of people you realize you need to see while you are back, the people who aren't there anymore, the things that happened while you were gone and the rhythms that everyone has fallen into that you seem to impose on, the frustration of not having your own apartment...the things that add up. It's no one's fault, it's just that everyone has lives to attend to and I know that I made my choice the first time I got onto a plane to Europe and again when I went to China.
Since I'm not leaving quite yet, I've been thinking of some of this year's highlights. These include:
- Buying two roses for someone (didn't quite realize he was joking until he went quiet when I actually brought them) but he was gone shortly after that. It was fun anyway.
- It was hard for me to adjust to 8th grade because I felt like I was in a good position to anticipate student level and needs but didn't wholly account for the changes they'd be facing. Hormones were wilder than last year, but their growing awareness also meant certain jokes went over better rather than flying over their heads.
- Finishing "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" early on in the year after a year of reading with a lot of breaks.
- Growing friendships, especially as my Chinese improved and I could navigate on my own more.
- I used to worry that I saw China through rose-colored lenses. This past year felt harder, but at least there's some solace in knowing that it's also part of adjusting to and seeing a place more fully. I'm also realizing I may have over-prepared the first year in anticipating how differently I'd be treated from other foreigners and then I got too comfortable by the second year. My site mate this year was more phenotypically what Chinese people think of when they think of Americans (though about a week into teaching here last year, I was bluntly told that the other teacher was more American and had more experience than me so it's not unique to this year).
- The "Gatsby bookshelf" at the nice restaurant/dessert bar next door. I was excited when I saw the shelves then discovered that none of the books were real and the topics and authors were a range of James Patterson, Garth Nix, Harvard Law, Trainspotting, Bob Marley, and other odd choices. With the fake radios, fake tv, the fake gramophones, the tiny Eiffel tower, the bikes, the saxophonist, the trains and cars on its shelves it often strikes me a space where all symbols of modernity have been compressed into neat boxes.
- I mastered chopsticks so that no one bothers telling me to "just get a spoon"
- Some of the other teachers and I have started bonding over a shared love of oolong. I wish they hadn't waited until so late in my time here but it's fun to talk about Tieguanyin and Da Hong Pao.
- I finally started tai chi lessons. I've almost finished learning the 24 movements in Yang style tai chi and my teacher has started talking about what we could learn next and the importance of not forgetting what we've covered. The idea that I might be learning Chen tai chi next year is really exciting. I'm hoping to set aside some time next year to stay at Wudangshan and study more.