Sunday, September 15, 2013

Starships were Meant to Fly

Perhaps only in Shanghai can I say I feel almost no ambiguity having Nicki Minaj in my playlist next to Mongolian Folk Rock. It’s rather fitting, really.

It’s been quite a week. My anxiety has peaked quite a few times this week. And frankly, I think my reaction was merited.

That said, as my anxiety cooled down I realized the cooling down of the situation was much like looking out over the ridge at Serenity Valley being overtaken by The Alliance. Oh yeah, I went there. Peace is nigh, but I’ll still be traipsing around the universe in a secondhand starship, hopes up high and head down low. Will do my best not to get into a bar fight on U-Day.

Seriously Jenny, how much Tsingtao HAVE you been drinking, now? Well today none actually. Then what is wrong with you? Perhaps I have not been drinking enough Tsingtao. Also I have acquired a bamboo plant. Oh you don’t like my shiny distraction?

Aside from my mental calculus re: Alliance vs Brown Coats, there have been other exciting ventures.

Friday night was the worst thunderstorm Shanghai has seen in four years. The horizontal and spider lightning was rather impressive. The Line 2 Metro was shut down for some time (this is apparently atypical). Someone’s husband wasn’t allowed out of his office building. Some teachers were trapped on the Line 2 metro – flooding, power outage? Chinese Whispers flying. People couldn’t hail a taxi for 30 minutes at a time. Some people couldn’t return home from hospital visits with the taxi situation. Some of us hailed a black market van taxi across the river to Puxi. We had two birthdays and one unbirthday to celebrate, after all, nevermind if it wasn’t the best idea to travel. Mei Guanxi!

I saw the strain drawn on other people’s faces as we inched forward in our van. That other people have their own battle of Serenity raging in their psyche. The African American teacher that keeps having clothes snatched from her hands and told “NO!” when she tries to go clothes shopping. The rude gawking stares she gets out in our suburbiate Shanghai.
The teacher who could not complete his wire transfer across the Pacific to pay his US mortgage. (I am so glad my transfer to pay down my credit card processed smoothly.) I realize we all have our walls to climb.

We finally made it to the Shanghainese home turned restaurant in the Jingan Temple district. We had three tables, many dishes and many spirits. There were birthday speeches, and birthday longevity noodles (slurp them in one go, if you cut them you cut your life). “Don’t give up on China,” said in a thick Colombian accent. “Don’t give up on China,” the catch phrase of the week. You are welcome here, little one, with these three tables of celebration, you are. Friday night was a good night.

Our landlord finally called the gas company about our gas leak, the 7th time we complained. It took my roommate throwing up from the fumes for them to take us seriously enough to call the gas company. They were just afraid they’d have to pay to replace the pipe. So, if you have a gas leak in China, throw up. Or tell them you did. I think perhaps they finally tightened the leaking valve. I’d say I’m sorry for my words versus my landlord saving face, but that would imply I cared about it in this situation at this point, which I don’t. I also got Chinese speakers to call and explain, so that’s no excuse either. I’d let the cultural thing slide – but it’s gas. Not ok.

I’m sorry, I’m still quite new to China. Making me deal with a gas leak for a month was not helping everything else at all.

I am not giving up. I really like my classes, my students, my department – what I wanted to get out of China. A more supportive teaching environment, closer to the age group and art discipline I want to focus on. But it is hiking a sand dune, life. Much of what I thought I had figured out has been a backslide here. I didn’t have these kinds of problems with housing in Bangkok. I had problems, sure, but not to this scale. I was able to live alone. My landlords were responsive and helpful. Even the month I went without hot water, they gave me a key to shower in the apartment next door and apologized the technician kept cancelling. They let me move apartment units when mildew overtook my room. They helped, willingly.
Here, I’ve been met with “why don’t you fix it yourself,” like my old college slum landlords, more than once…
“Don’t give up on China,” in a thick Colombian accent.

I’m really enjoying the city. And I also realize some of the road blocks some of the other new teachers have hit, do not phase me at all – having already been in Asia for nearly 3 years. Other things – well, I hit the wall much harder. Some things, I’m the only one of us facing a particular wall – personally, any way. I’m thankful to know I have people standing beside me where before I was much more culturally isolated. Even if now, instead of the only white woman my age, we are many westerners, but splintered.

I tell you what – much like Bangkok, people thought I would have thrown in the towel much sooner. Some of my close friends in Bangkok were quite surprised I hadn’t gone home. Let me reiterate, I am nothing if not stubborn. I mean, I am Year of the Ox and Capricorn; the most stubborn signs of the zodiac by both Eastern and Western standards. Yep. I went there too.

I sit here while the tones of Altan Urag reverberate through the living room. Ok, reverberate might be pushing it for laptop speakers. But I sit here with Mongolian folk rock. And my juxtapositions just keep getting more and more interesting.

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