Saturday, October 19, 2013

Got That Summertime Sadness

This is a rather disorganized stream of consciousness. Enjoy, or yell at me for lack of editing. But here it is in all its glory. Warning: I talk about religion.

Yes I know it’s now autumn approaching winter. But this is currently the track stuck in my head. No actually I haven’t watched Gatsby. No actually I still haven’t finished the novel since 11th grade – but hey. What a great city to reflect on that luxury, Shanghai.

I had every intention of reflecting on my four days in Bangkok, and then reflecting on the acquisition of a blue couch, and then reflecting…bother. This will all be one jumble instead of separate, cleanly divided thoughts. Live messy.

I spent four days in Bangkok over the October holiday for Chinese National day. If you’d like an explanation of the Chinese holiday calendar – might I suggest reading: or Both indicate this is possibly the most complicated Chinese holiday/work day schedule ever, or at least for 500 years. And actually, our school, and many other work places, modified this schedule further still, so figuring out when your friends are working and when they are free has been a big free for all. And yes, we’ve had some Saturday workdays – though we have yet to have a Sunday – there is one Sunday workday in a few months, another Saturday/six day workweek in November. Woo! Go team! Confused? Me too.

So I went to Bangkok. Part nostalgia and part I have loose ends to wrap up and what not. It was a good visit. I got to see some friends. Still missed some people I would have liked to see again. But overall, despite my nostalgia, in many ways, it helped me remember why I left, too. And it helped me wrap up enough loose ends to feel like that chapter is closed, (though not everything). Some things may just be left hanging, such is life. I have no belongings left in Bangkok that I intend to retrieve; I cut down and gave away some more before returning to Shanghai. That’s all done. It’s a relief.
And even on days I long for my balcony, my mango tree and staring up at the stars, in the words of a dear friend, “we knew it was time for you to go.” Bangkok will always have a special place in my heart. But the ways I changed and grew in that city, up to the point I felt I hit a wall – challenged me in ways I never expected. I expect no less from Shanghai.

“…Nothing scares me any more. Kiss me hard before you go, Summertime Sadness, I just wanted you to know, that baby you’re the best.”

On to the domesticity of the couch, then. I distinctly remember a time when I thought to myself, I’m so close to college graduation, and when I get out, get my job and my own apartment (HA like it’s just another check box, it’s not that simple dear) – I’m going to get a couch. I’m going to get a huge couch, a deep-seated couch, maybe denim, not classy but supremely comfortable – and when I own a couch, I will be an adult, I will have ‘made it.’
HA! Well folks, it took me a few more years than I planned, and I’ve moved past that silly metric of adulthood or ‘making it,’ but nonetheless, I purchased a turquoise IKEA couch last week. I had it delivered, and then I assembled it all on my own. Really not that hard, even if it took some effort. And I sat on my couch and thought, well now Jenny, you have your couch. This isn’t quite what you expected, (although somewhat satisfying), now is it?
So glad I bit the bullet and did it last week – despite my aversion to debt, my new friend and colleague has a point – the longer you put it off, the less time you have to enjoy it. My current furniture shopping spree will be paid off in less than three months. Would be sooner, except for the particulars of International wire transfer I’m working under. Don’t ask questions, I got this. In the meantime I have a couch to sit on. Sometimes, money is just for spending. Within reason. But money is a made up construct, like so many things – who is setting the rules any way? I have a couch and I am slightly more comfortable, if not outright happy, for it. Ah, consumption. Enough on money matters today.
Transition? We don’t need no stinking transition. Brain doesn’t have those.

On cognitive dissonance in every day life: So, I’ve alluded to having some difficulty adjusting to life in China, and how actually, it’s less to do with China than other factors. Let’s discuss this. A lot of it has to do with religion. If you know me well enough, you will know that, when forced into a corner (or when asked in a moving taxi) and told to pick a label, I will go with “maybe?” or really, agnostic, but I’d really rather not play with labels or take sides. And with that, I’m supremely uncomfortable with conservative Christianity, as well as very hard line atheism, when directly confronted on the issue. It’s a rock and a hard place for me, in a Communist country where the rules about religion have eased in recent years, but are still certainly very much in place, to be surrounded by so much religion. And neither am I comfortable with those who outright shun it rather than politely side step. In the words of Ira Glass, “this is not what I signed up for.”
Really, honestly – I like the thought that, “there is no reason for the Lord Buddha and the Lord Jesus to fight,” I prefer to sit on the fence than take sides. Call it cowardice or call it openness, call me a heretic. I think people should be kind to one another, and at times, I think in certain ways, religion can be used as emotional black mail. Just as the complete lack of it can be a guilt trip on one’s intelligence for belief, too. At the end of the day, the way I see it, what brings you peace is a useful thing. But you should strive to try not to make other people uncomfortable. There is a case for pushing people’s comfort zones, and there is a case for allowing people to live their lives at they see fit. For further thoughts on my view point, see the This American Life Podcast “Heretics,” about an Evangelical pastor that decides he no longer believes in hell, that Jesus’ death accounted for everyone whether they accept Jesus or not. It’s truly beautiful. Ok that’s my rant on religion, and clarification on why I’ve been feeling so torn up, in some respects.

Related to, but slightly different from above – I’ve realized that sometimes, when you think something has been put in your path for you to learn a lesson – maybe there is someone that needs to learn from you. I told you, I’m agnostic, I prefer to look for some figment of reason, some spiritual alignment in the universe even if I’m a little too free spirited to enjoy organized religious worship or study, and even though I will argue for hours that not everything has ‘a reason,’ there is randomness and entropy we are subjected to in this life, as there are moments that are not coincidence, too. I will have my cake and eat it too.
Over the past few days, some of my cognitive dissonance and discontent has been challenged in other ways. It is so hard, and so taxing to have to think about who I can talk to about what – whether it is religious in nature, about our Chinese tax reporting, or otherwise. It is such a game of masks and I hate that. I am not unfamiliar with wearing masks, and it would be present in my home culture, whether there was this level of dissonance or not. But it’s nice to see a break in the muck at times, to see, here is a place I can help, here is a place I can grow, too, and be genuine, be me.

We don’t need no stinking transitions!
A week ago, I severely injured my right ankle. After spending so much of last year struggling with my left foot and then my back, I’ve been supremely frustrated. Being someone that prides herself on independence and ‘doing it myself,’ and living in a culture that doesn’t necessarily ‘do’ handicap accessible – it’s extremely frustrating. That all I did was miss a stair in the dark and ‘bam,’ that is the most frustrating (nevermind the financial implications and setback to my savings plan). The gossip at my place of employment, whether extreme or mild – is also disconcerting.

In some ways, I wish I had written before my injury, to get more of the philosophical musing down before the hard line ‘and so it goes.’
I knew this chapter of my adventure would not be easy. It is a new country for me, an adjustment to so much. I just didn’t forsee quite this level. I guess that is how it always is. But I will not say “That’s just life,” I’ve decided I hate that phrase with a passion. Why do I hate that phrase with a passion? As I reflect on the one year anniversary of a dear friend’s suicide, just 2 days ago was that anniversary– it’s because of this: when someone is truly, truly down and nearly out – the phrase “that’s just life,” plays to the destructive thought “well then why am I living, if this is all there is?” Perhaps that sounds too extreme, too sensitive. But if I’ve learned anything the last year, as I’ve faced my cognitive dissonance, culture incongruence, physical and emotional pain – it’s that the simple things matter. It matters from having the means to obtain healthy food, to the day or hours by which you miss a friend in passing during travel, to the slightest sentence – it matters. Don’t pressurize it, but don’t trivialize it, because it matters.

I’ve managed to reflect on nostalgia when moving, the domesticity of buying furniture and briefly, human consumption and debt, religious incongruence, and my injury and difficulty asking for help. Yeah – you could say I couldn’t pick a topic today. If you followed along with me, congrats, if you think I’m nuts – well if you’ve read this far you knew that by now, didn’t you?

“Nothing scares me any more, kiss me hard before you go.”

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