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Inside the Middle Kingdom

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Beginnings


As I departed and said goodbye to my folks at the Dulles airport in Virginia just a little over a week ago, I hugged extra long, especially with my mom. My parents have seen me depart on countless trips in my life- junior year in college to Germany; a work trip to Russia; a six month stint in England; a cross country trip to move to Seattle and even last year to China. You would think it would become easier each time and I would become immune to teary goodbyes, yet there I was, a grown woman fighting back the tears as I descended down with the escalator and slowly out of sight of my parents. 

This departure shouldn’t have been any different from other departures, particularly since I was returning to a place I already lived. I suppose it marked rather a departure from one period in my life and the move to a new beginning in my life. Although I have returned to China for a second year, it was a somewhat heavy decision made unexpectedly at the end of June and this time I have returned alone to find my way in this guest country as well as in the world.    

After a summer surrounded with family and good friends in the US, I felt mentally ready to return to Nanjing. After the long 24+ hour trip I arrived in Nanjing feeling confident that I had a handle on things. I managed to squeeze onto the airport bus getting the last seat at the very back of the bus and confidently asking my seat mate whether the bus was indeed heading to where I wanted to go. From the bus, I hopped off and hailed a cab and arrived at my new apartment by midnight to be met by my friend Lucy who had already prepped my apartment, bought breakfast food, etc. From there I hopped upstairs to Mike and Tien’s where I could use Skype to call home and was handed a martini. It was a nice feeling to arrive in my home across the world to such welcoming and open arms. 

Living in China second time round is less stressful as I have an idea of what to expect. Living here has taught me to be patient with the way things are here and to not hold my breath about certain things getting done. For example, not having our teaching schedule until the night before the semester began? No problem. Not having internet in my apartment for a few days? I managed. Mopeds and bikes coming from every direction towards me as I cross the street with the right of way? That’s how it is here. 

Still, I fooled myself into thinking I had a complete 100% grasp on things here and that I could manage on my own without relying too much on others for help. Last year I relied too much and too often on Tien to help me at the doctor’s, when I got in a snafu at the supermarket, or with registering for the GRE exam here in China. I guess I was wrong this time to assume though that I could just patiently sit in my new place and things would magically fall into place. I still had to have Tien show me how to get my air conditioner and washing machine functioning and then it took an unexpected teary phone conversation with a friend about computer woes to make me realize that it is okay to reach out to others for support and help. I think this has been the most difficult and eye opening part of my transition here. Still, I have come to terms with the fact that it doesn’t mean I’m “not cutting it” here just because I need that support.

I feel that I am in a good place here both literally and figuratively. I’m slowly working out the little kinks of living in my new apartment and am enjoying the community that lives around this campus. I am now living in the center of Nanjing as opposed to the outskirts of the city where I was last year. Oddly enough, although I am in the heart of Nanjing, I am in very “Chinese” area where I rarely see other foreigners other than the other foreign teachers who live on this campus as well. I occasionally get a curious stare from people as I march to the supermarket, but I don’t mind. In the mornings I sometimes wake up to the gentle music of people doing their stretches and tai chi. Evenings, the campus comes alive with families walking their dogs and grandparents walking their little ones around the athletic track with their tricycles. Right outside the campus are lots of street vendors and small family restaurants selling noodles or dumplings and a local market selling all varieties of produce as well as meat and fish. Although it is all very foreign to me, I don’t think I will ever feel alone or that I am lacking human contact here. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be here and learn about this country as well as myself.

Morning exercises and tai chi

Some produce selection at the local market

Live eels from the fish monger in the market. Any takers?


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