A Mid-afternoon Cup of Tea

(I found this blog post unpublished from July 17, 2013)

To the few, the sparse, the beloved readers I have, I have neglected you. I also feel I have neglected myself. You may have noted my travelings, ponderings, and overall life adventure has lead me back to China (of course). I’m about 3/4 through this journey. A few months ago I was selected for the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship. Which has lead me to be back in China, this time in the tropical, island city of Xiamen located just across from Taiwan.

The program is an intensive study of Chinese which is a language considered ‘critical’ by the American government. Needless to say it’s a little intense and between that and my spotty access to normal webpages like wordpress I have not written much. This is actually mostly due to a constant state of brain-friedness and an increasing inability to speak English like a native. I’m not sure this is due to my increasing Chinese fluency, but more due to the fact that I simply have not spoken pure English in quite some time. Directly before coming to China my fiance and I spent a week in Bolivia speaking Spanglish. Now I’ve always been known to speak Chinspanglish. To elaborate, to say I speak Chinese, Spanish, and English would be a gross misinterpretation. It generally just means I am unintelligible in three languages as I often blend them together to say things such as “Gracias, Zaijian!” I now make zero sense in three languages. It’s lovely.

I am happy to say my Chinese has improved. My English has… deteriorated, and I’m surprised I was able to conjure up a specific word like that. And I still throw in “Esta bien” in English or Chinese conversation. You’ll just have to get over it.

Xiamen is lovely. It’s an island, it’s always warm, there’s always a beach within a few miles, and the university I study at is a tourist destination. Only a couple hundreds tourists are allowed into the campus per day, it’s still fairly disruptive to regular life. I often have to tell tourists I don’t really have time to take a picture with all of them. I feel a little rude…. at the same time, it’s a little strange that they want a picture with me. And it’s never just one. Chinese people travel in large groups and often every person in the group wants a picture.

I did have another student as myself and my room mate to help her friends get into the campus. Tourists have to wait in a long line to come in. Lauren and I went out the gate found her friends and I shout “hey! Ni hao! Long time no see!” The two girls look really confused. I just keep talking in Chinese as we walk past the guards and show our cards no stopping chattering. He asks if we’re friends, I reply “of course! they’re going to help me with my Chinese! We haven’t known each other long because I’m new to Xiamen etc. etc. Then he questions whether or not we know their names and of course we don’t. So we tell him “oh this is so embarrassing their Chinese names are too hard to remember. We only know their English names Katherine and Sarah.” Eventually he lets us in.

That was an adrenaline rush. Probably shouldn’t have done that. The girls talked to us for a few minutes and offered to take us to lunch but I think we had to do homework. We probably should have had lunch. It’s better practice and more fun.

Personal space? There’s really not any here in China. It’s also perfectly fine to push people. And lines mean very little. If you were the kid who got really justicey when people cut line for snacks in kindergarten I really don’t recommend coming to China.

People always make inferences about you based on how you look, this is just life. It’s a little odd for me as a white person to realize that people are making decisions to talk to me or not talk to me based completely on my foreign status. I’ve had my picture taken hundreds of times just because I’m white, and lots of people want to be my friend because I’m a Westerner. It’s a great way to make new friends. And it’s great to have friends that are different than you. Sometimes I wish the US was more outgoing and welcoming to those who are new. But I’ve not seen a “foreigner” discount on anything in America.

Chinese people are very friendly and usually incredibly helpful. But being foreign has a dark side. First of all, you need a lot of friends and a lot of help to do anything. Maybe you’ve witnessed it or maybe you’ve been on one side of a confusing conversation with a person who isn’t a native speaker. It’s hard to be the person who isn’t the native speaker. People lose patience with you pretty quickly. Sometimes they just don’t listen to what you’re telling them. Sometimes you tell the person at 麦等老 McD’s that you want icecream (bingqiling) and they give you a bucket of fried chicken. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes to get the order right. Other times, people just refuse to talk to you so you can order your train ticket. Sometimes you’re too much trouble.

It’s tough to be a non-native speaker. It’s really tough  to learn how to do everything in a new way. Hopefully you’ll keep that in mind the next time you meet a non-native speaker. But I’ve had a strange experience abroad. I’ve done many “firsts” abroad. Like my first time being hospitalized, my first time living in a dorm, my first time living alone, the first trip I took on a train, and a boat load of other things. All stories in an of themselves.

I think that’s all I have for now.


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