I know I will never understand everything about Chinese culture—maybe even Chinese people don’t understand much of why they do what they do. Why, for instance, traffic laws are all but non-existent in a city of millions, or why the city’s presumably “best” school is crumbling (literally) and lacking basic things like sufficient heating units in classrooms.
Three months ago I arrived in eastern China and I’ve realized life here is something inexplicable—you have to experience it for yourself. I’ve definitely learned a lot; I’m not saying I’ve had an “Ah ha!” moment in studying another culture, and it’s definitely not always so glamorous (i.e. public bathrooms). Most of the time, I feel more lost than I ever have, but the silver lining is that there hasn’t been one day where I haven’t tried or learned something new. Especially about myself. How many people can really say that?
My recent video calls with my parents or friends back home have turned into me, somewhat hysterically, venting about something like the air pollution or my school’s almost non-existent resources. And although I get to complain while I am here, I know that in 6 months I will be on a plane home. I don’t have to breath the dangerous levels of PM in the air everyday like millions of China’s people do. I don’t have to spend nights in the bitter cold, standing behind a vegetable cart or spreading out cheap scarves across a blanket to feed my family. I don’t have to depend on bribing my kid through school.
It’s funny because I think we travel in search of answers. I mean, to get a larger picture of the world, to find something meaningful. After graduating college, I knew waiting tables in a small town was as dead-end as it gets. So, I uprooted myself and now I’m here with a thousand more questions than I started with.
I’ll be on a plane home about 6 months from now, and my new question is how can I spend a year of my life here and then just leave it for good? Teaching never crossed my mind in college, but here I am, teaching. So I can’t say what I’ll be doing five years down the road, but it seems wrong, in a way, to leave and not to give anything back.