Well, I’m here. I know where I am when I wake up, the hourly cycle of re-remembering that I’m in China has ceased.
Now I just need to figure out where “here” is.
But I’ll get back to that in a few weeks, or maybe sometime next year. For now, a simple story from my arrival.
The following is an email to my PiA bosses from the night I got into Beijing, explaining an earlier email that said something along the lines of “I will not be sleeping on the street tonight, due to the kindness of strangers”. I was staying in an airbnb flat on the opposite side of the city as the airport.
There was a moment or two where the tendrils of panic started creeping in. I’m staying with a very nice lady named Adwoa through airbnb, and I told her roughly when I’d be getting in and everything and wrote down the address. I took the metro to the nearest stop and then walked the 30 minutes to the apartment building, asking directions in something resembling mandarin (my Chinese teacher’s grammar-only strategy might be helpful in the long run, but for right now the vocab is conspicuously absent) and looking like a fool laden down with all of my worldly possessions.
(click for Beijing album)
A lot has happened in the two weeks since that night. Enough to stretch time and make it seem at least a month ago. I can see my incompetency becoming gradually less egregious, but “By the kindness of strangers” has already become a common theme. And I’m still deep in the red in terms of ignorance and foolishness.
That’s okay though. Nothing motivates me to learn quite like finding out just how much I don’t know. What’s more, dependency is a good crucible for friendship. And the mutual dependency of a shared language-culture jigsaw puzzle? Nothing better. On the 24-hour hard-seat train from Beijing to Jishou, I saw the power of that interdependency every time my section refilled with new passengers: from students traveling to university, to chickenbone-spitting and baijiu-swilling old men, to small children who only spoke in hellos, goodbyes, and smiles. With our students at Jishou Normal College, it seems like Dan and I are gonna have one giant, yearlong jigsaw session. And I’m willing to bet it will be excellent. And very, very, difficult.
I’ll leave you with a picture of my new home, 吉首市 (JÍSHǑU CITY), from a mountaintop temple nearby.
Next week: Jishou, Xiangxi, and the First day of School!