So I had a bad weekShanghai, Spring 2011
A worm in my soup, an attempted pick-pocketing, and a hospitalized weekend of food poisoning. It wasn’t my best week. Shanghai and I were on shaky terms. The thing about having a bad day/week in China is, your surroundings are really uncooperative. You see, when I’m in sunny California and having a bad day, I can put on my sunglasses and skip down to a Starbucks to relieve my pain. Here, it’s a little different. I always have to be on my guard: you never know when two bikes will collide in front of you, or someone will hock a loogie down from the fifth story, or when that putrid sewage smell native to Chinese cities will be lurking around any innocent-looking corner. These things, in addition to the constant struggle to communicate in Mandarin, and the incessant unwanted attention you attract just by virtue of being a foreigner, make it hard to drown your sorrows in an iced coffee.
I debated whether or not to talk about my Shanghai struggles in a blog post, which is why this is a delayed entry. My “off” week was really weeks ago, and I feel obligated to clarify this for the majority/entirety of my blog readers are family members who were tuned into my bad week, and I don’t want them thinking worms in my soups are a weekly occurrence.
The first full day I was in Shanghai, IES brought in a psychologist to speak with the students about this thing we like to call “culture shock.” Because I’ve lived in China before and because I believe I’m invincible in most every way, I decided to stop listening and start doodling. I thought I was too flexible, too resilient, and too good for culture shock. I thought wrong. My culture shock slapped me brazenly in the face when the things I take for granted, like a doctor who speaks English, were missing when I needed them most. And it seemed like when my culture shock hit, it began spiraling out of control. Suddenly I felt like I couldn’t escape the stares of people on the subway, which I would’ve otherwise written off as curious locals. I began retreating to areas of Shanghai which are filled with foreigners and started hiding out in Western cafes, refusing Chinese food, and cursing that smoggy sky I once loved.
Finally, after a few overpriced cappuccinos, a few sunny days, and a few words of advice from those who are more patient than I, I’ve snapped out of it. I’ve been reminded of what I love about the Chinese culture: that grandmothers who see I’m lost will treat me like a child of their own until they know I’m safely where I’m meant to be, or how taxi drivers will explain to me how to make sure my bedroom is proper feng shui, or how the little noodle lady downstairs gives me candies every time I speak to her in Chinese. I’ve learned to find humor in things that would otherwise be obstacles, learned to let things roll off my back – just like the locals do – and most of all, learned that a worm in your soup never killed anyone.
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