Somehow over two years have passed since I came back from China. Every now and then I will see or smell or feel something that reminds me of China, and the suddenness and intensity of the memories that come back nearly take my breath away. Hiking the Dish at Stanford and seeing the view of campus, which is so similar to Nanputo;
this article on a Shaanxi restaurant in New York that had pictures of the shredded meat sandwiches that were my go-to running-late meal at West Gate;
the sound of a live band playing “I Gotta Feeling” or anything by Rihanna just takes me back to Saturday nights at the Key.
I definitely miss it. But then again, posts like this one also remind me of some of the more frustrating aspects of life in China:
When I started at a four-year college in 1998, I didn’t think it the least little bit odd that the schedule included in my orientation package already had the date of my graduation ceremony listed. Considering that family and friends would be traveling from out of town and would need to plan in advance, this made perfect sense to me. Why would it be any other way?
Fast forward to late September of 2002 and I was trying to find out what the October Holiday was, . . . what day or days it took place, and how many days off work I had. . . I couldn’t understand how this apparently very important yearly holiday was something that wasn’t listed on the school calendar of events.
I’ve been in China for a tad under 10 years by this point and I still don’t understand. I accept that the Chinese are apparently culturally unable to plan in advance, but accepting and understanding are not and never will be the same thing.
On January 6, 2003, when I left China for a trip to the US and Thailand, I gave my employer a wide variety of options for contacting me to let me know about my schedule. I would have given them my contact information anyways but it was more important than an American might otherwise think due to no one knowing when the Spring Term was going to start. Within half an hour of arriving at Capital Airport in Beijing my phone rang. The head of the English Department was frantic with worry because she hadn’t been able to reach me by phone, hadn’t tried my email address, and classes were starting tomorrow.
The kindergarten after the high school job let me know on a Tuesday that, despite the printed schedule in my contract, classes were ending for the summer on Wednesday and I needed to prepare “going away party” materials to say good-bye to all my kids. I thought maybe it was a boss-to-foreign employee relationship thing but as a student at Hainan University, it was no better. Holidays were announced or not announced seemingly at random and no one knew when classes started until after they had already started. Maybe it was my fault for not living in the dorms?
However, as I got to know more long term laowai and got to know them better, I realized that it wasn’t just me. For instance, friend and fellow Lost Laowai contributor Nicki was working for a training school that wanted her and her husband to renew their contracts for a further two years. The couple made some unreasonable demands to the school, however. They wanted to have two consecutive days off each week and they wanted all schedule changes (with the exception of emergency cancellations) to be posted 24 hours in advance.
This inability to plan in advance isn’t just a school thing but seems, rather, a cultural thing that is endemic to Mainland China. . .
Even though the October Holiday is on the 1st of October every fricking year no one is going to know what days they have off until its published in the newspaper; and the same goes for May Holiday, Spring Festival, and New Years’.
Things are going really well at Stanford. I’m basically done with my first year, and so far each quarter has been better than the previous one. It’s a good trend! I leave for Europe in a week for a short course with my lab, plus trips to Slovenia and the Netherlands to see classmates from my year in China!!