10
Oct

China taught me about me


I was told it’d be hard to write on a trip like this, that I’d be overwhelmed with all the details and changes. My original thought was, “Nah—I got this. I’m a writer; it’s a natural extension of who I am. I process by writing, for goodness sakes.” Well guess what—so far it’s been hard to write on the trip.

I think my writerly brain and body automatically shut down a bit somewhere near the end of our time in Beijing in order to make space for all of its surrounding newness, on search for a permission slip to ease into all “this” slowly, craving kindness and graciousness to fully adjust well. That was more than two weeks ago now.

ancient lion statue

Try as I may to escape it, I’ve had it confirmed that yep, I’m indeed made a writer, and I process through writing. If I go too long on hiatus, I get clogged, constipated, contracting an unexpected case of verbal and emotional constipation, which will proceed to barrel out of me at terribly inconvenient times, such as when I’m swaying on an overcrowded, overheated bus and my children won’t stand still and the ticket lady is yelling at me in a language I don’t understand. For example.

By forcing the art of journaling into a rhythmic part of my nomadic life this year, I’ll better translate both my thoughts and the world around me. Try as I may to escape it, I’m made to process through writing. Pen and paper are my conduit.

In our almost four weeks thus far on the road, I familiarized myself with the basics of China and have dipped my toes into the early stages of Thai expat living, yes—but really I’ve come to a more intimate understanding of myself. What I’m like as a culturally-stressed traveler, for example. China has prospered economically in the 12 years since we last visited, and after chatting with a few locals, I turned the bend in our time there convinced that there are more similarities than differences between a 30-something girl from China and the U.S.

But there are many norms in East Asia that just don’t fly back in my home culture, and if I were to live here permanently as an expat, I’d grant myself a few years to fully learn to live with them, like I did when we lived in Turkey. As a traveler, they just annoy me.

Exhibit A: Our kids were prodded and photographed without our permission. All. The. Time.

selfie culture

Yangshuo kid pic

Exhibit B: It’s crowded and loud and sometimes smelly.

wangfujing

Exhibit C: The Internet was so ridiculously, painstakingly slow in China, and I’m not a pretty person when I’m trying to book an apartment in Hong Kong and the wifi won’t cooperate and the login page from the coffee shop is entirely written in an alphabet I can’t remotely pronounce, all to perform a task that would take mere minutes elsewhere. (The phrase Ugly American comes to mind.)

Add a layer of Chinese government paranoia that disallows anything Google without a masking VPN, having us crawl the web via Canada before heading back to our laptops in a Xi’an coffee shop, and we’re just begging for an extra dose of patience and understanding from our Creator.

yangshuo street 02

yangshuo hills

yangshuo boys

I’m obviously all about living slow. But it was admittedly hard to embrace in polluted, concrete jungles where my personal rights aren’t given a moments’ thought. (I know. So American.)

Before I left the States, I squared away everything with Katie, the blog’s managing editor and my good friend. I wrote in advance. She knows how to keep the blog running, and we both high-fived our agreement that if I’m completely offline for three weeks because of Chinese unpredictability, nothing’s wrong.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t still panic when I couldn’t get online and at least take a peek at how life online is faring. It’s a strange feeling, being disconnected against your own terms (as opposed to our time in Tuscany, for instance), particularly when you make a living by what you publish on the Internet.

Looking back now, now here in Thailand where our Internet is just fine, I realize it sounds a bit ridiculous. I know I’m not missing much—I’m regularly reminded how easily life goes on when I’m not keeping up with other people’s food choices on Facebook. Yet it was disorienting to walk the mottled concrete sidewalks of China and really not have a clue what’s going on outside the three feet around me.

Yet now that those sidewalks in central China are a few weeks behind me, I remember that this is what I’m here for. One of our paramount reasons to travel is to live life differently, to walk at a different cadence, to let life pulse a different rhythm. I want my work and writing life to morph into the same, to publish and interact and present the Internet my offerings in altered cadences, rhythms.

writing in china

It’s a simple-yet-hard habit-breaking process, this being in Asia and allowing my body to be fully here.

Slowly, slowly I’m shedding my work-from-home blogger self, in order to fully adapt as a year-long nomadic writer. Which isn’t a bad cape to wear, I admit. I’m just surprised how comfortable it was to write in those home-bound yoga pants.

chinese noodles

What we did in China:

…and in Hong Kong:

  • Ocean Park—seems cheesy, but they do have an excellent aquarium and panda exhibit.
  • Watch Kyle’s excellent 15-second video of Hong Kong transport here on Instagram. We actually adored this city—wish we were there for more than two days.

…yet really, most of our time was spent hanging out, walking everywhere, visiting friends new and old, doing work and school, and eating food. And more food.



Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of The Art of Simple, a community blog about the art and science of living simpler. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.