I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for the last two weeks, not for lack of trying. Probably twice a week, I sit down and try to write about my life in Taiyuan. My instinct is to try to categorize events and anecdotes into familiar narratives. Most of my stories can be lumped into following:
1) Chinese-American delves into her heritage!
2) Cultural misunderstandings, hee hee hee!
3) Physics student has to decipher bullshit organic chemistry jargon in Chinese!
4) Curmudgeonly old Chinese man tells the young foreigner a cautionary tale about organ harvesting! Don’t trust strangers! (Young Chinese person accompanying the foreigner tells the foreigner in an undertone, The curmudgeon is exaggerating.)
5) Oberlin student discusses feminism with male Chinese grad student, gets pissed!
6) Recent college grad with research fellowship has no structure in her life, binge eats citrus fruits in her dorm room!
7) Foreigners get drunk and sing in the street!
8) Hungry girl eats too many baozi!
But I can never tell these stories right. I end up saving them in an unfinished, shittily written draft on my computer, and I never open them again. Something is always missing in my writing, this extra factor that I can never convey to my liking. So here it goes, let me try once more to put it in words:
I forget why I’m here all the time. I have a project, but I forget what it is, and I forget what it’s for. Sometimes my purpose in life is to cross the street without being run over by a pack of electric scooters.
I blend in almost perfectly—no one suspects a thing about my life story as I walk down the street or get on the bus. I can’t tell if I like the anonymity or if I crave the attention. All my conversations here involve a paradox: I simultaneously try to prove how Chinese I am, but I also want people know that I’m different.
I read a lot of papers related to the environment in China, and at the end of each one, I say to myself, “Well, that was interesting. Well, I can’t do jack shit about any of this. First of all, I don’t know any of this motherfucking jargon. Second of all, I don’t know who to talk to. Fuck the system, I’m eating citrus now.”
I write a lot of e-mails to people I’ve never met, asking them for advice. How the hell do they know. I don’t even know what questions to ask. Usually they just send me more papers to read. That is when I go to the citrus vendor downstairs.
At the end of the day, sometimes I just want to watch Christina Aguilera in leopard print tights seduce a series of male hipsters and murder each one of them in an explosion of glitter and neon paint. Maybe I’ll Skype with Chloe and watch her drink beer in front of me. This is my comfort food.
That is why I’ve been going to Taigu every weekend to visit the Shansi fellows. That is why I drank three liters of German beer last Friday with them. That is why I have been learning Avett Brothers songs on the guitar with Mike, one of the Jamaican dudes who live downstairs. That is why I spent hours on Taobao trying to order malt online to brew beer. I cast around for familiarity in this smoggy jungle of Taiyuan, with its mid-size skyscrapers, red banner advertisements, wide streets, and noodle houses.
This is the part that is hard to put into words: despite that it looks like I just wrote seven paragraphs of self-pity, I am having the best time. I guess the feeling is this: my mind is EXPLODING all the time. I keep seeing new things, meeting new people, and I get to set my own deadlines. I have so much freedom to pursue what I want. I haven’t gotten the rhythm down yet, though. It’s fine. It’s been less than a month.
Maybe I know what I’m doing. Well, that’s a surprise to everybody.