The Otherside is in…a transitional mode.  My last post centered around my time in Chengdu, which was far from the end of my time in China, far from the end of the story.  In the time between Chengdu and the Beijing airport, I floated down the Yangtze, escaped a flooding hostel, and awoke to cooing carrier pigeons in Beijing’s Hutong District.  It is the travel portion of my experience, and therefore is the quintessential “white dude goes to China” portion of my blog.  It is a glorified bar story, which deserves to be told in its own right.  For now, here’s something a bit more relevant to the experience of studying abroad as a whole.

On (Not) Being Here

A month and some change back stateside and I’m not back in the hang of things.  The combination of an air-tight schedule and morphed social atmosphere has made college life less hospital than I remembered.  I feel myself going places and doing things not because I want to, but because I have to, for the first time in six months.  The past two and a half weeks have had their late nights, their early mornings, and somehow I still end up short: a late paper, a flunked quiz, a missed advisor meeting.  Third week in and I still haven’t bought my books.  I had to leave a note on my car pleading the security guard not to ticket my car, because I haven’t remembered to buy a parking pass yet.  I was watching a soccer game the other day when my boss gave me a good slap in the face.  “You don’t seem like you’re here,” he said. “Seems like you’re back in China.  You better get back here soon,” he said.

It’s senior year, and sooner or later I’m going to have to catch up with that idea.  I go to a small school in the Appalachians, where it really only takes half a year to know the majority of campus by first name.  It’s the sort of community that you can describe as if it were a person, as if it had its own personality. After one semester away, I don’t understand that person. 我不认识他.  Of the close friends I still have, I see them in one of two lights.  They have either moved on in some way, found a new focus in their life, whether it be a new lover, a group of friends, fashion sense, or life aspirations.  And then there are those who remain the same people, either having settled on these things long ago, or content in remaining care-free and curious.  The problem that I face after five months living in China, after riding my bike all afternoon around Liaocheng, after floating down the Yangtze, after a 43 hour train ride across the country, after dinner and KTV with the communists, after Beijing’s Hutong District, a flooded hostel in Chongqing, after rabbit head and hotpot, after Confucius and Mao Zedong, after 白酒 and 西红柿炒鸡蛋–and then after all that–math class, renaissance literature, and 8:00 am work shifts, is that right now, I am entirely incapable of deciding whether I am the same old me, or something new.

I’ve got a tough final year ahead of me.  What credits do transfer to my school from my semester in Liaocheng count towards only one general ed requirement.  It was essentially the equivalent of taking one class for an entire semester, so I’ll be making up for it in my senior year.  There was a part of me that wanted to thank my boss for the wake up call.  He’s a good guy, and I know he has my best interest at heart.  But I can’t help but feel like maybe there should be a part of me somewhere in China.  It would give me a better a reason to find a path back there some day.

I call this the, "Christopher Went To China Picture," and I'm totally going to use it pick up chicks.

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Back in the States, back in my home, my bedroom, sitting here with my dogs, my belly full of cheese, my brain full of aimless, unanswerable questions.  People ask me things like So, what’s China like?  How does life in China compare to the US? or, What kind of stuff do you eat in China? Now I understand why people ask these questions, they’re curious, inquisitive and self admittedly uninformed, so they start with the basics.  But really, how the hell am I supposed to answer these kind of questions.  China is big.  Life in China is different from life in the US.  I eat food in China.

What’s more is when people ask me deeper, more involved questions, I often times have difficulty coming up with an answer for them, as I haven’t even begun to reflect upon my journey in a way that I can draw conclusions.  I’m still in the throws of jet lag, of culture shock, and a little head cold I think I got on the plane.  It’s going to be a while before I’ll really be able to sum my experience up in a way that satisfies people’s need to know and my own need to explain.

So until then I suppose I’ll write about what I did after the last time you all heard from me.  I spent about six days in Chengdu, which is the capitol of Sichuan province, and home to some of China’s spiciest dishes, including the world renowned Sichuan Hotpot, and (my favorite) rabbit head.  Chengdu is also the home of the largest panda reserve in China, as well as the prettiest girls.  It’s said that after a girl marries her mother gives the girl explicit directions to never let her husband go to Chengdu.

Looking back now I think I can honestly say that my few days in Chengdu were among some of the best of my life. I had a crew of mismatched hooligans to trounce around the city with. I had fallen into an unlikely romance with a girl I met in Hangzhou and traveled with to Chengdu. I was confident in my language abilities and my (albeit) slight understanding of Chinese culture.  I was young and able and for the first time in months invigorated with the sense of life being there for the taking.  We didn’t go see the pandas, we didn’t go see the temples.  We slept in and lawled in the garden by the hostel where we stayed into the afternoon.  We drank beer and enjoyed each other’s company.  We got street food at three in the morning after going to KTV.  It was both alien and somehow familiar.  I felt for the first time in China as if I actually belonged there and had not ended up there as the result of some adolescent On-the-Road-thinking , as if it were some strange of version of home.