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August 13, 2006 - Nanjing, China

A Life More Daily

Nanjing has been slowly giving up its secrets and making itself feel more like home. This is most likely due to the greater understanding of Hanyu, the spoken Mandarin, but also a general feeling of normalcy returning. The standard schedule helps. Getting up to go to early classes, meeting for lunches, studying and group dinners. Funny, rather than getting used to this we should be readying for the fast-approaching shake-up and 50 hour train rides.

Little quirks are making themselves understood - or at least more apparent. The bathroom handle that, I now know, reads da and xiao, big and small - I’m told it can be taken even more literally - that controls the flush size. Never mind that it seems to be the opposite of what actually happens. The stares from the same people - yes, that same guy with the pants far too high stared at me yesterday and the day before that - slightly dejavu-ish. The kids that giggle when when the lao wei walks by. Old foreigner. Was even able to kick it up a notch the other night to some poor kid by giving a toothy grin, mimicking the lao wei call, waving hands in the air and a “ooogily booogily!” Got a stare and then a big smile right back. The immense amount of tea drank - and getting used to it. The seaweed in my breakfast wrap. The non-seaweed breakfast that consist of small packets of walnut and sesame powder. Faintly reminiscent of mud - earthy but slightly sweet.

I think some in the program have mentioned a cumulative effect of these small and mostly unrelated events. That each one brings your reality a bit farther from its baseline norm, skewing ever so slightly farther from familiarity. At first I prescribed to this - trying to point out to myself what was strange, new and maybe disconcerting. I tried to see myself through an external lens - and what this was doing to me. Was I changing? Dealing? Coping? At some point were all the minor frays going to burst wide open into some sort of in-concealable personality rip?

Thinking more about the issue and my perception of it, I do see a shift - a change.

That change seems to manifest not as a bucket - slowly filling with drips of difference - waiting to overflow, but rather as a change in the way I view these small daily quirks. Why see them as cumulative parts of a greater misalignment? Even in our lives that we consider daily - waking up, hurried breakfast, cramped subway ride, desk 9 to ?, dinner, TV and bed - and not deviating from the norm we encounter small hurdles. They don’t change the status quo.

There is no reason for the small things here to be taken at anything more than face value. There are bigger hurdles to overcome. Language. Teaching. Finding food that isn’t grass crisps (for another day).

I wonder how this all plays into the theory of culture shock - letting things pile up, mountains out of many molehills or rolling over them - small speed-bumps to take note of and move on from.

I’ve heard that if you hit a set of speed-bumps at exactly the right speed you won’t feel them. Speed, car weight, shocks - all working together.

Ask me again later.

Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?

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