Well this is demoralizing. One month later and I haven’t written a damn thing. This has been so much tougher than I expected. I did 6 months in Poland when Facebook was still a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, I didn’t even own a laptop and whatsapp was how old people erroneously pronounce the latest catch phrase and I was happy there for crying out loud! Surely China would be a breeze with all the options available to me to stay in touch with home and with what is going on in the rest of the world? But nothing prepared me for this. I am feeling increasingly disconnected from the life and people I have left behind, but I have not managed to connect to the life I have here now. I don’t think I have ever felt quite so alone. This is a concept more foreign to me than the country I find myself in. I’ve always loved being alone! But it turns out that was when I knew a friend was just five minutes away with the bottle opener poised over the Diemersfontein Pinotage if need be. It’s very different when you really need someone to talk to and you know everyone’s on the other side of the world and deep into their REM phases.
Now, I realise that not having company shouldn’t be such an issue right? I’m in a new country with a fascinating culture and people. I should be out there soaking it all up, learning as much as I can and embracing this new world. But oh my word, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be! We are only thirty kilometers from downtown Shanghai, but we might as well be on Mars. (Or at least from there based on how we get stared at here. People actually take photos of us when we pass by! This is very disconcerting for someone who has a mild case of social anxiety. I mean, I used to not even want to go to Pick & Pay on my own because I was nervous dealing with strangers that might look at me! I had to get over that little issue pretty damn quick.). Even though there are other expats in the area, we are still an anomaly and people usually react to us in one of two ways: They are either almost embarrassingly friendly and quick to help in any way they can, eagerly repeating the one or two English words they know till you want to say “Really, I’m nobody. Please carry on as normal.”, or they avoid eye contact and just say they don’t understand you. They won’t even look at you and try to decipher what you’re saying while you stand there impersonating a 6 armed orangutang as you point and grunt and gesticulate till you want to shout “Look at me and let’s work this out! I’m a person with needs dammit!” And yes, I know, I should learn Mandarin and then this will all be a lot easier, but I have all but given up. For example, I want to do something as simple as ask the housekeeper to please change our buckwheat pillows for hollow fiber ones. So I don’t try anything as complicated as learning the Mandarin for buckwheat, hollow fiber or even pillow. Just “swop” and “the same”. The props and my miming should convey the rest right? No, it does not. I might as well be speaking Greek. A language that is probably easier than Mandarin, which I’m starting to think isn’t even a language at all really! It’s just a plot to confuse the rest of us to facilitate Chinese world domination while at home they speak English to each other. I have told an old man that I like his allergies, informed the front desk that my success is broken and tried to convince a bunch of ladies in the park that I am a green shoe. So eventually I just stopped talking or asking for anything anymore, because no one understands what I’m saying and they don’t want to make an effort to stick around and figure it out together. I can’t even ask them to write something down so that I can translate it later. I cannot get used to unpacking my groceries at the till and not being able to make small talk with the checkout lady. 1.3 billion people and I feel utterly alone. I miss my home, I miss my animals, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss the security I felt knowing where we would be next week, next month, next year. I miss it all.
So it’s been hard. I have been trying to get out there and trying to write, but I don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time and no one wants to read a blog where the best description I can come up with for something I saw is “Chinese people doing something festive with a rabbit, a paper dragon and a piece of old ribbon. And I think that bit there is porridge. And I cried into it.” Every night I go to bed excited about going out and exploring and I return to the hotel the next day, alone, demoralized and feeling like I just sat through a movie where I couldn’t read the subtitles and everyone else thought it was life changing and hilarious. My confidence has been shattered and there are so many days that I just don’t want to go out there at all and all I can think about is how much I want to go home. Everyone keeps telling me what an amazing opportunity this is and how they wish they were in my shoes, and I feel like I’m letting them down. I’m letting myself down.
Man, I’m having an awesome pity party here! I wish it was easier to cater for, but I don’t know how to ask for a sandwich platter.