Saturday, June 28, 2008

T.I.C.

I was talking to my Pop a little while ago and we were lamenting something like Sacramento's gas prices, desert landscape, and surprising lack of decent sushi venues, and my Dad just sighed and conceded, "T.I.C."

"What is T.I.C?," you may be wondering. I wasn't quite sure myself, but no sooner did Dad reveal the acronym as "This is California" than I instantly understood his meaning. See, I've been saying "T.I.C." at least once daily, in my heart, for the past year. Of course, my T.I.C. means "This is China." Often, my dissatisfaction is not nearly as good-natured as my Dad's with California, though. As my departure date steadily draws nearer (21 days to go!), I seem to find more and more cause for frustration as I maneuver through town, though of course I've been giving myself much more permission to be displeased, disgusted, and disgruntled.

It's amazing that only a few short weeks ago we were still heavily considering staying in China for another year! WHAT WERE WE THINKING?! Of course, here's where attitude plays a role. If we'd decided to stay, I very likely would survive another year in China, as formidable as that may sound to me now. Here are a few things I will NOT miss about living in Tianjin:

-using a small bucket for bathing the kids
-daily stopping Didi from eating the paint chips that fall off the walls, pulling up pieces of the kitchen floor, floorboards, etc.
-perfect strangers railing me about my kids being too hot, too cold, eating the wrong things, not being held properly, crying, wearing uncomfortable clothing, etc, etc, etc
-even though our apartment is very nice by local standards, numerous parts of it are falling apart, even though it's only five years old-- won't miss that, and I won't miss the landlord telling us to just fix it ourselves when something minor breaks, as if I have a clue as to who to ask to fix it and what to say
-squatters. I'll spare you the details.
-leaving restaurants smelling like I'm a chain smoker
-the reality that, when in public, I am constantly being stared at from several directions at any given moment
-having precious few options for buying attractive clothing and safe toys
-the hock-a-loogey sound, which is particularly offensive when it comes from a nice, attractive, well-groomed woman
-no stains come out in the washing machine, and having no dryer
-hauling strollers, bags, and kids on public transportation
-our bathroom that reeks of mildew, but we can't find the source
-Didi getting into the ash trays in taxis
-the near one-hour ride to church and having to go an hour early and stay at least an hour after every week for Kyle's meetings (simply attending church consumes a good eight hours of my Sundays)
-lack of recreational activities available, especially public parks and libraries
-getting into conversations that I can never finish because the fluency just isn't there
-never actually seeing the sun through the haze, stare as I might
-real ice cream (Dreyers or Haagen Daas) costing $10 a scoop
-carpet-less floors, and all the bruises Didi gets from his falls on them
-traffic jams at every hour of the day
-needing help from a translator to do things I've been doing for myself for years, such as pay my cell phone bill
-our shower that is only technically enclosed-- in reality puddles cover the entire bathroom floor after every use
-the loneliness, the missing family and friends, the having no one to share things with
-being cut off in lines (avoidable only if I'm pressed up against the person in front of me)
-having to cook every day without cheese or processed foods
-the kids and grown men peeing all along the sides of roads
-having great acquaintances, but only a couple actual friends, and even then there's the language barrier
-the lack of manners and social graces (by western standards)
-dirt, dirt, dirt coming out of the woodworks and infesting every conceivable space (I honestly think dirt roads in Uganda felt cleaner than walking through this city)
-unnecessarily greasy meals
-one errand taking up an entire day
-the oxy moronic reality that in a city of 10 million, I feel isolated and sometimes completely alone
-having no idea where I'm going or how to ask someone how to get there
-trying to keep kids from touching anything that might give them diseases, which is a lot of things
-absence of customer service
-no sense of privacy
-mafan, mafan, mafan, everywhere I go
-getting defensive because the Chinese are highly excitable and brutally honest (aka tactless), and often fighting back and harboring negative feelings about the whole experience
-having to control two unrestrained toddlers on a bike, car, or bus, and also knowing how safe their freedom of movement is not
-lack of restaurant cleanliness and ambiance
-problems with having a housekeeper (it's not as glamorous as it sounds)
-Chinese hospitals
-carrying the stroller up and down flights of stairs, squeezing it between teeny aisles, and cramming it onto crowded buses
-comments that indicate I should love my son more than my daughter
-being cheated because of my nationality

Wow, that was a surprisingly easy list to make, and I could truly go on. I have indeed become more cynical than ever in recent times. I'm not blaming my bad attitude on China, although indignation and expressing blatant dissatisfaction (even to strangers) here is completely permissible and not often offensive or inappropriate. That makes it easy to justify the habits of fault-finding and criticizing (I mean, I just do it to fit in!).

Still, I know that succumbing to such a mindset takes a toll on the soul. It does take more work for me to be positive than it ever has before, but that doesn't mean I can't do it. Sure, China can suck the health and effervescent optimism right out of my system at times, but all in all, I know it still claims its charms. I don't always feel so resentful and disgusted with my circumstances. A lot of the time, I like certain things about China, and will even miss some things about living here:

-15 cent ice cream bars sold on nearly every block that I use to bribe Ellie with on outings
-being able to afford eating out every day (not that we do, but we could, as could most people here)
-never having to wash dishes. or clean the toilet. our ayi is worth her wage right there.
-there's no vegetable I can't afford
-lamb shishkebabs, Uigher style
-spontaneous sleepover parties in the living room, watching $1 dvds
-getting lots of compliments on my kids' good looks, playfulness, obedience, big eyes, etc.
-perfect strangers always being willing to hold Didi for extended periods of time, which particularly comes in handy while I'm trying to shop
-bartering in Beijing
-being the church pianist, because my mediocre skills will likely never qualify me to play in church in a big congregation
-being in a branch (church congregation) so small that I know every individual quite well and it feels more like a family than any church group I've ever known
-shopping for fabric
-no t.v. (I've honestly gone the entire year without it and haven't missed it much at all)
-really appreciating it when that rare patch of blue sky briefly appears
-knowing people who truly and honestly want to babysit my kids for free (though I've only very recently taken advantage of this and regret that deeply)
-making great money tutoring English and teaching piano lessons
-helping friends with less Chinese experience on shopping excursions and errands
-strangers being genuinely interested in my life, particularly concerning the kids
-Kyle being able to come home for lunch every day, and working only eight hours a day in a relatively non-stressful job (compared to his future, at least)
-finding great deals at local markets and presenting all of my treasures to Kyle at the end of the day
-a pretty simple life, and lots of time for just the four of us to be together
-the challenges that make me a more interesting and well-rounded person, hopefully

No doubt I've learned a lot about myself this past year. Even though my list of bads is much longer than the goods list, it still has been a great year and I don't regret our decision to move and stay here. I know it was part of our lives' plan. I suspect in times to come that we will look back on this year with gratitude and even fondness.

3 comments:

mmm.chocolate said...

Ahhh . . . the ever tempting ash trays for little fingers, the grotesqueness of the loogeys, the never ending frustrations with the ayi, no bathtub, the branch, isolation . . . yummy cheap food, help with the housework, truly fresh produce, the branch, I think you forgot - Korean bathhouse, and best of all -- the simple life!!!

Tif, you are in for one grand homecoming. I hope it is as wonderful for you (when you come home) as it was for me. Looking back on our time in China, there are things we miss (not enough things to make us go back), but, I've decided that our lives in China were simpler with less hardships but also less joy. Our lives in America are more complex (which seems weird given the language barrier in China), but also much richer and full of greater joy. 21 days and counting! You can do it!!!

Nancy said...

Hi Tiffany,

I came to your blog via Jana's -- hope you don't mind. I'm looking for a phone number for your parents. Do you mind sending that to my email? nancy.fletch@gmail.com

Thank you!

Reading this post reminds me of the last few weeks we lived in the Netherlands (Nathan was born there, pre-internet and phone calls were $1 per minute). All the challenges I'd been dealing with positively and patiently for two years suddenly became huge and very hard! I couldn't wait to get back home to the USA. But after a while, we forgot the negatives and just remembered the great things. And 6 or 7 years later, we were begging the company to let us go back again, and terribly sad they said "no"!

I should note that I'm sure living in the Netherlands is much less of a challenge than living in China!! But time is a GREAT filter for memories -- it erases the bad and leaves us mainly the good.

A total shock when we moved home from the Netherlands was how hard it was to adjust to life back home! Either our homeland changed while we were away, or we changed, or our perceptions weren't accurate in the first place.

So I'll wish you luck with the coming home adjustment as well!

--Nancy Fletcher

Nancy said...

Hi Tiffany,

I came to your blog via Jana's -- hope you don't mind. I'm looking for a phone number for your parents. Do you mind sending that to my email? nancy.fletch@gmail.com

Thank you!

Reading this post reminds me of the last few weeks we lived in the Netherlands (Nathan was born there, pre-internet and phone calls were $1 per minute). All the challenges I'd been dealing with positively and patiently for two years suddenly became huge and very hard! I couldn't wait to get back home to the USA. But after a while, we forgot the negatives and just remembered the great things. And 6 or 7 years later, we were begging the company to let us go back again, and terribly sad they said "no"!

I should note that I'm sure living in the Netherlands is much less of a challenge than living in China!! But time is a GREAT filter for memories -- it erases the bad and leaves us mainly the good.

A total shock when we moved home from the Netherlands was how hard it was to adjust to life back home! Either our homeland changed while we were away, or we changed, or our perceptions weren't accurate in the first place.

So I'll wish you luck with the coming home adjustment as well!

--Nancy Fletcher