Awkward Moments?

"What have been the most situations for you in China?" my new student tutor asked me in Chinese.

Hmmm...is now the time to express everything? Do I know him well enough? Should I tell him about how angry I get sometimes? The anger at some of the most stupid situations: the cutting in line, the rude people unaccustomed to foreigners to the extent of xenophobia, the people whose view of a foreigner is a little more along the lines of 'foreign devil' or even 'foreign friend' rather than just 'friend'? Let me start a little more gently, I decide.

"Well sometimes people call me a few hours before a meeting or event. It's very inconvenient and usually I don't go because I already have other plans. The person generally seems upset when I say I can't make it - that really bothers me."

"Is that all?" he asks, "anything else?"

The "hellos" at the back of my head? The children shouting 'foreigner' at me as if I were the antagonist in a scary folk tale about a foreigner that eats little Chinese kids? The cutting the cutting the cutting in line!? And do you want to know how I deal with this? I tell them to slow down! I yell at them: 'you relax and do everything else in your life slowly, so why does the sight of other people make you forget all of your manners and rush to trample me?'

No, no. Saying something else would be better.

"Sometimes Chinese people correct what I say, but instead of helping me, they correct everything. It takes me ten minutes to say 'where are you going?' with the proper tones, even though they would have understood me fine despite my poor pronunciation. I don't see the need for this constant correction, even if I say something imperfectly."

He nods his head, contemplating what I've said. I wonder if he's thinking along the same lines. I wonder if he knows how it feels sometimes. Maybe that's why he brought this up - maybe he's waiting to hear this. I decided not to talk about this, however.

The truth is, sometimes I do want to shout. Sometimes I feel like turning over tables and drawing a picture of a line of people and explaining how delayed gratification is received through the knowledge that consistency will win out. Sometimes I want to yell, "This is a society, not a fight for resources - aren't we beyond that!?"

I have never experienced such acute anger in my life. China has brought out some of the worst in me. In a way, China has pushed me a great deal.

And I've never been so thankful. The storm of emotional unpredictability, this torrent of negative emotions has helped me to better understand who I am and what I can endure. I know through and through the differences between China and America have reasons for their existence. I have learned that the culture is so different and so difficult to understand that personally, sometimes I must throw up my hands and make a rude comment.

None of this will prevent me from the realizing my deepest feelings: My love for and interest in China's remarkable culture. The people are different. Most of them, like any place in the world, are good. And while I will remain frustrated with so much, in my mind's eye I see future arguments with American friends as I defend the actions of the Chinese people and government. I see myself becoming upset with someone's arrogant, narrow view of Chinese culture and launching into a tirade about the fundamental differences between collectivism and individualism.

So when my tutor asks me about awkward moments, I know there have been plenty. But I am certain that they have been necessary: a hidden part of my unique education here. They are the many things I never expected when I came (though I expected adversity, I never knew specifics), and they are indelibly printed on my soul.

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