By the time this post goes up, we'll be starting our journey home to Canada. While I am literally bursting with joy and anticipation at the thought, the moment is still bittersweet. I was not ready to leave Canada last August to start the second year, but obligation got me on that airplane and I'm really glad it did.
I don't want this post to come across all cheesy, but I got a lot of feedback on last year's informal reflection, and so I'm offering this as an update. It's a lot longer, but I'm not coming back this time, so I've got more to say. Okay, here goes!
Dear My Life in China,
You have been busy, and full of many new experiences and adventures. You let me travel to a lot of really-frigging-cool places and see a lot of really-frigging-cool things. You have challenged me daily, and I haven't always won, but we're going home now so it's time to say thanks.
To my students: This will sound horribly and cringe worthily cliche, but my students are the reason I get out of bed in the morning. You are the reason I can say I like my job, and you are the reason it was a difficult choice to return home to Canada. I don't like marking tests and essays (in fact I loathe it), I don't like the bureaucratic hoops I need to jump through to complete a simple task, I don't like the fights I have to fight to make your in class experience as good as I know how to make it - and there are days where it doesn't seem good at all. There are many weeks where I work 10 hour days, 6 days a week - I'm exhausted all the time - but somehow you manage to convince me, every single day, that you are worth it.
At the beginning of the year I started a tradition of Starbucks Fridays with a friend as a way to "get through the week" and "have something to look forward to". I learned really quickly that with you guys as students, I don't have anything to get through and I look forward to everyday. Now I just drink coffee on Friday because I like it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of the sappy people who say things like "I hate the weekend because I love working soooooo much!" Barf. Those people are liars - don't ever believe anything they tell you ever again - everyone loves the weekend. The weekend is my favourite time of the week, it's my me time where I can sleep late and I never have to feel "on", I just happen to not hate Mondays (.... I still hate Tuesdays), and that is purely and undeniably because of the awesome young adults I get to spend my time with for hours a day. And so to them, I say thank you.
To the culture: I don't get you. I appreciate you and I think you are deeply fascinating, but I do not understand you. You have guided your population through life for thousands of years and have created an industrious and hardworking people, but you have some of the strangest (and seemingly backward) set of traditions and superstitions that I've ever known. Thanks to you, I'll never write a person's name in red ink again, I'll think strange things about people who jiggle their leg when they are sitting, and I'll have to endure strange looks when I as ask for my water lukewarm.
I'm afraid to say, there are certain aspects of your modern culture that are driving me away. After two years, the people in the grocery store don't stare at me any less. In fact, the people all over this country don't stare at me any less. Nor are they very inconspicuous when they try to take my photo, and I find it rude. Where I'm from it's not okay to get all up in someone's face just because they look different. It's tiring and irksome and I hate it.
And after two years I still can't get on board with the whole "split pants" thing. I've tried to tell myself that it's just the way it's done here, the culture is different, and so on and so forth. But you know what? It's dirty, and in a city of 15 million people it causes a lot of shit on the streets and a lot of bacteria in your lungs. And while we're at it, if you need to hoark up that much phlegm every single day, could you do it in your own bathroom? Not two inches from my foot? It would really make my day-to-day view of this place a lot better.
To Shenzhen: You are crowded and sweaty and you kind of smell bad. In some ways you're new and glitzy and there's a general sense that too many people have too much money, and then in others you seem to always be falling apart and drenched in poverty. You are a juxtaposition in yourself.
I will not miss your loose sidewalk bricks that splash who-knows-what all over my legs. I will not miss having to stare at my feet as I walk to avoid the multitude of mystery puddles and stains (especially when it hasn't rained in weeks). I will not miss the chaos of your streets or the constant game of Chicken I play with all forms of motorized vehicles. But I will miss your bubble teas, greasy breads, and fresh juices. I will miss your definition of "winter" and the funny little areas that you've created for me to explore. I'll miss the idea of being able to get almost anything for not very much (unless what I'm looking for is good dairy products or baking supplies), and the fact that you've got a mall or market for everything. In many ways you are the reason we are leaving, but in your own way you've been good to us.
To my friends: Living in China is not always easy. In fact, many days it can seem quite difficult. And I wouldn't have been able to make it through 2 years without you. This message is for friends old and new. Simply, thanks.
I could probably go on, and on, and on but I'll stop here, because I can.