March 24, 2008

Halfway Home

While walking home tonight I realized something: as of April 4th (next week) I'll have been here for three months. That means my time here is halfway up. Strange.

I reflected back on it a bit. I've done many of the things I came here to do -- and more than a few that were entirely unexpected. I've seen a buttload of great music. I can muddle my way through a conversation in basic Chinese. I even can read a couple characters. I've eaten some amazing food. I've taken almost 4 GB worth of pictures and videos. And pretty soon I'll get to see Suzhou, Hangzhou, Beijing, and Tokyo at the very least. I've had some invaluable experiences at work.

Perhaps understandably, I'm not necessarily super excited about going back to Austin. I think it's more of -- I'm extremely curious to see how I'll feel, what I'll think, what it will be like to interact in a non-textual manner with my friends again, and so on, what it'll be like to sit in a restaurant and understand people's conversations around me. Will anything have changed? I suppose by definition, many things will have. But I don't think any changes will be too drastic -- not even myself. I'm still who I was when I left, at least, if such a measurement can be qualified :-)

Over here, they call this "reverse culture shock." They say I'll notice mainly two things: 1) how fat Americans are, and 2) how many people have blond or red hair. You don't see many fat or blond people in Shanghai, let me tell you . . .

Eating Mexican food, lounging out by Lake Austin, driving down Mopac at sunset -- hell -- driving anywhere, tromping around Red River St. at night, shooting pool -- these are all things that I - well I guess I miss them, but I'm pretty content/fulfilled in Shanghai, so it's more like I see these experiences as "different" as opposed to "irreplaceable". Again, it's more like, I'm curious as to how those things will feel after having spent six months in Shanghai.

Yeah there are some things I don't like about Shanghai, like the friggin' slow-ass Internet everywhere, but on the whole it's been a hugely positive experience. Which is great :-) I don't even miss my car. I never thought that would happen. In fact the only time I interact with a non-taxi vehicle is if I'm dodging one that's about to flatten me, so I think my opinion of cars is now rather negative.

Speaking of which, buses are obviously the biggest vehicles on the road here, so you'd think their drivers would be the most cautious, right? WRONG. Buses don't stop for ANYTHING -- except, er, I suppose to let people on and off. But if you are crossing the street when the light turns red, and a bus is about to make a right hand turn in front of you, YOU better stop -- because the bus will not. Now that I think about it logically (stupid brain) I suppose that's because no one's wearing seat belts and the bus driver doesn't want all his passengers flying forward.

Dang. I figured out a logical reason. So I guess it kind of makes sense. But still - they shouldn't be going that fast in the first place. There, now I feel better :-)

All right, I suppose I'm being disingenuous. There has been talk of extending my stay in Shanghai. For how much longer, who knows, and if it's even a possibility when the time actually comes to decide, I have no idea. We'll see how it goes. It's strange because I don't even know whose decision it is, when these people need to decide, what factors are involved, or if I'll even have a say in it. Well I shouldn't say this is strange, because that's what my life was like for all of 2007. So I'm kind of used to this feeling by now (kind of).

And that's fine -- one of the reasons I took this assignment is because, if there's ever a point in my life where I'll be okay with living in such a state of flux, it's now, and not when I'm like 35 and married with a house and kids or something like that. Now is the time to do these batshit-crazy things, like live in Shanghai for six months and eat fried bees for dinner. Mmm. Speaking of which, I'm going to stop talking about that and fucking do it this Friday night.

So I'm not complaining :-) I'll roll with whatever happens. I mean, it's not like Austin is a cesspool or something that I'd be unwilling to go back to. Far from it. So really, I can't lose either way :-)

What it comes down to is this - I'm not ready to leave yet. So it's a good thing I still have some more time here :-)

But regardless of how long I stay here, I'm pretty sure that I'll be back in Austin at the end of June for at least a couple of weeks. So -- get off the road, because I'll be renting a car ;-) Sheesh, do I even have my driver's license? I think it's around here somewhere . . .

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