Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Beijing, China: Week 8, Part 4 (Not Finding Myself)

 Today was my first day of work in the WCS Beijing office. I successfully rode the bus to the right stop, and successfully found the office in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It’s two offices, really, off of a narrow academic hallway plastered with animal posters. Tall, dirty windows cast soft light over the desks, all of us sitting back-to-back, face-to-face in a row. Every person in this office is a woman and I admit to liking the atmosphere.

One of the things that most delighted me about meeting up with Andrew Wang yesterday was seeing him so comfortable, and so in his element. Of course it makes sense that only the most brave and outgoing students from China would choose to study in the United States. When I am in China, I am usually silent, although my brain is processing at a million miles a minute. I spend so much time trying to understand that I fail at speaking. This happens to my classmates at Fuqua too, and I am sure it happens to Andrew. He’s one of the quietest students in my dance class. I love all of my students, and love to see them growing as people and as dancers. So for me, it is doubly delightful to see Andrew here, gregarious and fearless in his element.

I’ve also been amazed at how quickly my annoyance rises at some of the women here. They are just so girly. Ruffles, lace and frills abound. I have often wanted to defy female stereotypes in my life. I still haven’t figured out if my teenage interest in classic cars stemmed from trying to be cool, or came from a genuine love of them. Now, why does it bother me to see women on the bus or subway hanging on their boyfriends, or embracing the external stereotypes of softness? There’s not even that many of them like that, I remind myself sternly. In fact, most are not like that.

Waiting for the bus on Xitucheng Road

Last night as I rode the subway home I finally understood myself. On public transit in Beijing, I don’t read books or write like I usually would do. Instead I stand there and study the faces of the people around me, try to find my own features in their faces, some mannerism we share. Somehow that question has never disappeared – am I really Chinese? And so somehow, every interaction is suffused with my attempt to blend. I realize then that I am frustrated with the very "girly" females because I so much want to see myself in them, and yet every superficial thing I see is distinctively NOT me. How dare they ruin my narrative of personal discovery and identity??  I suddenly see my anger as absurd indeed.

I think of the American in the taxi line behind me. I think of an American couple I passed on the road, who dismissed a restaurant for being “Sooo Chinesey!” Was it wrong of me to want to turn around to them and say “Guess what guys, you’re in China.” They don’t blend, and they don’t mind it. I think I should stop trying too. It is unattainable, and anyway, nobody ever changed the world by blending in.
On my way home I stop for noodles, then buy some melons, ice cream, and toilet paper. In the park outside my apartment, people are stretching on the exercise equipment, doing sit-ups. Families lead their children around, push them on tricycles, teach them to walk. In the dark of night, you cannot see the smog, only a moon that rises luminous and orange above the buildings.
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