Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two months

We've been in China almost two months now. Our lives have changed in ways that are hard to describe. We have gone from being cultural brokers to immigrants in our community in the US to needing cultural brokers here in China. We have gone from being the authorities on language and culture in the US to being learners of culture and language here. We are dependent in ways that we have never been before.

We moved from a small three bedroom house with a large yard to a small three bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of our building-no elevator.

Instead of teaching language and culture every day, we get up and go to language school every day. We learn our new culture as we ride our bikes, go to the market, buy vegetables and fresh meat almost every day and eat wonderful, cheap food in our neighborhood restaurants.

As newcomers, everything feels really difficult. Getting furniture meant four separate trips to the furniture market, lots of bargaining and people delivering it to our home. It meant being followed through out the market with people trying to get us to buy their furniture and hire their trucks. It meant being overwhelmed by choices of sofas, mattresses, bedroom furniture and tables. It was a loud, tiring and confusing experience and one I don't really want to repeat.

Except that we need a desk and rug!

Shenyang is a huge city of seven million. We are surrounded by people all the time. The sheer number of people causes behaviors that in our culture we define as rude. People get cut off in traffic all the time- bikes, taxi's, buses, cars, scooters. The right of way is a kind of survival of the fittest. People push, shove and bump into each other...and there is no real way to say "Excuse me." Rude? In some contexts. We have to separate culture from what is rude behavior. We have to look at these behaviors through cultural lenses that promote understanding rather than criticism.

It's exhausting being here. The noise is constant-honking, traffic, people, construction. Not speaking the language is exhausting. Yet people are wonderfully patient and helpful. The people at the market will repeat prices for me until I pretend to understand and just hand them the money. Our language teacher's are kind and patient.

We have a strong sense of purpose being here. Thanks to all who helped us get here!