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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reverse Culture Shock

It's strange, as I go through this slow extraction process, how I am begging to feel like I felt when I first arrived nearly two years ago in Zhanjiang, when I was deep in the throes of culture shock. I was exhausted, impatient, mentally unfocused, quick to anger, and all sorts of other unpleasantness. And now, like a novel that begins to echo itself in its final chapters, I find that I am once again often tired, and extremely unmotivated, and grumpy. I feel apathetic toward so many things here, a thick stubbornness growing in my mind, attitudes about this place shifting as I march toward the exit and begin to forgive less and less of every-day China.

What's the reverse of culture shock? Culture saturation? I've been wading through China for nearly two years now, and my attitudes have shifted dangerously close to how things were in the beginning. Well, not close, but let's say the first impressions weren't far from the mark.

I first arrived in China terrified to say anything bad about the place, fearful of being an ugly ethnocentric foreigner. I was happy, even quick to criticize America and the West, so familiar and so clearly in error in many ways, whereas here was China, a place I accepted at face value and was too ignorant of to talk intelligently about, let alone criticize. I was confused and angered by a lot of the foolishness (and yes I know that sounds like a grandma word) I saw in China all the time, but I swept it all under the mental carpet of "wow this is amazing these people are beautiful YAY!" A novice to the language, I looked at it as an incomprehensible mess of strokes and symbols that three lifetimes of effort could never decode. And now I've swung from passive acceptance of all that every-day ugliness to once again being angry about it, but not being afraid to say so; to once again being able to look at a piece of paper, to understand how the language and the characters are put together, and still chalk it all up as hopeless.

I got in a fight with a cabbie the other day. It was raining pretty hard, and James and I were coming back from the gym. Flag the cab down, heading to campus, the guy was speeding like a madman, incredibly unsafe *in the rain*, and trust me, it's a feat bordering on a deathwish to be in a cab in China and feel especially unsafe. This guy managed to do that. We told him to slow down a bunch of times, but he only grinned, a slow stupid smirk showing on his face in the rear-view mirror. He continued to cut people off, use the horn instead of the breaks, and drive with needless abandon. We arrived at the gate to our campus, still raining, and the jackass refused to drive in through the gate and up to the door. We asked, prodded, told him it was OK, and he just returned some bullshit answer in the typical bored Chinese male attitude, the "too bored to even consider whatever it is you're suggesting" voice. "你是白痴," "Ni shi bai chi," "You're an idiot," I said, threw the money on the seat, jumped out and slammed the door. He opened his door and was yelling at James and I as we just walked toward our dorm in the rain.

I guess that's how you know you've been here too long: when you're calling people idiots for being idiots, in the native language, not feeling impressed that you said it correctly, not even caring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ha it's even trickier trying to cross the road