I am writing this post on October 8th, my Fulbright grant ends on October 23rd, and I leave China on November 14th! So safe to say, many a change will be happening this month. I want to use half of this post to tell you about some of the awesome things that I have been doing since my last blog, but the majority will be devoted to a bit of self-reflection as how this year has gone, what I have learned about myself, and so on.
As I mentioned in my last post, my friends Andrea and Olivia were due to visit and go on a bit of a trip with me. The trip was absolutely fantastic. These are two friends who I really value, and so it was wonderful to be able to spend some quality time with both of them while also getting to introduce them to each other! I have talked about this in past blog posts, but something that I have found really hard in the post-college era, is the lack of friends who I feel such a strong connection to. This is not to say that the friendships I have made here are not fantastic, but they obviously lack the depth of those friendships that were formed in the intensity of college or that I have had since middle school.
As to our travels, after spending a night in Shanghai, we went town to Guangxi province in southern China to visit Xingping village. As mentioned in my past post, this area is famous for its karst mountains, which are these super dramatic scattered peaks and valleys. For more information on the formation of the mountains (which is very interesting), click this link! I don’t think words or pictures can do the drama of the landscape justice, we spent many an hour just exclaiming about how wild it was that these were naturally occurring. We biked, motorbiked, took a boat ride, did a bit of light hiking, walked around the old town, and just enjoyed each others company. I especially appreciated getting to show Olivia a much less developed part of China, and how that compares to Shanghai, which is almost like New York City in how international/developed/fast paced it is.
As some of you know, I recently celebrated my second birthday in China! Instead of just having one celebration… I decided to make it a weeklong affair! It also just made me so happy/ grateful to realize how many special people I have in my life. One of those very special people is my best friend and sister, Wildes Ho, who recently moved to Fuzhou, China. Fuzhou is in southern China, across the strait from Taiwan! I spent my actual birthday with Wildes, who I hadn’t actually seen in almost a year and a half, and I can’t even remember the last birthday I have gotten to spend with her, so it was just really special. I think a lot about how wild it is that we have grown in the same direction. So many people grow apart from childhood best friends, and yet ours has somehow endured.
A really fascinating thing I discovered as we spent time together, is that while I know so much about her childhood, family, upbringing, it has been so long since we have actually lived close to one another for a long period of time that at times it almost felt like getting to know a new person. Little things, like how she takes her coffee or her food preferences have all shifted slightly over the years, and so it was kind of delightful to get to know this new version of the person who I love! I think it really impressed upon me the endurance of our friendship, how how it has evolved with us and will continue to grow, take on new forms, and strengthen.
Anyway, on the actual day we ate a leisurely breakfast, lounged in a Korean spa, and then drank wine and ate street food! Wildes booked a hotel for us in the center of Fuzhou, and the staff was so amazing. They figured out it was my birthday and so we came home to a really cute message written on the bed in rose stems and then had a cake delivered to the room! It was all just a great way to enter my 24th year!
The week after my birthday happened to be Golden Week, the week of vacation celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and so Wildes and my previous roommate from Beijing, Jacob, came to Shanghai to spend it with me! After only three weeks in Fuzhou, Wildes had reverse culture shock coming to Shanghai. Fuzhou has an absolutely tiny foreign population, and so every time she saw a person who was not visibly Chinese she would poke me and ask “what do you think they are doing here?” I would respond “I have no idea? Working? Why do you care.” I think it really goes to show how different the experiences of someone living in Shanghai are to someone living in a 2nd or 3rd tier city, where there is no foreign community. I really do think that it is a really special thing to be able to live in one of those smaller cities, where you are more immersed in Chinese culture than is possible in Shanghai. On the other hand, I am thankful for a lot of little things that make me sane in Shanghai, like oat milk! It is also a much different story for Wildes, who doesn’t speak Chinese and so life can be quite hard in Fuzhou!
To celebrate my birthday in Shanghai, we spent the day at a pool, made a lemon meringue pie, ate tacos, and went out dancing! A nice balance to the chillness of the previous weekend. It was great to have a nice mixture of all the amazing people I have met in Shanghai, a friend from home, and a friend from Beijing.
In the flurry of visitors and celebrations, the anniversary of my time living in China quietly passed. I almost didn’t even notice it! So now it has been a year and 2 months of living in the PRC, and that anniversary combined with the ending of my Fulbright grant seemed like a good opportunity to do a bit of reflection on what I have learned about myself throughout this time.
The overwhelming feeling I have is really just pride in what I have accomplished and been able to do. I moved to two new cities and successfully made a life for myself in both places. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have survived and I have thrived! I definitely get bogged down thinking about all the things that I HAVEN’T achieved, or things I wish I had done, and I forget to really appreciate the things I do have or have achieved.
I have also learned a lot about what I need to be happy and healthy. In college, I became really used to being around people all the time. As an extrovert, I flourish being with people doing all things, so something about post-grad life and living in a city where I had no friends starting out was the idea of eating meals alone, spending all day on my own, and not living with friends was really daunting. What this year has really given is the ability to enjoy time alone At a certain point, depending on other people to do things can be almost limiting. For example, in the past if I didn’t have friends to go to the museum with I might just not go. Now I feel really happy and excited about the prospect of having a day to myself to wander around a museum. A big part of this journey has been all about learning how to self-care. I am learning about the little things I can do for myself, that don’t depend on other people, to make me happier, improve my mental health, and just be a better person.
I have also learned a lot about what I want to do with my career and how I work best. I think this year has been particularly challenging for me because of how much I depend on external praise and affirmation. In previous working situations, with a boss who maybe didn’t frequently offer praise it, I would have a lot of trouble being confident in my my work or my position in the organization. This is something I have always known about myself, and so looking to this project I was aware that it would be a hurdle to overcome. There have been times over the course of this project that my self-doubt and self-criticism became incapacitating, which is inevitably a self-reinforcing cycle as in that zone of self-hatred you are obviously not getting anything done at all. And so, while this has been a year of great growth, I think that at this point in my life I am excited to get a job where I do answer to someone, and someone else will be providing some overarching structure to my job.
There were many times throughout this year that I really just felt lost in the woods. While that may be a good place to be on a journey of self discovery, I just didn’t feel like I have been doing anything that would directly aid the communities I am researching. In fact, that has always been my qualm with academia. The link between an actual impact and the work you do is hazy, especially for someone like me who isn’t actually publishing anything in academic journals. So for the next phase of my life, I want to work in some capacity where I am making a tangible impact on the communities I am serving! What exactly that means is up in the air, but I am excited for where life is headed.
I think I will leave it there for now, but expect more processing posts in the coming weeks.