September 14, 2007
and it hit me...
there are moments, brief moments, that i forget i live here. when i forget that my closest family member is a 12 hour plane ride away, that my dinner options are noodles or rice, or that i live in a country that i have a 3 year-old's proficiency in the language. those moments are usually snapped back to reality pretty quickly.
my grandfather loved the outdoors. my memories of him are in his suspenders, tending his prized garden, sweating, and telling me stories that i'd heard before. summers in kerman could reach the upper 110's and that made for a sweaty and therefore smelly guy. i learned last year that when it comes to our memory, smell is more powerful than all the other senses combined. the point of this is coming soon.
the other day i got onto a crowded bus headed to beijing. i put my ipod in and settled in for the 80 minute bus ride. with "meet virginia" in my ears-i closed my eyes. i had tuned out sight and sound, but i couldn't stop the smell that filled my nasal cavity. it was what grandpa smelled like before he jumped in the pool to cool off. frankly, it was the smell of body odor. chinese people don't wear deodorant, but they also don't have b.o. i couldn't help it, i had to open my eyes and figure out the source. i looked around and in the very back of the bus spotted 3 hippie americans. how did i know they were americans? all i had to do was pause my song for a couple seconds and their loud voices filled the bus. they had just climbed "mu tian yu"- the famous great wall site right by my house. ten rows up i heard all about it. how is it that i smelled an american before i saw him? that's amazing. it hit me, i live here, i'm not a tourist.
the other moment was today. i was headed to work- left the apartment on time, went down the stairwell, and as soon as i stepped outside realized that the rain had really picked up. i usually ride my bike the two miles to work. the dilemma did not lie in- should i take a taxi or not? that part was clear. i should- i was in a skirt, our dirt road had turned to mud with small lakes. the question was- could i pull it off? could i successfully communicate to a taxi driver where i wanted to go? and to be honest, i froze. i stood in the rain without an umbrella for a good minute running through the scenario... and the vocabulary. and it hit me, i live here, i really need to learn the language.
the more i write this out the more examples i can think of. last one.. because it's funny. yesterday i went for a business meeting at dove chocolate. when i got inside i saw the factory. everyone was in white jumpsuits and it was all very white and organized. chocolate bars rolled down the conveyor belt... i started playing 'umpa lumpa' in my head. you would too, trust me. anyway, after our meeting was over i made a reference to "Willy Wonka and the Choc...olate....Fac... tory." Blank stares from 7 identically dressed white jump-suited, middle-aged, chinese guys. the comedy of it all was too much to take. i started to laugh and no one laughed with me. and it hit me, i live here, and sometimes my jokes hit cultural walls. those jokes are never worth explaining, it's better to just laugh alone.
and just when i thought my candle-lit blog gave me some escapism, the man who lives on the other side of this wall just hawked a big loogie...the same ones that fall at my feet almost daily in the city. another reminder that i definitely live here. and i've learned to like it. hmmm, goodnight.