headaches, huzhou, less food-related, musings, Shanghai, Uncategorized

One Day Is Fine, the Next Is Black

10.20.09 | 1 Comment

While I’ve been charming you with tales of Korea (and I’m not finished) like Scheherazade, there have been big things brewing. Or I thought they were, and now maybe they’re not?

It’s probably somewhat apparent that my relationship with Huzhou is tumultuous at times. This city is isolating, I’ve been unhappy. I’ve tried to make friends with locals, to moderate success, but strangely, I’ve found that the better I become at Mandarin, the more alienated I feel from the people. A deeper understanding of the language and culture have, unexpectedly, cast more light on the vast differences between us.

I struggled with the Me and Them even back in 2007 when I studied in Beijing. At that time, Annetta pointed out to me that though she enjoyed my blog, she thought I focused too much on what separated us, too much on being a laowai and not just being ellis. Annetta, though, has what I consider to be an advantage—a Chinese mother. Though Annetta is American born and raised, a deep part of her is Chinese. She grew up with things that I didn’t, even if she doesn’t realize it.

But this isn’t about Annetta—it’s about me. On the bus home from an invigorating visit to Shanghai last month, I decided it was TIME. It was time to get out of Huzhou and move to Shanghai. I would cut short my contract and get OUT.

I made a list of all the things I would need to do, from cleaning up my resume to hiring a moving company. And then I started doing the things on my list—revising my resume, responding to job adds, getting advice from Nellie, making contacts, researching places to live.

And then I went to Korea. I was so happy to be away from Huzhou, or maybe just to be away from China. I was filled with dread, sickening, heavy dread, at the prospect of returning to Huzhou. Or maybe just to China. I wanted to be somewhere with a social life. With an international community of people who wouldn’t stare at me. With movie theaters and stores with Western clothing styles and grocery stores with Yerba Mate tea and an airport a subway ride away.

But then I came back—in a great mood. Maybe I liked the idea of having a project, a mission: find a job, move to Shanghai. The knowledge that it’s not that easy gnawed at my stomach every day. I had visa issues to consider. What if I couldn’t find a job in time? We are about to enter tough visa times with the upcoming 2010 Shanghai World Expo. What if I couldn’t find a non-teaching job and had to keep teaching? There aren’t a lot of schools that treat me as well as this one does. Like most big life changes, this one is daunting. It comes with a lot of stress. Maybe that’s why my face has, in the past two months, broken out with more pimples than it ever did when I was a teenager.

Last week, I scored a job interview, which will take place next week. So I had to tell Laura NOW about my plans. Monday morning, it was do or die time, but I was, strangely, reluctant to admit—to myself—that I would be leaving. Especially since this past weekend, I remembered that I like a fair number of other laowai here—I just don’t see them much. If I had more weekends like this past one, I would be much happier. Could that be possible? But I told Laura my plans. While I didn’t expect her to welcome the news, I didn’t expect the answer that she gave me.

After a lot of yada yada about how hard it would be for them to find a new teacher, she offered to adjust my schedule so that I would work 2 or 3 days a week like Sena, who lives in Shanghai and commutes here three days a week. I could work here, then return to Shanghai, where I could rent an apartment and work part-time. The idea had never occurred to me, and it sounded like it had possibility. So I told her I would think.

It would mean still having a visa, having time to cultivate contacts in Shanghai. It would make non-teaching job-hunting easier being based in Shanghai. It would mean leaving but staying. But it would also mean a two-hour one-way commute 2 or 3 days a week. It would mean spending a huge chunk of my paycheck from this school on an apartment and utilities in Shanghai. It would mean getting another job, probably teaching, in Shanghai, and in all likelihood, having to go without weekends and without socializing of the Huzhou or Shanghai sort. That’s not why I wanted to move (thanks to Nellie for pointing this out to me).

So now, I think (at least, for now) that it must come down to moving now or staying nine more months. And I’m a little disturbed to find that maybe I want to stay after all.

I am worried that I want to stay because of the great weekend I had. You know why it was great? Because I felt like I had friends. There are a few new laowai (though I am strangely still the only female) and some familiar ones whose company I really enjoy. Who knows how long they will be here, but could I cultivate friendships with them instead of the friendly acquaintance-ships we currently have? Was my low period caused by the long, boring, scorching summer? Was it enhanced by the sadness and loneliness of my break-up with “Mark?” I am worried that if I stay, I will be unhappy again. I thought I’d stick it out at Wellesley, too, and I nearly destroyed my mental health with four whole years there. (Aside–post title not a reference to my mental state, but to song lyrics…think The Clash.)

Or am I just chickening out? Am I breaking under the pressure, getting cold feet? Is it just that I can’t handle the stomach-wrenching uncertainty of leaping into a new life quickly? Is it just jitters, am I being blinded by fear? I won’t re-sign when my contract is up in July—if I move then instead of now, I’ll face the same issues getting a job, getting a visa, getting an apartment. Will I be any better-equipped in nine months than I am now?

How on earth am I supposed to know what’s best for me? How does when know when it’s time to make a big life change? And when can I stop asking questions and finally figure out what the hell to do?

I’m not asking what I should do, because I know no one can decide that for me. But I need advice. Am I overlooking something? How do I know when the time is right—or how do I decide that it’s right?

I think this is why I’ve enjoyed going to sleep every night–because it’s easier when I just don’t have to think about anything.

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