It’s been a difficult but routine week here in Baoding filled with chainsaws, early morning wake-ups, negotiating relationships, and another flat tire on the bike.
Sunday we went out for lunch with Enkui and his wife and niece and ate at a great restaurant that was “American” themed. The food was essentially Chinese American food that wasn’t fast food. This means we had a Chinese cuisine variation on wings, beef tips, roasted potatoes, green beans, bananas and coconut covered in marshmallows, and lots and lots of garlic. It was great and since it was cheap and close to the school, I can see us going there again on our own. The best part of the whole experience though, was this monstrosity outside the restaurant:
Classes were as scheduled but the students were difficult for both of us this week. We came out of classes just exhausted from trying to maintain focus or manage the classroom effectively. I suspect a lot of the misbehavior and general rowdiness from the students came from their inability to play outside this week seeing as the smog has settled back in again with alarming intensity.
And though the trees are transforming into bright greens and the flowers are beginning to bloom around campus, we were also introduced this week to how Baoding prepares for Spring.
But despite the frustrations, I had some good moments with my students too. One eighth grade girl that I’ve been convinced since the first week of school hates me, wanted to take a picture with me this week and was super excited to talk with me when I was wandering around campus.
When I asked one of my seventh grade boys who is usually very good in class why he wasn’t participating, he told me he was sad because he was having “woman” troubles (his friend made sure I was certain to understand by writing “woman” at the top of his paper and pointing and nodding with a slight frown). I found this whole situation (not to be degrading) adorable and I really wanted nothing more in that moment than to know the details of his first heartbreak. But treading the line between helpful and embarrassing (which has become a pretty much constant thought when interacting with my middle school students, especially considering Chinese students are more likely to be embarrassed by nothing by a magnitude of about 1000 compared to American students) contained my curiosity and now the world will never know the drama involved in his first love. Though I am routinely observing that Chinese men are not masculine (compared to American standards of masculinity), I appreciated this boy’s willingness to be transparent and honest with his emotions rather than trying to hide any sensitivity under the pretense of “being a man”.
And at the end of this frustrating week (really just more China fatigue largely fueled by the absence of clean air and sunlight), I am happy when I reflect on my personal growth so far during this adventure. I set out at the start of this year, with some clear goals relating to how I interact with the world around me and I think I’ve made some great progress. I have never been one to be characterized by patience, but now I would even go so far as to describe myself as a patient person. I have become remarkably good (for me) at talking myself out of negative emotional reactions to situations and circumstances I have no control over, and despite (or maybe because of) all the challenges and trials that I have had to get used to as a part of life, I’m much more tolerant, my expectations are more malleable, and I’m more grounded in the present. I’m amused that it took me coming to China and experiencing the most substantial culture shock of my life to make progress on life-long goals of mine, but at the end of the day, that’s why this type of adventure is so valuable. We’ve both been forced to adapt and learn and grow and live outside of our comfort zone and that has inevitably shaped us into new persons that will carry on through the rest of our lives better by having learned and grown from this experience.
Thank you for reading and until next time,