I’ve spent a large part of the last few months of 2017 complaining about China and my experience here so far; and I am well aware that I still have so much to share with you guys about what it has been like. But for my first post of 2018, I’ve decided that I will instead find a few things that I like about being here to start the year on a positive tick. (I figure this goes hand-in-hand with my commitment to 365 days of gratitude.)
The first and perhaps biggest thing I like about living in a foreign country where most of the people have no knowledge of or desire to learn English is the silence. I am not inundated with noise in the form of adverts that tell me what I should do, buy, eat, or how I should look. I am not being marketed to. I am not being cat-called every time I step out of the house. No one speaks to me unless they happen to know how to say hello and want to use it for once in their life. There are no meaningless conversations. There’s no small talk in the elevator or on the train or in the taxi. It’s just silent.
And what a dream this has been. I have always despised small talk and, really, am not very good at it. So being in a place where I literally can’t speak unless it’s important/necessary is so comfortable for me. Having the only voice in my head being my own, in all of my daily tasks, is such a profound part of peace and quiet that I never had the luxury of encountering in any other country or at any other time in my life. I can’t read the billboards. I can’t read the signs. I don’t have a plethora of choices at the supermarket, with a long list of ingredients to comb through before I choose one.
No one is trying to sell me anything; be it a product, or a lifestyle, or a relationship, or a sense of self. I cultivate and create everything here on my own, based on my own desires and nothing more. Do you have any idea how liberating and empowering that is?
This is why when I go home from school every day I feel a quiet calm. From the moment I step outside of my classroom, it’s silent until I return again in the morning. And so despite all the challenges I face from my work, going home to a beautiful and quiet space at the end of the day has become addicting. Leaving work has become more than just leaving work.. It is the silence that I am after. Being at peace has become my resolve.
Solitude is sort of a piggyback/byproduct of the first thing I like about China, but it absolutely deserves its own time to shine. I saw someone say on Twitter that solitude is addicting and I couldn’t agree more. You get so used to your own self, your own company and space, how you like things to be, that it’s a huge accommodation to think of sharing any of it with another person. I have been living in my apartment since August and last night was my first time having people over to socialise. I had two of the only real friends I have made here over for dinner and a movie, and that’s when I realised just how alone I’ve really been, and how much of my socialisation is hand-picked by me. If I want to speak, I choose to. There is no coming home to people at my house, or walking out the shower to answer the door, or running into anyone I know at the grocery store. There’s no phone call to answer or anyone to greet when I wake up in the morning. There’s no games night or cookout or late night meds in the backyard over the smell of freshly killed birds (sorry Omar lol). There’s no yoga class or beach flex, or lunch date to catch up unless I choose to create it. As a result, I have been thoroughly and wholeheartedly enjoying my own company and thoughts like never before.
I am free to go home and light my incense and sit in a corner with my crystals. I am free to practise yoga in my living room with no clothes on or blast my country music as loud as I want while I dance around the kitchen. I am free to roll all the way over on my bed and to wrap myself completely in my sheets. I can keep the heater on or off as long as I like; I can be assured that whatever I’ve left in the fridge will still be there when I return. I will never find anyone else’s hair on the bathroom floor, and my shower will always be as clean as I’ve left it. I can even stay as long as I want in the bathroom, even if I’m just reading a book on the toilet. I haven’t had to turn the TV on for any reason, and the only noise I ever hear when I’m home is the distant sound of that lovely Chinese hawking from one of my neighbours.
Have I sold you on this yet? Because if you’ve never been alone with yourself, you really should try it.
I won’t make this point very long because it doesn’t really need to be, but it is definitely nice not having to worry about money or bills. In that regard, I can absolutely see why people end up staying here. The cost of living is so insanely cheap that I have not had to concern myself much with the price of anything, and I’ve eaten out more than I ever have in my entire life (to my detriment). That being said, it doesn’t help me achieve my minimalist goals knowing that I can get anything on Taobao for little to nothing, but it is absolutely teaching me self-control. And I am still actively working on choosing need over want always.
Because of number 2, I am truly and completely free to be my entire self in every moment of every day. There is no subconscious worry about how I will be perceived or what will be said about me because in combination with number 1, I have the privilege of not caring at all. No matter what, people will stare. People will take photos of me without my permission, pretending to take selfies and tilting the camera in my direction when I’m not looking. They will treat me like a regular animal in the zoo, pointing and smiling and showing all their friends. As rude as it often feels, this means I can wrap my head every day, and wear my yoga pants, and mismatch in every way. I can forget to brush my hair. I can wear the same sweater every day. I can wear a mask to diffuse their stench and quite frankly do whatever the hell I want with my physical appearance and not care one bit about how it comes across. Not that I wasn’t myself on the other side of the world, but here I am free to experiment and it will never really be documented or even seen unless I request for it to be. Also, it won’t be misinterpreted. No one will be offended. And the only amusement will come simply from the fact that I exist, regardless of how I look or am dressed.
Of course it goes without saying that being in a new country is nice because, well.. you get to be in a new country. (Experience, experience, experience.) But in addition to that, I have gotten to travel to one of the top places on my bucket list twice already, and I have plenty more travel plans in the books. Being on this side of the world has given me the chance to explore a whole new world of cultures that are both comfortingly familiar and vastly distant, pushing me all the way outside of my comfort zone the whole time.
It also pushes me socially. If I ever want to get out and do anything, I’ve no choice but to make friends. I’ve met people from places that I’d never pay attention to on the map; people from places that I’ve only ever heard of in movies or books. In my travels I am reminded of who I am and why I do what I do as I face my reflection in people from all over the world. I can sit in a hostel in Bangkok chatting it up with a fellow from Gibraltar and exchanging accents and ideas. Or I can retreat into my room shortly after arriving and spend the night by myself writing my intentions in my New Moon book and deciding what I will do tomorrow. Because I get to choose. Do I want to meet people at the bar, or do I want to meet people on a yoga retreat? Do I want to meet people in Shanghai, or do I want to meet them when I travel? There’s never any random meeting. Every social encounter is an almost meticulously planned ordeal that I have more than enough time to prepare for mentally.
Knowing that no one can understand what I say or write means I am free to linguistically express myself whenever and however I please. This has given me a renewed sense of freedom. At first I was my usual reticent pushover self, but now if anyone pushes me out of the way, or blatantly cuts in front of me in the line at the grocery store, I can look them in their face and tell them about their mother and father and sister and brother and not have to worry about how they will respond. I can respond in eloquently superfluous and offensive English prose when people insist on speaking to me in Chinese despite my saying over and over that I don’t understand. I can cuss back at the taxi driver who wants me to get out and walk in the rain because there’s traffic, to his face, in that moment, and then put it behind me forever. And it falling on deaf ears is not even the best part. The best part is it teaching me the value and importance of expression; of not holding back for fear of offending anyone; of no longer playing small to make someone else feel big.
Moving emotions and thoughts when they come, and allowing them to go thereafter is freeing, especially when there’s no response for you to react to. Instead of being mad all day because someone cut you off in traffic or whatever, you say your piece to none but yourself, and then it’s gone. The day goes on. Life is good.
And last, but certainly not least, I am completely and 100% untethered. I am not attached to any tangible thing that I have acquired here or have brought with me. I am not attached to any of the people I have met or experiences I have had. I am not attached to my every day work or my feelings about it. I am painfully aware of the ephemerealness of all things in this dimension. My emotions come and go and I am always in the observer’s seat. I could care less if I am let go from the school. I don’t have any immediate or long term plans or really know at all where I will end up next year, or rather in a few months from now. The Virgo in me is probably cringing underneath that heaping pile of uncertainty, but on this conscious layer of my being I find only peace.
The idea that I can be anywhere, doing anything, in the near or far future is no longer some menacing self-perpetuated source of discomfort or worry. It is not “oh gosh where will I be?” It’s “Oh boy! All the possibilities!”
If nothing else, this experience has truly shown me that there’s never anything holding you back from doing things except your own self. Me deciding to stop standing in my way, for fear of how I would make something work for all the million reasons why it couldn’t, was the only, and I mean ONLY thing that got me here.
This life really is your blank piece of paper. Write on it anything that you wish. Draw. Colour. Cut. Rip it up and throw it away. Dye it pink. Eat part of it. Share it with others. Put it in your pocket. Whatever you want to do with it is and always will be your choice and yours only.
Why not let it be beautiful?