Thursday, September 4, 2014

Excerpts from Xi'an (Abridged): Living

I'm going to be posting some memoirs from my time in Xi'an, China this summer. In order to avoid becoming the next ChinaBounder, I'll be leaving out some of the good parts, at least on this public blog. I also don't want to bore you too much with rambling, so I'll try to keep it as short as possible.

I arrived in Xi'an on July 12th, two days later than I had anticipated since I didn't get the right date on my train ticket from Changsha. I was initially impressed by the layout of the city, as well as the cleaner appearance compared to the cities that I had visited in southern China. I would later find out that this wasn't the case, but the initial grandeur gave me a good impression of the city to begin from.

The honeymoon ended the very next day when I realized that people were staring at me. In retrospect, some of it probably was curiosity, but everything that I had read about racism in China, as well as the hostile facial expressions worn by the denizens of Xi'an in comparison to the milder facial expressions and smiles of Guangzhou and Changsha residents made me feel like I wasn't welcome. To make matters worse, there was constant spitting, and given how close my hosts' nasty projectiles landed to my feet made me realize that many people indeed wanted me to leave their city.

This treatment led me to hunkering down in my filthy apartment while avoiding contact with others, aside from work. Work itself was enjoyable. Interactions with my students and coworkers were the high points of my time in Xi'an until I decided to take more chances. I appreciated my students and coworkers, and they will always have a place in my memories, but outside of work, I was a loner. This is partially due to my position in the social dynamic, but I realize now that it truly is my nature. That isn't to say that I do not like to interact with others (especially beautiful women), but I do enjoy my time to myself.

What else did I learn?

Bring More Money than You Think You'll Need

It's not a good thing to go broke in a foreign country. I made the mistake of taking a local friend's word when it came to prices. As a foreigner getting set up, things are going to be more expensive than they would be for an established local (especially an established local that does not seem to value cleanliness). Also, a lot of the information that one may read online is old and prices have increased since then. Assume that things are going to be expensive, and if you find things to be cheaper than expected, at least you have savings to fall back on.

Use the Environment to Your Advantage

This could be the physical environment or the social environment. Down in Changsha, being an English speaker made me more valuable. People seemed to be more curious and open-minded about foreigners, including Black Americans. I was able to segue language exchanges into dinners and more. In Xi'an, this was not the case. However, when I didn't have enough money to get food, I was able to survive off of free samples at the local supermarket. The ladies there warmed up to me after seeing me every day, and would essentially give me full meals as "samples" in exchange for the chance to practice English on a foreigner.

If I needed to get hydrated, I'd have to wait until the night. Going to the club became a regular part of my daily schedule, and I would always meet a group of Chinese people that wanted to welcome me to their country, found me interesting, or just wanted to get a foreigner drunk. Just about every time I went out, I'd get free drinks, and occasionally I would get lucky with a Chinese girl (or two). I found Xi'an to be a lot friendlier at night than during the day.

Deal with Discomfort

I am the type of person that likes comfort, security, and luxury, but these things are not always guaranteed. I wouldn't want to live in harsh or filthy conditions indefinitely, but if it pays off, it might be worth dealing with. I learned that I can live without many of the comforts that I indulged myself with in America, and I have found myself being more efficient with my time and money. Looking back on it, I probably should have stayed for a year, then worked my way up to more comfortable living conditions. At least I have learned things that will help me the next time that I go to China, as well as with life in general.

I'll talk about some of my other experiences when I get around to it. Right now, I'm trying to build my funds, muscles, and skillset back up so that I can be a better person next time I visit the Middle Kingdom.

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