March 2013


I know how much everybody hates these stupid quotation memes, so I try not to post them very often, but this one seemed apt for what’s been on my mind lately.

I have been living in China for more than a year now, as most of you have probably figured out. You may have also noticed that it has brought out the deepest level of cynicism I have ever found in myself. As you may remember, a little more than a year ago, I could not stop waxing on about how wonderful life is. I had embarked on a grand adventure and was working my way through some of the countries I had wanted to see for as long as I could remember. I was spending my days at leisure, rock climbing, hiking, and running – the three things I love to do most in this world. And then, well, I came to China.

China began as another big adventure. It was a place I had never ever dreamed of visiting, and a place as far from my own culture as I have ever been. The food, the language, the culture, the smells, the everything is completely different here. And for a time it was interesting and I wanted to try it all.

But then the being crowded, and the pollution, and the lack of trees or birds, and the arbitrary rules, and the this, and the that really started to get to me. No, it started to grind at me – in a way I never thought possible. I mean, let’s be honest, you’ve all noticed that China and I haven’t exactly been BFF, right?

I have stayed on here because I wanted to gain some valuable teaching experience and build up my resume. And I wavered back and forth all winter about whether I should come back for another year because I DO love my job here. But I have decided that I will not be staying here after the semester finishes.  It really kills me that I have lived abroad before, but that I just cannot seem to adjust to China and love it the way I have loved my other homes abroad. It has been, by far, the most challenging place I have lived (or visited, for that matter). Yes, at times I have loved it, but at most times I have hated it. And I mean REALLY hated it.

The worst part about this experience, though, is that it has brought me back to a bad place within myself. I spend so much time alone with absolutely nothing active or constructive to do, which gives me lots of time to criticize myself, my choices, and my life. It also makes me acutely aware of how lonely it is to be alone in a country where there are so few people with whom I can communicate on any real level. It also makes me yearn for all of those things that I set off to do when I first left for New Zealand almost two years ago. Being here makes me feel like I have somehow lost sight (again) of what is important to me – being outdoors, spending time meditating, and making sure every day is a day where I think to myself, “I love my life!” Of course there are other things that are important to me, but these are the things that were the center of my life for a whole year, and they were the things that made me happier than I have ever been before. EVER. I want that back.

While I would love to set down roots somewhere and build a real life with friends and a family of my own one day, I know that that somewhere is not China. Alas, I am not a tree, at least not yet, thus, I am free to leave. I have not bought my plane ticket to wherever I will be off to next. I am currently searching for work and will then know where the wind will take me. For now, it is enough to know that I will go.

Off to Roost, originally uploaded by bexadler.

One thing you learn from traveling is how much we take for granted in the west. I’m not even talking about all of the guilty pleasures we enjoy like air conditioning, ice cubes, and hundreds of TV stations at our fingertips. I’m talking about the BIG things. Things we deem essential to quality of life, like clean drinking water, breathable air, and access to nature. I never thought of these as excesses until I moved to China. In other countries I have often missed small things, like Mexican food and avocados. But in China, I miss such big things that I don’t even have the time to think about how much I wish there was ranch dressing available here. One of the things I miss most here – and didn’t even realize until I had it again in my life – is birdsong.

You wouldn’t think it is something to be missed. In fact, it is something that I never really paid attention to back home. It was just always in the background. Going for early morning runs, I would hear the birds waking up and chirping back and forth, telling each other about their dreams from the night before.

In the northern part of China, where I live, this does not exist. People comment on it here and there. They talk about the infamous Great Sparrow Campaign of Mao Zedong, but it wasn’t until I went to India that I really understood how much I had truly missed seeing these winged creatures floating through the sky and sharing their birdsong with us.

Not a day passed when I was in India that I didn’t comment on all of the birds that filled the night skies. Perhaps there weren’t as many birds as I imagined, but having come from a place with a complete absence of birds, to me it seemed that there were millions of birds everywhere. They had become a wonder to me and I would just sit on balconies and patios all over India listening to the birds and reminiscing.

Now I am back in China, and oh how I miss hearing the birds – as well as nature itself. I was chatting with some fellow expats last night, and all of us were lamenting the lack of trees and fresh air in Shenyang. Granted, there are places in China with beautiful, beautiful scenery, but the people in the cities are starved for any natural wonders. I think it is even worse for me because I know just how much I am missing out on. I am so grateful that in the west, we have decided that saving our places of natural beauty is a worthy endeavor. Today, the thing I miss most, aside from my friends and family, is my early morning jogs along the Sacramento River, where there were always deer, coyotes, rabbits, and, most of all, birds to help me pass away the miles. This is what I think about today, when I am running through the streets of Shenyang, probably doing more damage to my lungs than if I were to become a pack-a-day smoker. China may have taken on much of the industry we once had in the west, but I do not envy them. The trade-off their government has made is absolutely not worth it.

View From the Passenger Seat, originally uploaded by bexadler.

Tonight I took a taxi where the driver was driving in the wrong lane, weaving in and out of traffic, and basically scaring me out of my wits, which is not an uncommon occurrence here in China. It got me to thinking, for the zillionth time, about what would happen if I died in China. I know it’s a weird thing to think about, but I do think about it quite often. I worry that if I were to die here, nobody at home would ever know what happened to me. I mean, nobody would probably even know I was missing until I didn’t show up to work for a couple of days. And even then, would anybody think to contact my family or friends back home? Would everybody think I had just decided to stop talking to all of my family and friends at the same time? (This is not a long stretch of the imagination if you know how I have cut people out of my life in the past.)

Other things that run through my head: If I were to die in a car accident or was murdered, would the Chinese police cover it up instead of notifying the embassy so they could tell my family? Would they say I must have run off to another country or moved to a different city? Would they hide my ID and bury me in an unmarked grave somewhere? And on and on and on. I obviously watch way too many American cop shows AND have no faith in the Chinese government.

This is why I send my best friend a text message every Sunday that says: I am still alive. If she does not receive this message though, I’m not sure that she would immediately call the U.S. embassy to check on my whereabouts. She may just think I either forgot or got drunk and overslept. There must be some way I can ensure my death does not go unnoticed if it happens…

I guess what I’m trying to say is: If you don’t hear from me for awhile, I’m probably dead.

Or maybe not.

Day 328 – Playing Cards at Gram’s, originally uploaded by bexadler.

My grandmother turned 88 this year. Her birthday wish to me was that I begin writing again. More specifically, she requested that I begin sending her travel stories from my many adventures abroad. Now, I know I have been lax about keeping people up to date with my many adventures. This is for a great many reasons: I’m lazy; I’m afraid people will take my musings as me thinking that my experience is the ONLY experience about a place; I don’t want to sound like a travel douche; and I feel like pretty much everything that can be said about travel has already been said.

With that said, my grandmother is not a woman to be reckoned with. A request from her is not really a request. Also, my grandmother has been a huge influence on my life, whether she realizes it or not. When I was younger she traveled often and would send me postcards from all over the world. Each time I would get one, I would add it to my collection and vow to go there one day. She isn’t traveling so much anymore, and so I have returned the favor by sending her postcards from each of my ports of call. I am proud to say that I have never forgotten to send her a card from one of the places I have visited. Some of those postcards have reminded her of trips she has taken in the past, while lately they have been more and more of places that she never had a chance to visit, thus her request for the travelogues. It’s so strange to think that this woman, who I have loved and admired for so long, now wants to live vicariously through me. And who could say no to that?

A couple of disclaimers before I begin:

1. I do not claim to know everything about any of the places I have visited, nor do I think that my experience is the ONLY experience that can be had in any one place. I realize that current events, festivals, public unrest, cultural differences, and many other factors can greatly change one’s experience of a place. What you read here are only my observations.

2. I’m sorry if anything I write is something you already know. There are approximately 7 zillion travel blogs out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already read about the things/places I will write about.

3. I do not plan to write in chronological order. I hope this doesn’t confuse my friends back at home, who already have a ridiculously hard time keeping track of where I am at any given time, but I would prefer to write about specific moments and memories when I feel inspired, rather than trying to remember everything in order.

Alrighty then, here’s to you, Grandma. Love you much!