If anything is to be said about the last week or so, it is that it has been the beginning of a steep learning curve. In amongst starting class, getting a gym membership and riding my new scooter on days when the weather is nice enough (read: when it’s not too cold, or the air’s not too polluted), I find myself spending my days, usually alone in my dorm room. Not by choice, but because of circumstance.
Hangzhou doesn’t really feel like home, even though I’ve pushed past the initial period of cultural shock. Routines and patterns are starting to emerge (grabbing dumplings to go on the way to class, because I can’t seem to get out of bed before 7:30am for my 8am class); certain conversations seem happen over and over again (“You’re Australian? How is your mandarin so good?” or “You’re left handed!” – not many people in China are left-handed, many are essentially forced to learn to write with their right hand) and I’ve ‘made friends’, sure. But this whole time, I’ve been hard-wired to have my good friends surrounding me. I never learnt to be apart from them, never been in a situation where I’ve had to be somewhat removed from their support. The week has been full of ups and downs, and each is accompanied by different versions of the same lesson: I need to learn how to be alone, independent, perfectly fine just being by myself. That is not to say, of course, that I have resolved to push my friends away, or that I prefer to be alone, but rather that I have learnt they are a source of strength I can’t always expect to have on demand. I’m proud of how I’ve done so far – I have grown more detached in a water-off-a-duck’s-back kind of way. My emotions and my moods are less thrown around by things that are out of my control and I am discovering, not for the first time, that my emotions and moods are the very things that are in my control.
Conversely, by the very fact that I am learning to draw strength from myself, I have started finding happiness in more things. I am appreciating everything and anything that brings me joy and finding more reasons to be happy with less. Slowly, and without realising, I have opened up to the charm of China; grown accustomed to what appeared to be a ubiquitous ‘rudeness’ of the Chinese people, but have instead started to see the naturally honest heart-on-your-sleeve attitude to life that lies beneath it. Because everyone is used to a general lack of courtesy and manners, they are all the sweeter when anyone exhibits it – giving tips here is not common and never expected – taxi drivers tend to think they’d made a mistake when I tell them to keep the change, and usually insist I take it back. The 阿姨, aunty, who serves me my dumplings in the morning, is softly spoken and has a sweet disposition. People are almost always willing to help (even if they seem disgruntled at first), and are warm, open and curious when they find out I’m a foreigner. And no local ever seems used to people saying thankyou. “不用谢”, they always say, perhaps slightly surprised and pleased. “No need to thank.”
Spending time in my dorm room is usually a blessing, not a curse – I do so many things I should be doing for want of anything better to do, such as meditating or doing readings for my next uni assessment. My room has become my haven – cleaning is not a chore, but a joy, mostly because it’s a small space so it’s not difficult. And though the uni wifi doesn’t allow me to play my entire Spotify library, for some reason my favourite curated playlist still works regardless and my favourite jams get me dancing and remind me of how much I do have, how much I have to be grateful for.
Certain friends have shone like jewels for me in the short time I’ve been living in this country. Juliana, especially, has always had many parallels with me usually at more or less exactly the same time, and having someone by my side who understands – who knows what I’m going through, because she feels the same way – has been excellent. Though she’s a city away, she’s been one of the few friends (big shout out to Jhe here – happy birthday, by the way!) who have truly been a lifeline for me at a time when I’m just trying to float above the surface.
If I had to summarise what the last week has been like, it would be that I’m learning to be okay with just being okay. It’s a big lesson, actually. Emotional support has been the one thing I have always taken for granted – not in the sense that I haven’t known all along how incredible my friends are – but that I have been far too used to having my ‘happiness cup’ maxed out. That is my default state – blessed and blissfully content, grateful to be content, but complacent in my contentedness. I am learning not to expect anything from anyone, but to also never let that lessen how much I am willing to give. I am learning to – perhaps for now I’d better say ‘I am wanting to learn to’ – stay giving, but not holding it against people if they don’t give back as much as I might’ve expected them to. Demanding more will not endear myself to them any more. It has taken me too long to learn this lesson, if I’m honest – it’s about time.
tl;dr: turns out exchange is not what precisely people have hyped it up to be tbh but that’s ok. and if u aint ok, well then u had best get used to it bc aint no use crying bout it m8