In speaking class a few weeks ago, our teacher posited a quick set of questions to get us chatting in Mandarin – “what is your favourite animal and why?”, “what is your favourite plant and why?” and “since coming to China, what has changed most about you?”.
While I piped up with a “well I don’t really have one favourite animal BUT LET ME TELL YALL REAL QUICK ABOUT THESE SHITCUNT BIRDS CALLED IBISES WE HAVE IN AUSTRALIA”, Dalia, our class’s most well-spoken student, gave a lovely and considered answer to the last question.
She said, “since coming to China, I’ve found that while the environment around me is so much busier, my disposition has become more and more 安静, anjing – peaceful.”
The classroom nodded solemnly in agreement – it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but we all felt the same way. Shanghai is a hectic, noisy city – full of shouting, beeping, loud people, loud cars, loud smells. But despite spending hours a week pinned up against other people on the metro, fighting to the front of the cafeteria line and feeling like you’re forever on the way to something, my temperament has never been milder.
Strawberry Music Festival 2016 – biggest drama getting in (may have done something dumb and bought the wrong tickets), but made the turn up all the better.
In Sydney, I was always hustling from one commitment to another, perpetually at the precipice of physical and mental burnout, and although I probably whined a lot (sorry friends u d best), I loved it. I was a classic “impostinator”, as described in this Wait But Why post – busy as fuck without moving towards my real goals. At one point last semester I was doing full-time uni (okay as full time as a BA gets), working two part-time jobs, interning at 702 and the Herald, while somehow still devoting 82 per cent of my brain capacity to figuring out whether the boy I just started seeing actually, you know, like liked me. I came home every night exhausted, confused, and already thinking about interviews and appointments I had to chase up the next day in the few spare moments before crashing. I gained heaps of weight, I think I cried once. I never studied.
But secretly I was grateful to be overworked. It meant that I never had time alone to get buried in pointless thoughts and fears – any worries about the future were swept away by the NOW NOW NOW THINGS YOU HAVE TO GET DONE RIGHT NOW. Some people would call this “running away from your problems”, but I reckon if you just keep running away from them forever (and enjoy yourself while doing it), at some point there becomes no difference.
My favourite teacher’s last day was today, and she wrote a lovely message to say goodbye – called me “gentle” and “hardworking” though, highly questionable. We’ll miss you Xinyi! Have fun in Naples.
While I deeply miss being around my friends and family everyday, I don’t miss my life in Sydney as much as I thought I would. I don’t miss feeling like every choice I made meant something – am I making the most of my time? Should I be doing more internships? Should I have a better job by now? Is there something more out there? It’s like I never even realised how heavy my mind was with these concerns until I left and my existence became so light.
Ironing a man’s tie while he’s still wearing it – every day sees a new dream materialised.
Here, my classes, and the marks I get in them, don’t count towards my GPA – I study for the sake of effort itself (if I do at all). I’ll say ‘yes’ to anything – working a bar for a weekend, doing shonky translation for a documentary on Chinese weddings, dressing European models on a commercial shoot (but mostly drinking all the free wine on set) – not for money or something to add to my resume, but just because. When someone asks me out to dinner, I don’t worry about whether this could be something real, or whether they might hurt me one day. Each moment is nothing more than that, a moment to be realised, to be enjoyed for what it is, something that will soon be over.