Becoming Familiar

Posted by on April 18, 2011

With most new situations in life you have two basic ways you can react : you can cope or go crazy. Accept and embrace or reject and hate. Find the adventure or only complain. The old adage of “attitude determines your altitude” holds true. But it’s not called culture shock for no reason. Reacting to change can be a difficult and challenging experience. If you’ve been mentally and emotionally coddled your entire life in the familiar and comfortable being confronted with the starkness of an entire world of unfamiliar can be very uncomfortable.

Stac and I have already had our wonder years with China, that honeymoon time when you first experience Asia. We spent two times living in Taiwan in the 1990s and I’ve visited Beijing a half dozen times over the past 5 years; Stac and I got to visit together for one of those. We’ve seen the pollution, the traffic and the crazy throngs of pedestrians crossing the street. We’ve smelt the squatter toilets and seen the footprints on the toilet seats. We’ve eaten the amazing food: the dumplings, the noodles and the bizarre like pork throat, ducks blood and chicken feet. We’ve been shocked and in love with many of those things.

Our time has worn the edges off. We embrace in some cases and accept in others. And that is not to say we haven’t missed (and still don’t at times) miss our comforts and our familiar. That we don’t have those cravings for the things we can’t obtain like Hulu and prime time TV or easily accessible YouTube and FaceBook.  Nor does it mean that we aren’t still shocked at times : that the smell of Cho Dofu (Stinky Tofu) doesn’t crinkle our nose; that the rank squatter doesn’t make us gag; that we don’t at times still get upset at the driver cutting us off.  But we don’t get homesick; we don’t cry ourselves to sleep and the rhythm of this place has become familiar.

This life has become normal, our normal.  I no longer stare in awe at the city lights and the moving traffic from our apartment balcony. I no longer see the amazing in biking to work, now its just how I get to work.   It’s sad in some ways but its the way we cope with every bit of life we lead no matter if its “home” there or “home” here.  We can’t wander around in shock and awe our entire lives; we have to at some point settle into our routine and move forward.  All this is not to say that I am still not in awe of the beautiful sunrises; of the way the light shines long in the morning in Chao Yang Park amid the budding trees whose green is so comforting. Or the way the blue sky beams after a big wind blows out the pollution. Or the ancient measure of time that can still be found among the back corners of the Forbidden City, or the Llama Temple or the Ancient Bell Tower or the narrow alleys of the old Beijing.  And I look forward to each new adventure that we discover each day amid our routine, just that the routine is no longer the adventure itself.

4 Responses to Becoming Familiar

  1. Stacey Griffith

    Very nice Mark! Quite poetic actually.

  2. Teresa

    Well said, my friend. Well said. And you typed SMELT instead of SMELLED!!!! Are you already being affected by the British ex-pats you work with? 🙂 I came back using “quite” as a part of my speech and it’s still present! Yes, I quite like Beijing as you do. Coming from the States, as you, I would sometimes just stop, stand still, and gaze in awe at the beautiful sky on blue sky days! I don’t take such days for granted anymore…even now, being back in the States. I am so thrilled that you, Stac, and the family are adapting so well and are loving your life there. Love the dual posts for you guys and hope you continue to post a lot! 🙂

  3. tellytom

    Great writing Mark, this and your wonderful photos are taking me on my own China adventure.

  4. Seth

    Well said. Very applicable to living in Vancouver or China… or anywhere!

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