Frustration. It is a common element in my dealings here in China. It isn’t surprising, really. I speak very little Chinese. I can’t read characters. I spend my time muddling through. This requires me to be patient—patient with my children, patient with my neighbors, patient with myself. But it turns out I am not a patient person. I have limited patience especially in the face of constant frustration. Which brings me to my newest Shanghai emotion: impotent rage.
Oh yes, the worst kind of anger is the kind you can do nothing to remedy. In an ideal world, I would be able to fix the thing that is driving me crazy, but China is hardly an ideal world—at least not for me. Here I can’t always change the thing that is causing me to get angry. So I have two choices: let it all out in a fantastic show of emotion or tamp it down and try to contain it. Out in public I usually choose to keep the anger in. While I am sure many Shanghainese would love for me to pitch a screaming stomping fit, my pride keeps me from doing this. Most of the time. At least some of the time. But the anger containment isn’t working so well, either.
My body is notorious for responding to stress that my brain thinks we have well under control. The results are always spectacular. Like the time my neck refused to work while I waited to see if I had been accepted to graduate school, for example. While my sister found it hilarious that I needed to hold my head up using my hands as a brace, it wasn’t very convenient. The result of my new anger management issues here in Shanghai is equally debilitating. I have started to get migraine headaches.
At first I thought it was the pollution or the fact that I am probably not drinking enough of our frequently delivered bottled water, but now I am beginning to see the connections. I start to get frustrated—about the crowds, or not being able to get a taxi when I need one, or about something simple taking all day—and I can feel the headache starting. If I have had a few frustrating days in a row then there will be no escaping the migraine. I try to do things to alleviate the stress. But China is the stress. And here even my stress relievers can be stressful. You know when Bruce Banner is about to turn into the Hulk? That is me in Shanghai. Which means summer vacation can’t come fast enough.