There are limits to my patience. I know this surprises you. After all my previous blog posts concerning my inability to just “let it go,” I am sure you were thinking that eventually I would be full of vanilla cupcakes and rainbows. While I am pretty certain no one was expecting sunshine from over here, I have found it hard to put up new posts because I am feeling so negative about China. And that isn’t really fair to China. While my rants about Shanghai are often funny, sometimes I can’t seem to see the humor in certain situations. When I get to that point, there is no turning back and my mood tends to poison the whole house.
I didn’t want to come back to Shanghai after this summer and was finding it hard to motivate to pack and organize all the things we would need and want once my direct access to Target was cut off. A few days before our departure I found myself waking up in the wee hours to obsess over all the things about China that drive me crazy. That state of mind has lifted a bit since the end of July, but not much. This wouldn’t be a problem if I were here in Shanghai alone or just with my husband, but I am here with those wonderfully impressionable children that I decided to drag along for this adventure. Part of my job as a parent living abroad is to make the experience as enriching for them as possible. This does not mean that I make everything easy or that I keep them from having those difficult moments, but it does mean that I try to keep my feelings to myself when I am particularly venomous about our host culture. Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a poker face. I am also (surprise!) a notorious complainer. These two things combined with our general lack of privacy here in our cramped living space means I have been doing a terrible job of focusing on the positive.
This brings us to a few nights ago when my unhappiness was really ticking along. One of the boys was also having a ShangLow day and was railing against the table manners of the Chinese. This is certainly something that you will never hear me defending, particularly as my Southern roots tend to make themselves apparent when it comes to moments like these. That said, I know it isn’t up to me to decide what is and what isn’t polite here in China. If you want to know about how to behave in the United States, feel free to ask. If you want to see me volunteer this information as we sit with a table full of Chinese nationals eating dinner, good luck. You won’t hear a peep out of me. This means my house is often ground zero for heated discussions concerning manners and what is and isn’t acceptable. Inside our house, the US rules apply although Mark has taken to slurping his soup and drinks as if he grew up in Puxi. The kids ride the line sometimes, but they are well aware of the limits of cultural exchange here at Chez Erickson. The child in question was furious, and deservedly so, at having witnessed what they thought were atrocious manners. Of course, the other individual in this scenario might have seen things differently, but I was trying to provide some good mama vibes. I held my own until faced with, “Name one good thing about Chinese culture!”
Ouch. And here is where I drop the ball both as a parent and as a guest in a country that is not my own. For all the things I complain about, there have been some wonderful things that have happened here in China. I have some fabulous Chinese colleagues and friends who have opened their hearts to me and have helped me when there was no reason to do so. There are many things about Chinese culture that I respect and admire. I may not always understand China, but I can respect history. I can see the good in individuals even when the overall picture frustrates me. But do I say this? Do I volunteer this information to my child as he shakes his fist at the sky? No. I hesitate. And this is just enough time for his eyes to grow wide and his mouth to harden and for him to spit out, “See! Even you can’t think of one positive thing!” And I stammer and stall as I try to push down the part of me that is angry and annoyed and remember the part of me that can see the shiny happy stuff. But the moment is already gone and I have missed the chance to say what needs to be said, to put the train back on the track and convince my child to give things some time. I have done the thing I have tried so hard not to do and let my feelings become the conversation here at home.