I’m spending a week in Hangzhou, and I think it was not the best choice. It’s not as cold here as in Lanzhou, but it’s close, and somehow everything holds on to the cold longer, like it wants to be frigid. Or maybe that is just because I still think it should be warm here. I have noticed that effect more as I get older, that what I believe changes everything about an experience.
Jumping in a cold pond is refreshing, but a cold shower is just painful. The dentist still hurt until I learned to take my mind away from the tools, focusing on forms or stories, anything to distract myself from my expectations. Sometimes it works. Being here is similar, not painful, but uncomfortable.
In Wanzhou 万州 I expected more distance. I only stayed a few days because I didn’t know how it would be. I thought it would be awkward, or uncomfortable. Maybe cold and boring. It was calm, but wonderful. The food was amazing, the fight to communicate more difficult, the time around the fire, perfect.
They decided for some reason I didn’t catch that I needed a real Chinese name. Until now I have been using Zhanmusi 詹姆斯, a rough phonetic translation of James. It comes up in the dictionary tied to LeBron James, or James Bond, but it is definitely not Chinese. Zhan詹 can be a Chinese family name, but mu 姆 has a female character in it, which matters in China. Names have meaning here, people believe that your name can dictate your life. I have had friends who changed their children’s name in order to give them a better future. I never really cared about them myself.
I have had a dozen names in my life, been given nicknames, translated names, or ones I chose, but this is the first time someone actually gave me a name, Tangdalong 唐大龙. Tang family Great Dragon. The first is my friend’s family name, so I am now part of the family. They were going to give me Xiaolong 小龙, the same name as Bruce Lee, but apparently while I am younger than my new sisters, I don’t qualify as small. So it is Big Dragon, Older Dragon, Great Dragon. It is not what I would have chosen, but somehow it suits me.
We were sitting around the fire when the subject came up. It is fairly easy for me to tell when people are talking about me here. I can get enough of the Chinese that I know the subject, even if I don’t really know the details. I did learn a new word though, Zhongguotong 中国通. The closest translation I can get is something I’ve been called before, a Sinophile, someone who loves Chinese culture.
I still don’t think that really fits who I am. I love culture and what it says about who we are as people. The interaction between how we define culture and how it defines us. The perception of time, gender roles, creativity, logic, even how we express compassion and love are all limited and expanded by changes in our culture. And the best way to understand my culture is to leave it and find one that can hold up a mirror to what I carry with me.
The culture here can be beautiful, the country is relatively safe, and progress continues, but I am an American, and I don’t think I will ever feel completely comfortable here. We complain about government oversight as it is, but here the government decides how many children you can have, gets notified by every hotel you stay in, and makes sure everyone is safe for the greater good. I really don’t like anyone I don’t know to have that much involvement in my life. Safety over personal freedom. Most people I have met here accept it because that is the way their world has always been. Personally, I know how my government acts when it gets involved in other countries and it worries me what they would to us if it was ever allowed.
It was always hard for me to understand these things when I still lived in the States. I could never really find a place to start asking questions simply because I didn’t know what questions to ask. Philosophy helps, but most of those questions have no real answers, and it is hard to find personal answers until you have real experiences. Like the college philosopher, knowing everything before they have ever stepped out beyond their campus. They know the words, but true meaning comes with truly being alive.
That is what I am looking for out here, the experience of being alive. To experiment with all these weird theories of life that I have, to find out how wrong I am, and hopefully to become something more than I imagined.