There are a lot of things about this place that seem so familiar. When I was growing up, we would spend our summers in New York, out in the Hamptons, before the place changed for me. I remember when I would spend hours in the blueberry patch, or behind it in the woods on the edge of the swamp. I Remember the wine berries, and the grapes behind it that I never liked, with their tough skin and giant seeds. The tree out front would have tiny tart apples on in, and the pears would fall from the tall tree at the edge of the woods.
I keep finding pieces of that childhood here. The tiny tart apples I never really enjoyed are here in the house, just something ordinary here. The grapes are in season, but it makes it easier now that I can just eat the inside and spit out the skin. The pears are much bigger, but the flavor and the graininess is the same as I remember. I even saw my grandmother as I walked into a store one day, not as she was at the end, but like when I last spent time with her. It was only a moment, but I see how people walk before I see their faces. It’s just how I see the world.
I have family here, like I do in Mexico. I love my family back home in the States, but most of us don’t really have much in common. We talk more than we ever did in the past, but the things we love and how we see the world are so vastly different it seems we can never really find a middle ground. We’re still family, but there is blood, then there is the family you choose.
There has been a lot to do here. Now that we’re done teaching, there is more free time and so much more to do. We started to go on adventures outside of the city, to a replica Great Wall, and I found a kung fu teacher. He teaches traditional Chen style Tai Chi. There are differences, but it reminds me a lot of Wing Chun. Close quarters combat in a very relaxed style, like I learned in San Diego and San Francisco. I’m just happy to have a teacher again, and this one is hard to read at all. I can’t tell how good he is because I can’t really challenge him enough to make him really try. If I get to stay in Chengdu, I will be there as often as I can. I know there are other good teachers here, but they aren’t always easy to find.
I was half-asleep at lunch the other day when I realized how much the constant language classes were affecting me. I was in a stairwell where the cool breeze was passing through and I could hear the birds chirping. As I drifted between being asleep and awake, I could hear the birds speaking to me. My mind began to overlay the noise with what we had just learned in class and I could hear the birds speaking Chinese. It’s not that the classes here are special, or that they’re advanced in any way, but the constant influx of language, in the class and at home, make the brain strive to understand the world it has been put in.
People always seem to think of homesickness as a mental thing, or a comfort thing, but I think it’s as much physical as anything. The mind needs to understand the world, and it needs to communicate. Take it away from all that it has ever known, and it begins to panic. Suddenly all the patterns and places it learned for food, shelter, and safety are gone. There is only noise that it must understand to get what it needs.
Here, we are thrown into the noise and expected to swim. In the chaos the, I don’t know, desperation, of the mind is tested and forced to adapt to the world around it. It is what I wanted, for sure, the loss of comfort and the easy life, but there is always a difficulty to it. All of it is balanced by the amazing people and places here. The world that is so familiar and strange. There is so much to take in, and so much to be a part of that even the joy becomes chaos.
The hardest part for me is always finding balance. Living here isn’t so hard. Talking to strangers, being watched, and even all the strangeness are relatively easy at this point. The hard part is not losing myself and all that I have learned to the chaos of emotion and logic. Trying to do things that seem like they must be, that they should be, and finding out that I am just abandoning part of myself. Worse, a part of myself that I need to endure here.
I made teaching harder than it needed to be. I made my life harder in the process. This is easy, if I can just be. In the words of my teacher, to hold on to my authentic self. It was not an easy lesson to learn. It cost me more than I would like. But it was necessary to my survival here.
I never really can tell if I am changing, or just orbiting something just out of sight. I never feel that different, but life feels easier now. I know I can be who I am, as strange as that may be sometimes. I know how I want to teach, and how I want to find my place here.
This is home now. I am thankful for the chaos and the trials, even if they are somewhat self-inflicted. I never really know what part of me is in the way until the gears begin to grind. I just can’t wait to see what’s next.