It is November, and the city of Buenos Aires is full of lavender clouds of jacarandá trees in bloom.
It’s been for ages since I last blogged in English. I think many things have changed in the past 2-3 years since I quitted my job in March 2008… um… was it in February or in March? I can’t even remember now. After I’ve quitted my job, I went on a one-month backpacking trip in North America. Then spent 2 more months in Toronto to say good bye to friends and family before heading to Shanghai in June 2008.
The beauty of life comes from everything that cannot be expected/predicted in life… It is for us to discover what lies ahead. In 2006-2007, my mother and I met this old Shanghainese man who came to Toronto to visit his daughter and son whom have immigrated to Canada. Because both he and my mother love dancing, they became good friends. Later, I also became this old man’s student in ballroom dancing. When I decided to go to Shanghai, I did not know anyone there except this old man and a junior high school classmate of mine who have studied in Shanghai but were relocated somewhere else in China for work.
My decision to go to Shanghai was with a bit of logic plus a bit of randomness. Around 2006-2007, I started to have this feeling of exploring Asia. However, due to work and family reasons, I felt I could stay in Toronto a bit longer. But as time goes by, the internal urge of going to Asia started to grow… and I could feel the fire inside me that I have to go no matter what. There were many things I want to do… and I had to go. I thought of just fly over there and find a job, but I guess you all know what I’ve finally decided – a soft landing of getting MBA in Shanghai at a school that also allows me to explore Europe at the same time. Kill two birds with one stone. Sweet.
So… there I was… going to Shanghai no matter what. At that moment in life, I was far from ready to settle down somewhere with someone. A lot of it is timing. June 2008, after dropping off all my luggage in Shanghai, I went to Hong Kong for another 2 months. Organized some gatherings in Hong Kong and met up with friends from long time back. MBA kicked off in Aug 2008. From then on, I’ve been busy studying, volunteering in school (I consider all the work as volunteering… organizing events and coordinating activities), exploring China and Asia… as well as later in 2009, exploring Western Europe.
China is THE place to be during 2008-2010, with Beijing Olympics 2008 and Shanghai Expo 2010, it seems China got the world’s attention in these two years. Everything was happening around me. Friends and family came to Shanghai to visit. During the time in Shanghai I have also re-established some family ties with certain people in the family. Strange eh. We rarely saw each other although we were both in Toronto and one day this cousin’s family got relocated to Shanghai and we became close again. None of us ever expected that. Through their eyes, I also discovered another view of the family from another angle.
My move to Shanghai also brought me closer to my friends in Hong Kong… at least the flight time now reduced from 15 hours to 2 hours. I got asked a question very often… if I could choose, would I prefer living/working in mainland China or Hong Kong. And every time I got this feeling that the ‘expected answer’ from me is ‘Hong Kong’. I don’t know why. I like Hong Kong, but after living in China for 2-3 years, I also feel the magnetic field of mainland China. I feel that there are much more in China to explore. And at this point in life, if the only two choices are mainland China or Hong Kong, I believe I’d like to spend a few years in mainland China. Note that my choice is still rather short term. I guess things just change very quickly in China that I may feel the urge to ‘return’ to Hong Kong one day.
The “quote, unquote” of the word “return” is actually quite a dilemma. I think many CBC/ABC/Chinese people who have been living abroad for a long time would have similar feeling of “not sure where we belong” or “where we are from”… Recently, I went back to Toronto and I felt a sense of belonging still… but I also saw some major changes in Canada that I did not relate to… i.e. I don’t feel I’m as affected by these changes as much. Then whenever I was in Hong Kong, I felt more like a transpasser. I never stayed in Hong Kong long enough to feel the city in the recent years. I was there for my friends’ weddings, legal and finance issues. Walking down the street, I feel the sense of belonging as well as the sense of differences. Sometimes I feel a hint of emptiness that Hong Kong is like a huge shopping mall. But no complain, this city is as beautiful as usual, and the services are more better than what I used to get in the PRC. On the other hand, living in Shanghai, is another very interesting story. Sometimes I get labelled as Hong-Kongese, sometimes CBC, sometimes Korean, and sometimes maybe foreigner. The places I hang out also vary a lot… local BBQ/hotpot, foreign restaurants… even the drinking/dancing places have so many different clusters. I relate Shanghai to New York (although I have never really lived in NYC). These two places are transitional places. It seems unless you are original from there, these places are only temporary to you. Although to some people, this temporary-ness eventually turned into several years… I have also met some ‘laowai’ who have been living in China for the past 20 years. They definitely know China much better than I do.
Sadly, as far as I know, China does not have a formal immigration law – which make sense… who would want to immigrate to China back then… But because of that, no matter now many years these people have lived in China, they remain ‘foreigners’. They are seen as ‘laowai’. I guess most of them are already used to it, but sometimes being talked about at their back while knowing exactly what others talked about (in Chinese) really got to them.
Compared to these laowai’s, I feel that what I’ve experienced cannot be compared to theirs. However, I feel there’re things that I could learn from them – the courage and patience.
Before my stay in Spain, I have never lived in a foreign country that is non-Chinese/English speaking. Yes… I just noticed that when I was in Spain. Being unable to communicate properly is really annoying, and sometimes depressing. But whenever I got that feeling, I reminded myself of all the ‘laowai’ in China. I survived 4 months in Spain with school and travel.
Then the real challenge is ‘living’ in Buenos Aires. Sept 2010, it was the third time I have been to Bs As. The last two times were for 2 weeks each time, but this time, it would be for 2 months. Without school, without work, no friend, and precaution of various danger in the city, I suffered the first 2 weeks. Time was crawling by instead of flying by. I was lost and unhappy…
During MBA, tests showed that I have this “philosophy” of external locus of control, but to a certain extent, I think that’s not totally right… I felt there was this constant fight of ‘internal’ versus ‘external’ control inside me. I believe in fate, but also to a certain degree free will. Similarly, I believe external help is useful, but more important are the internal reflection and wakening.
There is this Chinese proverb, 窮則變，變則通, meaning when you’re stuck, you need drastic changes, and with the changes you will find a way out. So in the past weeks, I’ve been breaking my routines, changing my habits, kicking my own ass away from inertia. Exercising is important as it keeps people positive. This week will be my forth week in the P90X workout. Then, find out the core problem to the bad feeling, take initiatives to change things. To me… it is the feeling of productivity and achievement. I need to feel useful.
Last but not least, support from friends and family. Have to say big thank you to those who have been supportive to me.
I think part of the adjustment I had to make was the difference of lifestyle in Shanghai vs. in Bs As. Here in Bs As, I suddenly feel there’s so much ‘white space’ that I need to fill in and I can no longer look outside for random things to fill in the gaps. Unless in Shanghai, there are always tonnes of networking events, gatherings, and clubbing. Here, it is family and friend gatherings in Spanish, cooking, city-touring that requires planning, as well as business and career planning. Even the simplest act of ordering delivery takes effort.
After two weeks or so of feeling a bit sad, worried, resentful and depressed, I started to ask myself why the hell you can’t be more positive and do something about it. Now looking back, I really don’t know why my mind was so weak back then. I guess, age is one thing to blame. I start to realize the negative power of inertia and wanting to always stay in the comfort zone. That is THE reason why people become more and more close-minded and stubborn when they get old (in general). I don’t want to be like that.
Although there is still no real solution to certain things in life, I’m feeling overall positive these days. Thank to internet, we have access to all sorts of information and get to know how things are in other parts of the world, I hope we all learn to appreciate more what we already have, and from time to time, save some time for self-reflection. I know it’s easy to say, not so easy to do; and I know I’m very bad at that as well. But it’s never too late to start.
I’ve finally finished reading the Alchemist. A very inspiring book indeed.
Came across a post on this “Two-backpackers” – I can feel what they are saying… In North America, it takes effort not to be wasteful.
Watched the Chinese movie of 十月圍城, and then read this critique/article. It makes me wonder how other people reflect on the same things that I’ve seen.
In many places, I do relate Bs As to Europe… I’m sure many people still don’t know the majority of Argentinians are actually of European descent. However, I feel it has an additional hint of wildness. Living in Bs As makes me appreciate more of what I have, everything that takes effort to make, things that are more natural, and things that are made to last – handcrafted accessories with stones from all parts of Latin-America, wonderful taste of meat without any addictive, fresh organic veggies and fruits, furniture made by carpenters, good wine and cheese, jogging and walking in the park in the city hearing birds and feeling the drizzles from the trees (to make up my long lost touch of nature). What a contrast to the life in the other part of the world.
I know I have not been taking/posting a lot of pictures from this trip. One of the major reasons is that I don’t want to be targeted as a female solo traveller and get robbed. Despite all the good things that I enjoy here, I have to say it is not the safest place in the world – especially compared to where I used to live in – Hong Kong and Toronto. And in the past 2-3 years, I have also stopped taking picture of food. I find I have been paying too much attention to food and too little on the people I was with and the moments. I also find it very difficult to take very good picture in dining places with very little light. So, gradually I have dropped my old love of food porn. I don’t feel sad about that. I guess it’s more of a natural progression. We all change with time. Actually when I met with my ex-boss this time, he was happy that I stopped taking picture of food in restaurant (for similar reasons). Maybe next time I will take some picture of the food I make. I’m confident that with my current progress, my cooking skill should be much better soon. 🙂
What’s next? If things go as planned, I should be taking Spanish course in December, and enjoy a warm Christmas and New Year. I’ve also thought of learning guitar, but I cannot be too greedy. We only have 24 hours per day. First thing first. I will continue learning Spanish. Hope I can keep this positive spiral up.
For those of you who want to know more about Bs As, click here. It’s not a jungle btw.