It is rather inconvenient when I must meekly stop the other party’s defensive response to say, I beg your pardon, could you please repeat that last angry point more slowly? My Chinese isn’t good enough.

Kinda takes the oomph out of my fury flow.


I need to do laundry.

German roommate’s laundry is in the machine, done. British roommate’s laundry has been hanging all over the balcony for days, and she’s napping in her room.

I revel in the balcony sunshine, fold it all into a pile. Remove German laundry, hang it to dry where British roommate’s once was. Put my laundry into the machine.

German girl is done with Skype date with Arizonan. “Hope you don’t mind I hung your laundry,” I call to her, “I needed the machine.” She is lovely, smiling, happy as always.

And then she sees the lint.

All her clothes are covered in lint. Um, duh. Things don’t necessarily work the same way here in China as they do back home. Including washing machines. Exhibit A: My lint-covered body.

Her voice rises. It’s nearing a high pitch. Exhibit B: Her black, white-lint-covered underwear. Underwear.

“HOW CAN I WEAR THIS!?” “It’s underwear,” I reply, “just buy a new pair for that special occasion.” (Note: foreign women in Beijing don’t often enjoy special occasions.) She brings out her lint remover.

“DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG THIS IS GOING TO TAKE ME TO REMOVE?!” She’s observing her purple and black striped socks. Really? As in, she is hoping someone sees purple and black striped socks in pristine lint-lacking condition? Really??

“They’re socks,” I say. “You’ll be fine. Look at this red shirt. You can’t even see the lint on it.”


I am no longer allowed to wash the piles of laundry that have been sitting on my bedroom floor for two weeks waiting to be washed. My sheets have had some three friends sleep in them, and that extra set of pajamas was worn by two guests without a wash (don’t tell anyone). But no matter: her laundry needs a second wash first.

The ayis we’ve hired to scrub our bathroom have removed the washing machine hose and can’t figure out how to re-attach it. My just-finished laundry has refilled with sitting water. I must run it again, and it takes nearly an hour to run every time. And I have to leave very soon to teach English and then to have a farewell dinner. (The first expat friend I will have outstayed in China! This is only the beginning….)

German roommate hits the fan. Opens the machine, closes the machine, opens the machine, closes the machine. My forlorn sopping-wet clothes. “Please,” I beg, “you’re freaking me out. Please just leave the machine alone.”

“It doesn’t make any difference if it’s open or closed,” she says, her hand twitching up and down, the lid opening and closing incessantly.

I text the British roommate: “Culture shock attack. Don’t come out of your room.”

“We all have our days,” she texts back. “I’m hiding from the ayis, but I’ll need to pee soon.”

Telling Myself to Be Happy

January 29, 2012

(Delayed post from 12/9/2011.)

Today I am rocking massive hair. It is curly, voluminous, and floats like a misshapen cloud around my head. I am wearing my over-the-knee black boots (perhaps the only non-human entity I have ever truly loved) and oversized dark sunglasses, and Aventura is crooning sweet sadness into the headphones buried beneath my black-and-white-checkered earmuffs, and I stand at this dusty bus stop in sub-freezing weather waiting an interminably long time for the 813, a bus that I will literally have to shove through a crowd to be able to enter.

Today, Beijing’s sky is a clear blue, and I am living my dream.

The Point of No Return

January 17, 2012

I think I am making a break that I didn’t fully recognize as such until now.

For these four months I have been in Beijing, I have gone the route of full immersion. This means the vast majority of my friends have been Chinese, which of course means I haven’t been going out much and time has had almost no chronos meaning. We meet people after work, not at 7 pm. We agree to “chat again on the matter” instead of agree to handle a specific matter in a specific way. And I have infinite, endless patience.

And then I realized my world was feeling cold and colorless with no dance, no stimulating conversation, no impractical late nights, no art of flirtation, and I decided that the time had come: I would make expat friends. And in one week my world changed.

Foreign roommate, new foreign social club, foreign bars, foreign food, foreign conversation, foreign hookah, foreign flirtation, glorious, blessed, stimulating foreign-ness. One weekend passes.

Yet another Chinese friend date canceled with no notice, but I contact my old roommate for dinner, and he has no plans, and so we set a time to meet. And the time comes and he doesn’t respond to my texts and so I call, and then it turns out he has chosen the most nonsensical location for food, and I do not smile and I do not agree amiably, for it seems I have reached that point of no return. And I throw a temper tantrum and we can’t understand each other’s languages and so he waits for me where I say we should meet and he is smiling as calmly and welcomingly and sweetly as he did the day he and his wife welcomed me into their home, the way he always smiles, unrushed, unassuming, happy to see a friend. And I relax, and we eat, (and my foreign friends text, and my foreign friends email) and I am sad that such peaceful, unplugged living can not satisfy me for long. And I am sad that I cannot be more long-suffering, more adaptable, more forgiving, as my exquisite Chinese hosts are forever long-suffering, adaptable, forgiving, for me.

And I am sad because, past that point of no return, how will I ever learn Chinese?

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