Friday, February 22, 2013

It's Just Never How You Imagined...

 "It is not how I imagined it would be."  Isn't that so often the tagline for big experiences?

As I prepared to move to Shanghai, China I knew I would never accurately imagine or envision what I would find, but I knew it would be big, crowded, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes I had never experienced before, in a nutshell, foreign. Completely foreign.

There is a meditation exercise I have done a few times where you pretend you are an alien landing on earth and seeing everything on this planet for the first time. The idea is to let go of stories or assumptions about anything and everything you might encounter, so you might experience its essence, its energy, its consciousness.

These past four days, my first four days here in Shanghai have felt like that exercise, but intensified exponentially.

No one here speaks English, somehow this is the one area where I was dreaming. I thought I would be fine being completely unprepared linguistically, yeah, not so much.

If not for our driver, Shane, who speaks a fare amount of English we would be completely, what's the word, oh yeah SCREWED! The shopping process here is a world away from what I am accustomed to. Small shops are more the norm, cash only, and shop help is there to help you find the item you need, but when they are speaking Mandarin and all I can do is smile, nod and shrug my shoulders, we are getting nowhere fast. Shane has been a lifesaver, and we have come away relatively unscathed, but for my part feeling like a bit of a jackass, not to mention completely helpless.

The immigrant experience so far has been exciting and enlivening, but also shocking and frightening and we (myself and my family) have all the perks, we are highly privileged immigrants, but I still feel like the proverbial huddled masses.

Everyone should go through this at some point and perhaps we would find ourselves much more compassionate to newcomers in our country. Believe me no one would go through this without the kind of help and support I have unless they really needed to. They would not go through such fear and frustration, such upheaval, just to be a nuisance or to inconvenience others.

 I have been treated with kindness and respect by all the people I have met here so far, even though I barely can say two words in their language. I am grateful for their compassion. Compassion, respect, and love truly do make the world go around. That is a global language, we all can speak. With that we make a home where ever we might end up, that is the ground to root into. I am full of great hope in the midst of that rooting process. Homecoming in Shanghai, China.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Cultural Reprogramming"

   Saturday morning at precisely 9:00 a black town car seemed to materialize in our driveway. Emerging from its dark and mysterious interior were two figures, clad in black with dark sunglasses, briefcases in hand, looking like secret agents and ready to do whatever it would take. It was "cultural reprogramming" day. We did not know exactly what we were about to be confronted with or what methods would be employed, but with subtle glances we vowed to stay together, to stay strong. They could try to get in our heads, but we would not be broken, we would hold on to "us", together. Nothing is stronger than the bonds of family, bonds of blood.

OK, "at precisely 9:00" is the only reality based part of the previous paragraph. They showed up in a red soccer mom looking SUV or crossover type car, you know the kind. They were a very happy and friendly thirty something woman and a middle aged soft spoken man. Our "cultural reprogrammers" were two of the least imposing or intimidating people you could hope to meet.

To be honest it isn't even called "cultural reprogramming".  That is what my ever cynical and smart ass husband had written on the calendar and what eternally gullible me believed it was really called. Stephen informed me later, while having a good laugh, "No, did you REALLY think that is what they would call it! Ha ha, I can't believe you really thought that."

Anyway, the kids worked with the woman for the day, and had a hoot of a time. They were so proud of all the China trivia and facts they had learned. Some things were quite useful, for instance in China it is extremely important to respect your elders, see, very useful indeed! They also learned how to count with some corresponding finger signs, and how to say "thank you". Other things were more novel, like not to give umbrellas or clocks as presents since they mean bad luck or death. Apparently it is also very bad to give a green hat as a gift, since it means that the recipient's spouse is being unfaithful. Guess we will have to return all those Green Bay Packer hats we were planning on giving out.

Stephen and I worked with the soft spoken man and learned about similar things, but with an emphasis on the real differences in cultural identity between the United States and China. China is a very ancient culture with deep roots in group identity and family as opposed to our American spirit of the individual. Chinese people are very concerned with hierarchy and maintaining their place in that hierarchy. Where an American would focus on elevating his or her status and become the best they could be and strive to be a great success, the Chinese are very settled into their station in life and value that identity.

I was told that I will have to learn how to have servants. We will have a driver and an "auntie" while we are there. An "auntie" basically does all the household duties and helps with the children. I was told that Americans tend to go over and want to make friends with these employees and that in actuality that makes them very uncomfortable and is what they refer to as "losing face". They do not want to be put into a position that they do not identify with.

We talked about practical issues as well, such as who gets tips in China, how to get around if the driver is not available, where to shop, how to find a public toilet and so on and so forth.

We also talked about, for myself in particular, if I want to stay in the bubble or go out of the bubble. The bubble being the safe world of the ex-pat community. I am definitely an out of the bubble type person, but  in this case it might take awhile to navigate ways out of the bubble.

I know I am going to learn by trial and probably a whole lot of error, but in my experience that is when I grow the most.

Just learned that Valentines Day is our launch date. Full of love, staying together, bonds of family, takeoff!!