Just some thoughts for you today.
I have just returned from one of my favorite routines in China: my daily after-dinner walk around the track at my university here, ECNU.
Now what you have to understand this is a very important Chinese custom. Chinese people believe that this is essential to maintaining good health. This custom, among others such as drinking tea, are things that I have come to love participating in. Around 8 every night you will find the streets and tracks all filled with walking, running, stretching, and even singing and dancing Chinese people. My host mom, after finding this out, would often tease me with comments like, "you really are becoming Chinese now, aren't you!!!" and to be honest these comments are often the highlight of my day.
I take this very seriously. If I am invited to any activity that is happening at or around 8 o'clock
, my friends, after my constant refusal, have learned that this is a part of my day I am not willing to negotiate.
My friends have often asked me why it is that I hold this simple activity so dear to my heart. Honestly, at first, I didn't know. However, upon thinking about it on tonight's walk, I have finally understood the reason why this is colossally important to me.
It may seem ordinary to you: just a few circles around tracks, a phenomenon both China and America share. But what makes this special for me is the darkness.
You see, during the day I am a white person. I am a foreigner from some extraordinary far off land that everyone wants to talk to, avoid, or get their picture taken with. It doesn't matter if my broken Chinese is not so broken for a fleeting moment of accidental tonal accuracy, because Chinese people take one look at me, and I become just another foreigner trying to know Chinese language and culture.
However, in the dead of this drenched- in- ordinary darkness, I am just one of many Chinese people. The color of our skin fades, the shape of our eyes no longer visible, the curl, or lack there of of our hair, no longer a characteristic you can easily distinguish from the crowd. The far off light coming from the street allows others to know someone is near by, but not enough to be able to categorize them as anything other than simply:
And what a beautiful thing the darkness can be sometimes.
I am no longer a "wai guo ren" or foreign person for people to point and gawk at. I am simply a person who wants to maintain their health just like everyone else. The ability to blend in is a privilege I have come to respect and yearn for, so these few dozen minutes of walking are some I have come to truly treasure.
So, every night, I come out here, I walk, throw a few "Ni Hao"'s out there, sometimes, if I'm lucky, exchange a few more words then that but never anything more, (this is walking time not talking time!).
And I feel bliss.
Because even if it exists only here between the lines of the track or in between songs of too many Chinese tunes playing at once,
I am able to get just a mild taste of what it is to be one of many OTHER Chinese people.
If you, reader, are another person who finds themselves in love with somewhere other than your home land, I have one simple recommendation for you.
When the differences between two cultures seem they've become too great, and it seems that you will lose your mind if you can't have a simple moment of feeling authentic togetherness, just turn off the lights.
Extinguish the light that places cultural blocks and show everyone you can that you and I are just beautiful products of this earth we all call home.
We are all people just trying to make it another round around this track in the dead of darkness.
Until next time, my dear friends...