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Monday, May 2, 2011

Mingled lives

Often situations and circumstances force us to deal with people who don’t always want to deal with. That’s life. And we can learn to turn away from the people who don’t do us good. But, in our particular situation, it’s not as easy to turn away from certain individuals. Why? Because, 6 foreigners are placed together in the same company and most times, in the same living space and so, lives are mingled. Socializing with foreigners is something that we need, because the contact with Chinese is limited, due to the language barrier. Chinese contact can remain superficial. So, the group of foreigners around which your life is forced to revolve, are the only people you tend to build closer relationships with. It’s almost without having any say in the matter – unless you don’t need any further contact that goes beyond the actual teaching of English. And everybody needs people to share their lives with. The level of ‘need’ the individual may require, differs per person. But still it’s only natural.

So, here in our situation, at the school and with the workmates, we’re limited when it comes to choosing who to spend our time with. And this is the tricky part.

Mingled lives, beyond our control. When I was still living in Manhattan, this is what I was experiencing. The only way I was to take control, was by saying ‘no’. If I’d have been selective when it came to choosing who to spend my time with, I would have taken back the control. But, I wasn’t and that’s why I was losing myself in something… or someone. This led me to feel drained at school, to be distant, to be quiet and lacking something.

A life outside of the school and detached from my colleagues, is what I’ve been advised to build. Others, who have been here a lot longer than I, see how the ‘mingled- lives-syndrome’ can take over. From a more personal perspective, this is not what my journey in China is about. I’m not here to ONLY be placed within a group of foreigners and to restrict myself to these contacts. I didn’t come to China for others to start seeing all of our journeys, our travels, our China experience, as 1! That’s what was happening. For a few teachers, this is what they want and need, and so it’s fine. But, for me, it’s not going to be like that. I’m here for me, and nobody else.

Of course I realize that the teaching is the main part of my journey and it’s giving me these opportunities. And so, I’ll always do everything I can for the company and be the best teacher possible. But, I’m here to live an independent life, to do what I want to do and to spend time with who I choose to spend to with. My Chinese experience is an individual experience. Yes, I’ll hang-out with the foreign colleagues outside of work, but only when I want to.

There are a few colleagues in particular who are helping me so much – Helen especially. She’s the New Zealand teacher who’s been here 2 years and speaks fluent Chinese. She understands me so well, and also has more understanding of how being placed in this setting, can effect the way in which a foreigner chooses to connect with China – either superficially or more deeply.

On that note, I must say, how much I appreciate them all. Even one particular colleague who claimed I was the reason for him to choose Jinzhou, who was starting to witness our China experience as one, who was invading my space and bringing out the Niamh that I really don’t care too much for. It’s a strange contradiction: with some colleagues being too close, I can’t live here – let alone excel at what I’m doing, as being negatively influenced by others will always affect the teaching and the lessons. BUT, without them, I can’t live here either – such is the dependency on the select number of people who have English as their mother tongue. Hummm… How strange. So I do appreciate them all. The fact that I’m speaking like this, about my (no longer) Irish roommate, is because I want to take from everything that happened last week, as much as I can. That way I can get past it and not hold a grudge between the two of us.

Sunday night (the 24th) we finally spoke about it. We both told each other exactly what had been going and why we were on such different pages, when trying to relate to each other. He had different expectations from me. I had none from him. He was pushing for closeness from me; a closeness I wasn’t willing to offer. I felt guilty for not being open and accepting of his nature… which made me feel like the worst person in the world… and so… on and on the cycle goes…

Speaking with him was relieving. We both know where we stand now and it was perfect timing too. Because that same Sunday night, was Mike C’s going away party and I’ve since taken over his apartment! This talk with my roommate was like closing one part of my Manhattan chapter.

And Tuesday morning (the 26th) was the day for Mike C to leave China. It was the day he made space for me… No matter how sad I was to see him leave, a bigger part of me was happier… I needed that apartment, for my own sanity and to get myself out of Manhattan!

On the morning of the move, I had another ‘closing’ conversation with Matt. The best roommate I’ve ever had! With so much else going on, since Irish roommate landed in our lives, we hadn’t chatted for quite a while. During the first 6 weeks, when it was just me and him, we would sit at the table, a couple of times a week. He’d be drinking gallons of coffee and casually doing some work on his laptop, and I’d be drinking gallons of tea and either gazing out the window or writing about something. We’d be in each others company, going in and out of conversation and I’d get to know him so much more than otherwise would be the case. At work, we’d never get the chance to talk. But, during those first 6 weeks, we did. And he’s the nicest and most sincere guy. Tuesday morning, it happened again. We both sat (whilst roomie number 3 was still in bed), with coffee and tea, having great conversations. And that was the best note to end my first chapter in China on. This is what I’ll remember the Manhattan apartment for, and not for how I was feeling once the 2 became the 3. The 6 weeks with Matt alone outweigh the last 3 weeks by far. So… 9 weeks after first landing in Jinzhou and another new chapter starts! Niamh is branching out!

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