Friday, October 17, 2008

being abroad

From an email to a friend:

Strangely enough, sometimes I wonder if being abroad has a negative effect on people, making us more cynical and close-minded than we used to be. After all, I now have extreme road rage in the streets of Kunming, and turn ugly when dealing with crowds and frustrating customer service. Some of my friends who have been in China for “too long” can lo longer enjoy the country. “China this,” they complain. “Chinese people that.” Yet my friends in Oregon, none of whom have been to China, are careful about not offending me. “I’ve heard so-and-so about China/Chinese culture,” they say. “But I wanted to check with you first.”

Why does this happen? Why are American (and Israeli, German, etc.) tourists notorious for being obnoxious? Why do people abroad feel justified in making broad statements about the local people? These are, of course, stereotypes. There are plenty of people abroad who are respectful and nonjudgmental (which is, of course, something I am not always able to carry off). There are also plenty of people in the states I wouldn’t want representing me (which is probably why they are not my friends).

However, I do sometimes wonder if I would be a better person if I had stayed in China for only, say, a year. I feel people getting bored with me when I complain about being here for way too long (a total of over two and a half years), about how I need a change. If I had left earlier, would I still see China as a mysterious, adventurous country?

Anyway, I think a lot of this is the homesickness talking. Was able to FINALLY visit home for the first time in two years, and it wasn't quite enough. Kunming is beautiful right now, and I'm not as unhappy as I have been, on and off, these past few months, but there's still something that can be said for living at home, near loved ones.