I’ll See Myself Out: Notes on Being a Tired Hermit With Possibly Unrealistic Expectations

I’ve got approximately two months left in Shanghai.

 

zhaojiabang

Oh, hello Shanghai!

 

After over four years in this city, most of which were spent trying to feel like it was home and trying to convince myself that I was in the right place, doing the right thing, I’m now suddenly feeling small and unexpected pangs of pre-emptive nostalgia for a city I haven’t even left yet and which I now fear I didn’t do justice.

I’m also busy mentally constructing stupidly contradictory self-assessments of how I have used my time here. You know, the whoa, I really sucked at this version of the story and the holy crap, I actually did a lot of stuff in spite of everything narrative.

I may be a touch hard on myself. Just a bit.

 

QingMingCake

Look, I’m participating with great enthusiasm in the Tomb Sweeping Festival by eating sticky grass flavoured rice cakes stuffed with sweet bean!

 

You know all those days over the past several years where I was completely unable and unwilling to leave the flat? Those times when I felt too tired or annoyed or uninspired to go out and explore the city because it was too big, too noisy, too overwhelming, too confusing?  When I was totally not making use of the cultural and social and linguistic opportunities spread before me, simply because I didn’t have the mental and emotional energy required?  When all I wanted to do was to hide under the duvet with an unending stream of coffee and Kindle action, emerging only potter around in the kitchen for a while before retreating back under the covers?

Yeah, not much has changed.

My June deadline is looming, however, and I feel like I really ought to get my act together and brave the wilds of this city. You know, go out and explore interesting, far flung corners and meet interesting people and, like, learn stuff and do stuff. Because I’m in China and all. Because I’m supposed to be someone who is brave and adventurous and well-travelled. Or at the very least not a pallid, hermitty shut-in.

Mostly what I’ve been doing recently, however, is working.

 

I deal with it by drinking my bodyweight in tea. Note the cat mug. I have 2: one red, one blue.  That helps.

I deal with it by drinking my bodyweight in tea. Note the cat mug. I have 2: one red, one blue. That helps.

 

My Super Sekret Linguistic Interrogator gig has unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) been exceptionally busy this month so I’ve spent a vast amount of my waking hours on trains or in taxis or locked in far flung exam rooms in Nanjing, Jinan, Hefei, Hangzhou and in various venues around Shanghai, grilling terrified candidates about nonsense or marking stacks of essays roughly the same thickness and linguistic clarity as a decent Tolstoy novel in the original Russian (note: I can’t read Russian).

This kind of work, I should add, is really, really, really bad for you, in much the same way that a 4 day methamphetamine binge might leave one feeling somewhat depleted afterward (I’m just guessing here).

I’m currently writing this from under the duvet after downing 4 shots of espresso, brain still brutally foggy after a 4 day exam marathon, having just emerged around 10pm last night from a long train journey back from Hefei. Espresso shots #5 and 6 are burbling away on the stove as we speak.

I haven’t bothered to open the curtains yet, even though it’s already well past 9am and the birds have been hollering outside since 5am, when they woke me up. I can’t quite bear the thought of getting my act together for today’s small tasks: buy train tickets for Thursday’s gig in Hangzhou, hunt down a few cans of coconut milk for my morning coffee, get rent money. The thought of leaving the flat leaves me feeling exhausted.

I’m definitely not going to do Shanghai justice today.

 

The above, I must now add, is how my overly self-critical narrative is constructed.

 

More realistically, I need to make a note of all the things I omitted.

You know, the things I gloss over when I try to convince myself what a lousy expatty type I am, when I force comparisons between myself and everyone else and their dog who has passed through this city at one time or another.

You see, I don’t just compare myself (unfavourably) to one person who has done awesome things. I compare myself to all of them. At once. And for some reason, I can never live up to the collective, cumulative experience of a few hundred very diverse individuals. Go figure.

Aside from the fact that I’ve been busy bouncing around Eastern China interviewing hundreds of students and reading a bazillion of their essays and making my way through new and daunting cities where I’m functionally illiterate and still linguistically overwhelmed in spite of my seemingly futile efforts, I’ve also been making a massive effort to step out of my duvet-heavy comfort zone to do lovely new things with lovely people.

 

Some things I’ve done recently that were actually quite wonderful and worth noting

 

1. I went for a Tomb Sweeping Festival picnic in the forest with a bunch of really lovely people.

There was greenery, good food, a great mix of Chinese and laowai, good conversation and a bit of much needed fresh, flowery fragrant air. GongQing Forest Park is not exactly Banff or Northern California, but there are trees and there is undergrowth and there is a lake, all within the city.

Also, you can buy pretty much anything you could ever desire (from balloon animals to stinky tofu and roasted sweet potatoes) just outside the park gates.

 

Forest

It’s kind of hard to escape the wedding photos in this city, even out in the urban forest.

 

forest flower

I would have done the same

 

Forest park

It can get overwhelming here.

 

2. I explored the art galleries of Moganshan lu over the course of a fabulous afternoon with good friends

One of the friends wrote about that afternoon here.

 

art mannequin

Alas, not a performance piece.

 

jeannie

And we had a lovely dinner afterwards

3. I played tourist at the Longhua Martyr’s Cemetery and Temple with one of the aforementioned friends (and her mother who was visiting)

 

Longhua dog

Look! Culture! Dog! Monks!

 

Longhua

See, not a duvet!

 

Martyr's Cemetery

Culture, history AND language!

 

4. I had some amazing afternoons and evenings wining and dining with a bevy of awesome writers (who are also awesome friends) who passed through town.

A few weeks ago, there was a sudden mad frenzy of social activity when a whirlwind of brilliant, brave bloggy ladies all converged in Shanghai for a remarkable and exhausting long weekend of food, drink and exploration. I forbade myself from constantly comparing myself to them and their achievements and adventures and instead just reveled in the really stimulating and inspiring conversations. I came to realize that my time here hadn’t all been just hiding under the duvet or wearing myself out in the classroom. It was a good thing to realize (even if I haven’t quite accepted it yet).

This is a personal thank you to Jeannie, Fiona, Theodora and Ms CosmoHallitan for helping me (through art, beer, tacos and lots of talking) to see things a bit more clearly.  You guys rock.

 

The good-times sign-up sheet for my last 2 months here is still up.

Feel free to add your name to it.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.