Fourth of July’s got nothing on this place. For the past 5 hours, Shanghai’s 20 million residents have taken to the streets, firecrackers and fireworks in hand, before dinner, after dinner, before midnight, and soon to be after midnight, to ring in the lunar new year with a thundering vengeance! On a rare clear night, with crisp cool clean air, it’s been quite the scene.
This new year coincides with my 2 year China anniversary. Two years feels funny in a number of ways. Perhaps most startlingly, it’s become quite clear that this isn’t a rotation, a temporary assignment, or other break from life or home. It’s the real deal. It’s my life. And perhaps along those lines, it seems I’ve gradually shied away from spending time or building friendships with visitors who aren’t in the same boat. Case in point dinner tonight, where half the table of Germans, French, Singaporeans, and Malaysians have been living in China for ten years or longer, and nobody for less than two!
And at the same time, I’ve also started to feel more cognizant of the fact that, in China, I will always be a laowai, a foreigner. It didn’t use to bother me really – being stereotyped, and generally looked well upon – the local stereotypes for white, Jewish, American are disgustingly flattering. But the ignorance, the constant stares, the assumptions and even choice of language based on the color of my skin rather than the words coming out of my mouth, and the realization that it isn’t going to change anytime soon, no matter how long I live here and no matter how perfect my Chinese becomes, are all becoming more… significant… than before.
I’ve gotta say the new year comes at a time when I’m quite thankful, both on a personal and a professional level. I still love what I’m working on out here, and love the team of people I do it with. On the travel front, Hainan, Xi’an, Thailand, and return visits to Suzhou and Lijiang recently in-the-hole. Japan (Tokyo, Nagano, and Kyoto) and an April first trip to Bali on-deck. Both Tibet and Jiuzhaigou have for some reason been on my mind a lot lately.
Anyhow, 12:30am, and firecrackers are – like a bag of popcorn in a microwave – slowly coming to a stop. With a 5:30am wakeup call to pack and head to the airport, I’d better get to sleep. It’s officially the Year of the Tiger. Happy New Year – Xin Nian Kuai Le – Gong Xi Fa Cai!