(Written on 1/23/09)
Waiguo Ren... that is what we are: Foreigners!
How has it been for us being foreigners in a foreign land for the last week? In one word: Exhausting. Don't get me wrong, we're enjoying every moment and I think we'll really be able to make a nice home for ourselves here, but this first week has been quite the whirlwind.
Its one thing to be a tourist in a country where you don't speak the language… but trying to live in a place where not only do you not speak the language, but you can't read anything is quite a different story.
In France, for example, you might not understand what you're reading, but at least you can sound out the words. You can read street signs, even if you butcher the pronunciation, at least you have a sign that you can read and a word that you can remember…. This is not the case here. Characters are a whole nother story!
We've been going to bed pretty early ever since we got here, one excuse is the jet lag, but what I really think is that its the mental overload that we're experiencing every moment. Back in the US, our brains are used to the surroundings and we can just tune out most of what is around us and focus on whatever happens to be important at that time.
Here, everything is new. Our brains have no idea what is and is not important, so we are constantly processing all this extra information. Not to mention all of the work we're doing trying to figure things out that actually are important (like: what is this person trying to say to me, or what the hell am I eating right now, or how much is this is US$... the list goes on an on...) It's actually a mental relief to be at work because then we get to be around a bunch of English-speaking colleagues!
I have experienced something like this before. When I was living in South Africa I dealt with things being different (spongy bread, soggy everything, driving on the left side of the road...) and I got used to never really feeling completely at home, but throwing Chinese on top of that really adds a whole new dimension to it all. I have to say... its pretty intense. It makes even the most mundane things become an adventure.
I'm sure after a month or two, we will settle into a routine and become much more comfortable, so I'm looking forward to that.
Fortunately, our job offers free Chinese lessons! As soon as the holiday is over, Nick and I plan to start with the classes. I really can't wait learn Chinese. Right now I can speak a little, and what I can say does help us out a lot, but I really am at a loss most of the time.
So... until I can speak Chinese, I'm just a waigou ren hoping I bump into some one who can speak a little English!