Article by Demi Edwards
China has never ceased to amaze me with just how quickly things can change. Whether you are being given extra dumplings by a friendly old woman or get sat next to the noisiest-phone-video-player/smelly-food-eater on the train, there’s a whole world of behavior I had never come across before. Since last year though, I would say my world has greatly improved from it. Honestly my favorite stories kind of stories these days are people’s “first 24 hours in China,” because some crazy things have happened to people. There are many factors as to why these “crazy” kinds of things happen. Although I find myself frequently find myself asking “why,” I never seem to fully have the answer. I am certain the natives here find the way I do things puzzling as well. Alas, I’ve come to love these odd little moments as they never pass me by without a good story.
Here in Xi’an, I am an English teacher; I go to class early in the morning and work with my students strictly in English, because I don’t speak any other language. It’s a rewarding job, but, much like the students, this teacher sometimes finds it hard to wake up in the morning. I had been doing well: going to bed early, getting my things ready for the morning, the whole nine yards. I was a fully functional, well-conditioned adult. That is until the day I bravely uttered the words, “I have never woken up late before, I usually beat my alarm up.” The universe surely would not stand for this, and it let me know that next morning. My alarm is typically set to go off at 06:15, as I have to catch a bus by 07:00. This morning I had beaten my alarm up, however the clock read 06:52. You’re wondering now how that is “beating my alarm up.” Well, this “well-conditioned adult” had set her alarm for 18:15. After running through my apartment, sending a little prayer to whomever might be listening and somehow managing to get dressed, I made it to the bus on time. There was a brisk run involved and some creative language going on, but I made it. Half-asleep, teeth and hair not brushed, red-faced, out of breath, but I was there.
When it came time to teach, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that all of the technology in my classroom had decided it did not want to work. The computer was turning on at a snail’s pace, and as I began my class, I knew that morning was going to be a challenge. My PowerPoint stopped working twice, the short video I wanted show wouldn’t play like it had on my computer at home. Luckily, I had my backup files and those worked, eventually, but I had become the teacher in front of the class failing to work basic technology. One of my favorite comedic moments as a student, it did not feel so funny in this moment. As my class went on break, I finally had the chance to use the restroom, something I hadn’t had time for all morning. That’s when I discovered that, all morning, my zipper had been down. So, not only did I have no makeup and no deodorant (amongst other hygienic neglect), I also had been teaching with an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. We all managed to get through the class, but I know all of my students had to have been thinking, “why did we even bother to show up, that lesson made no sense.” If they weren’t thinking that, then I have some of the kindest students on the entire planet.
My next class, I was teaching one of the topics I was most excited about from the textbook, “Positive Thinking.” I love that because even though I was thinking to myself what a horrible morning this had been, I was still determined to turn my day around. It was pleasantly sunny, and I started off my second class by asking my students if they wanted to go outside. They were all pleased by this and the entire lesson went really well. I began to think, Man this crazy morning is finally over! I was wrong. My class played a game outside in which students helped encourage each other to think about worries they were having in a more positive way. Some came up with comical solutions, while others came up with simple kind words of encouragement. Under the warm afternoon sun though, I was simply hoping none of my students noticed the sweat patches that were beginning to form under my arms from the lack of deodorant. Then came the worst moment. I was talking to a student who had some questions after class, when all of a sudden, I felt like something in my shirt had come loose. I figured it was maybe that some of the buttons on my shirt had come loose under my sweater, after all the button-up I had on was rather old. After I shifted around a bit, I found that my bra had come unhooked within my shirt. Upon this realization I quickly was looking for a way out of the conversation and crossed my arms as to hide this new embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. As I rode the bus home, I clutched my bag to my chest hoping no one would notice anything. I got lucky again; if anyone noticed this issue, they were too polite to say anything.
Finally, as I arrived home, I went to see a friend and enjoy what was left of the day. After all, it was beautifully sunny, and I was already learning to laugh about the events of the morning, while sitting on bench in one of the small green spaces around the city, eating street food, laughing about the various events of the day and just enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly, from one of the nearby trees, a tiny beetle fell in my shirt! I swear if I hadn’t been laughing so hard the moment before, I might have freaked out and taken off my shirt right there in public! Of everything that happened, this is the moment my brain keeps circling back to. I asked myself why I hadn’t reacted in the way I typically would have. Was it because I was tired? Was it just the good mood? Was it the worry of embarrassment? It took me some time to really work this one out, and since that day had been extraordinarily weird, I entertained the thought for awhile.
None of those questions seemed to hold the answer that made sense though. What I found myself thinking was that no matter how many tiny beetles fall into your shirt throughout a day, as long as you don’t overreact to them and simply go with the flow, you save yourself from even further embarrassment. Life is too short to worry about all these small moments. They were annoying at the time, but I got through it, the world kept turning. Then I find that I have yet another interesting story to tell about my time living in China. It doesn’t matter how well you have your life planned or how much you hope to never make a fool of yourself, you always end up looking like an idiot to someone at some point. I will never actually attempt to understand why all the odd things happen around me, because to someone else the behavior or actions are most likely totally normal. Sometimes living life in the moment and enjoying where you’re at is enough of an answer. In that moment the universe is simply trying to communicate with you that you need to just go with the flow and stop taking yourself so seriously. Allow yourself to be pushed outside your comfort zone and learn to just live in this crazy world. If you haven’t gotten my two cents by this point, simply think about it in this other way. I have determined that I will likely drive myself insane trying to explain everything little thing that happens, but really all I need to do is calmly brush the beetle out of my shirt and continue on with life.
Demi Edwards is a part-time amateur social media influencer, full time lao wai.