I’m not big on spending time getting ready. Last night though, I ended up running late for dinner because I couldn’t stop staring at myself in the mirror. Something just seemed horribly wrong with my face.
[Yes, friends– especially Dave and Aaron– I hear your hilarious comments on that one in my head as I’m writing this. I’ve opened it up for you to have a field day. Enjoy.]
As for what was wrong with my face, I’m still not quite sure.
But I have the sneaking suspicion it’s that I’m not Asian.
Someone asked me this morning “what has been the biggest culture shock since you’ve arrived?”
I answered with “oh, the… traffic…”
Nope—not it. That was straight up avoiding honesty.
The “biggest culture shock” snuck in without me noticing.
It started as a small voice, the one in my head that looked at another woman’s boots and went “god… I love those.” It escalated with trips to the mall, looking at all the things I can’t afford, or looking at the gorgeous Chinese women leaving the apartment building with their little dogs, wearing the latest fashion trends.
Over the past two and a half weeks, it’s gone from coveting footwear, to looking in the mirror and thinking “God, I’m a fat, ugly, American heifer.”
[Again, friends, though you’re thousands of miles away, I can still hear you.]
And to give a point of reference (and make myself feel better)—I’m 5’7, and on my bad days, I weigh in at 120 pounds. I usually fit into a size 0 to 2, so by American standards, I’m doing okay. Not here. Here, I’m taller than most men, and the women are so petite I can fit them in my purse.
I started acting when I was five years old. I somehow survived teenage hormones and auditions without developing an eating disorder. I spent my early twenties learning how to tune out the negatives, and *trying* to listen only long enough to find the constructive criticism and move on. It was not easy. Most nights, I’d get home from a five or six hour rehearsal, throw my character shoes in the corner, and head straight to the bar to get very drunk. Because for every compliment you get in the theatre, there are at least ten insults to dull the happiness back down. And it’s all about hanging onto that one good thing, and throwing the rest away.
China, though, is very quickly destroying the last seven years of inner work. It’s just small things here, accumulating—cab drivers who won’t pick me up because I’m a Westerner. The feeling of being invisible when I’m in public, with no eye contact from anyone except the occasional older woman sitting alone in a restaurant, staring at me. In general though, there is no acknowledgement of my existence at all.
I still regret not introducing myself to the American girl that I exchanged small smiles with over oranges one day, as we both got shoved out of the way of the locals getting their produce. I’m used to having a handful of close friends I talk to and see every day. Grab drinks with, have dinner, text ridiculous things to. Send very long bantering emails all day while I’m at work, generally about the ridiculousness that is America… and nerd culture… and ridiculous life events.
One of my roommates warned me about being a Western woman in Shanghai before I left, and I just laughed at him and said “yeah, I’m pretty sure my sense of self can survive.”
Oh, to be so incredibly wrong.
So that is the biggest culture shock, random guy from class who asked me. It isn’t the traffic, the pollution, the lack of graffiti street art—it’s the inside of my head, flipping itself over and realizing how much I miss American diversity. And how I’m going to have to be very careful with monitoring my sense of self over the next few months–because I think I will become absolutely starved for attention.