The Acquisition of Bertha (written on my tenth day in China)

Ho-lee Mo-lee. I cannot even EXPRESS to you how uh-mazing China is. I just love love love every bit of it; the transition has been so smooth, I already feel like I blend right in, and I’ve got such a busy social life between expat friends and Chinese friends that I had to turn down three offers so that I could stay in and write this tonight!

LIES.

I so thought I was good at this living abroad different culture thing. That’s why when my job in Walla Walla dead-ended and I felt like I needed a new start, I was like, hey–why NOT move to China? I had gotten on a plane with a one-way ticket before, with nothing but a very small plan and two.five veery big and heavy bags. Combined with study abroad, I’d lived for eight months outside of the United States and loved every second of it. Back in February, I figured bah~I’ve done Europe, I can do Asia. (This is where if I was watching my life as a movie I would shake my head in disgust at the foolishness of the character on the screen. Seriously? This is barely plausible~who would think that living in Europe and living in freakin CHINA would have the same challenges? Come on, who wrote this, they’ve got to be kidding themselves…)

I started to get nervous about a week before I was to leave Walla Walla, at a goodbye party for my roommate and good friend who was also jetting off to different parts of the world. We had a vegan potluck for him, and I looked around at the wee society the seven of us had formed, each of us playing a delightful role in each other’s lives in this small farming/wine town in Eastern Washington. It was almost like the finale of a touching yet uproarious TV show, but like a recent HBO show where the directors don’t want to create an unrealistic sum-it-all-up-because-life-isn’t-like-that effect. Those always make me mad, because it’s like, well, if the characters aren’t wrapped up and living happily and boringly ever after, why won’t you keep filming it because I enjoyed watching it?? Please?! That’s what this dinner was like. We weren’t talking about our wee society ending, but at least for me I was like NO I WANT TO KEEP WATCHING THIS! I want to see where each of these people go, how each of the relationships grows, how Walla Walla changes and how it changes these people! And I kept having that feeling in every. Single. Encounter. That. Week. It wore down my heart quite a bit. Why why why was I leaving such a beautiful thing? I had created such a comforting little world for myself since May 2016, full of people that I valued and respected immensely, and the things that I valued so much in life–painting, reading, and really good wine. But that idiot February Audrey had set something in motion, and March Audrey sure wasn’t going to let that bitch outshine her. Plus, you know, I had already quit my job and everything.

I’m still not quite sure if I made the right decision, to be honest.

The dream I wrote about in my last blog post turned out (as I expected) to be unfortunately prophetic. With the exception of a lunch and afternoon walking around with my friend Lena from Whitman and a LOT of help from a Chinese teacher at my school named Michael (who claims he just likes the feeling of being helpful, but I’m still going to get him good and drunk very soon hopefully because he is probably a literal godsend), I spent the majority of my first three days in China holed up on the couch I was crashing on, reading and eating almost nothing but almonds. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, so trying to buy things felt scarier than a twenty-foot python (well, maybe not quite, but hyperbole is good when trying to describe China). And plus, I didn’t have a key to the apartment I was staying in, so my only way of getting back to the safety of my couch was to ring the bell and hope that someone was home and that I wasn’t waking them up–and they were strangers, too! Very, very, very kind and benevolent strangers, but I felt so badly for infringing on their space that I tried to make myself as un annoying as possible. Two of my friends from college were not responsive to messages with questions, one of them was traveling with HIS best friends from Whitman, and Lena was leaving imminently for a trip to Thailand. I was left feeling like I was asking Michael for help at least eighteen times as much as I like to ask people who I had met less than a week before. Like most people, I haaaate asking for help, and my streak of Audrey-is-independent,-she-can-do-anything-herself! didn’t help matters in the slightest. I felt like a burden, and an idiot, and I had to buckle down and grow a pair and ask for help, because, I told myself, I LITERALLY had no other option.

I finished three books that week. What else was I going to do?

When I wasn’t reading, I set my sights on getting an apartment. With my own space, I thought, I could practice saying Chinese words out loud without feeling like a total fool. (If someone listened into my Chinese study today they would have run away in fright of catching senility~I must have said “What is your name” at least seventy-two times.) I could poop nasty getting-used-to-Chinese-food poops without worrying about stinking up someone else’s bathroom. I could come and go as I pleased! What a concept. I could spread out my things, my precious possessions, that reminded me of all my experiences that I’d had previously that prepared me for this current shenanigan, and the people I could return to if I survive it.

The day after I moved into my apartment, however, was dismal. I woke up in a funk, and then washed my clothes and the laundry machine leaked all over the floor. I saw all the places the cleaners I’d hired had missed (apparently in China it’s not necessary for the landlord to clean the apartment before renting it out?) And I realized that even though I had my own space, I was still in China and I still didn’t speak Chinese, and so encounters in public for essentials such as: food, were as scary as a three-foot-long snake. (Going for accuracy there, I truly think both those things scare me about the same amount.)

Realizing my funk, I decided I needed to look at my new, very own space with an ironic eye, and I’ve decided to name it Bertha. It’s a tiny apartment.

Me and Bertha are doing alright now. I still only barely have a social life, speak only ~20 words of Mandarin, and my stomach is still, shall we say, adjusting after certain meals. Bertha is still small, a little grimy, and may or may not have a broken washing machine (I’m too scared to do another load). But I’ve pinned up a lot of my posters, postcards, and pictures, so she’s lookin a little more homey. I have managed to keep myself nourished for two weeks (I’ve hit up this one noodle shop at least five times and guess what, every single time I say the same five syllables, they know what I want! High-fiving a million angels), gotten a haircut (with the help of Michael, of course), and stared down countless Chinese people turning to look at me as I walk innocently down the street. And learned how to say “What is your name?” In Mandarin! Ooh- AND this weekend there’s a school holiday and a co-worker asked if I wanted to go to her hometown and go to a traditional mud fight festival!!!!! I’M STARTING TO MAYBE MAKE CHINESE FRIENDS! I’ve learned to always have an umbrella with me because this isn’t the Pacific Northwest and NOT having an umbrella when the lovely sunny day suddenly turns rainy makes you look like a tourist/idiot. I’ve told myself that it’s okay that I don’t want to go wild and party all the time even though not doing so makes me feel like a lame-o with fomo–first of all, I don’t really have good friends yet in this city, Chinese OR expat, so it makes sense that I’m not included in every group text. But also, I’ve. just changed my life drastically, and barely anyone I’ve talked to here seems to appreciate the full extent of the risk I’ve taken. Most of them at least spoke some Chinese before coming here, and even were coming with the help of venerable ole Whitman College. Not only have I left a dream of a Walla Walla life behind, but I’ve come to a city where I don’t have anyone that I know really well, a city where I don’t speak the language… a city in CHINA. I’ve absolutely gone completely bonkers.

But. I’m here now. And I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet, so I can’t buy a plane ticket back. Plus I’ve signed to be together with Bertha for a year, plus like I’ve signed a contract. It’s almost like I’ve been tricking myself into this since February, but like, it’s worked. I’m going to have this China experience whether I like it or not. At least I’ve got Bertha.

One thought on “The Acquisition of Bertha (written on my tenth day in China)

  1. Audrey, Our hearts and prayers go out to you (or up for you🙏). Helene and I are so impressed with your adventurous spirit and willingness to push your comfort boundaries. I look forward to hearing more of your journey. Peace and love, Eric and Helene

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