Sunday, May 07, 2006

Mixed Musings

Not only was the 5th of May the birthday of Karl Marx, which seemed to go by unnoticed by most here, but it was also my six month mark in Beijing. A quarter of my time here has already whizzed by and again it seems like an appropriate time to reassess my life in China.

On the work front, things have been good, I've been making progress and I may have a third paper out (from my Beijing stay) later this month. This is considerably more than I was expecting though still I haven't got a firm collaborator with whom I feel that I can publish a series of papers. I do hope to keep up the good links I made in Tokyo and Kyoto and hope that if a suitable project comes up we will be able to quickly get on the case. I still spend a great deal of my time feeling confused and deeply unknowledgable about my subject and the offshoots of the area that I have specialised in. My new paper will be a complete change of direction though a great chance to learn some new areas.

The social life continues to be a lot of fun and always varied. I do feel however that because of my position as the only Westerner in a group who's social structure is very different from that which I know, I still feel like an outsider to a certain extent. Again, I don't blame anybody for this fact, except perhaps my slow learning of the language. If I really made a push to speed up my learning I think that integration would be made easier. I feel pretty shy about attempting to speak Chinese at a table in front of 10 Chinese colleagues but that's probably something that I should just try and conquer.

I have been making the effort of late and have had a few Chinese friends round for dinner. Dinner in my flat is still a pretty alien concept to me, though I'm beginning to master the rice cooker. That's a seriously depressing statement for somebody who would regularly spend an hour or two most evening experimenting in the kitchen. Perhaps I should buy a fridge this summer so that cooking for one is made easier.
It's a battle of mind/stomach and wallet as I can always eat out for less than it would cost me to cook for myself, it's also much quicker and tastes pretty marvelous. Dinner tends to cost around 40-50p and consists of soup, rice, plus three dishes containing meat, vegetables, tofu and often egg. Why would I spend 50 quid (around a week's wage) so that I can cook inferior fare for myself? There are reasons why but they're difficult to justify.

Having never lived alone, six months on my own in an apartment is also something that takes some experimenting with to feel really at home. The initial feelings of freedom can easily give way to boredom and loneliness though I feel that I'm managing to steer away from that reasonably well. Probably the simplest answer to this would be to get a television which would somehow seem like another independent being in the apartment. However, the lack of TV is a joy for me and I know that I would waste many many hours if I did buy one. I'm happy in its absence.

I've certainly not personalised the apartment much so a few posters and homely ornaments would probably improve the situation somewhat. I feel a little strange about buying non essentials out here, knowing that this is all so temporary, though perhaps it would be a good idea to splash out a bit.

Only in the last month have I really had a chance to see much of China outside of Beijing and that is certainly something that I plan on doing more of in the next six months. I hope to head up to Mongolia at some point, the beaches on the East coast and also Hong Kong beckons some time in the not to distant future. Of course it would be great to get back to Shanghai and spend some more time with my friends there.

In July I will make my way back to the UK for a couple of weeks to see family and friends and, if anybody is around, try and speak to some stringy people at British universities in an attempt to put the feelers out for the next postdoc which I have to start thinking seriously about in a few months time. I have a list of ideal places though these stretch and morph continuously, encapsulating almost anywhere in the world depending on my mood.

So, some ponderings on the last six months and some musings about up and coming directions for the next. With temperatures quickly rising I feel that I'm living in a completely different city from that which I arrived in as it plummeted to -20. I look forward to exploring this one in just as much detail.

Tomorrow is back to the grindstone with some quick calculations to get polished off and the second English Corner to run. I also have to get the reading group and the seminars back off the ground as they've slowed a little recently. Hopefully we'll be able to get them back on track before the Strings circus rolls into town.


Wrapped up in books said...

Wow, I can't believe it's been six months. Nobody can be expected to fully integrate themselves into a completely new environment quickly and I think you have done very well so far!

P x

Unknown said...

Thanks P. I'm certainly very happy with the way things have gone. I could have ended up with culture shock after a couple of weeks and spent my time being miserable but I've been pretty lucky. I look forward to seeing what the next three quarters will bring.

J x