Will Work for Bagels

by Natalie

I have been in China four months, two weeks, and two days (to be precise). I have eaten dumplings, noodles, and all manner of things I would rather not recall. I have made a best friend (the kind that you know will last a lifetime) painted my bedroom, and scrubbed the dust out of my apartment until my hands hurt, only to have it reappear a day later. I have received two packages from home, sent five letters, and exchanged hundreds of emails.

I have been on three dates, found the best bagel shop in Beijing, and now tutor the employees for credit. I have drunk enough Starbucks coffee to personally cover the cost of a nice dinner for the CEO (if he eats it in China, that is). I have found the grocery store that sells cheese, and done a happy dance when coming across a familiar product. I have been stared at enough that I will likely go home with a minor celebrity complex.

I have been driven to the Great Wall in the back of a black Mercedes, and to a rose garden on the top of a mountain. I have become friends with the family at my breakfast stand after all attempts at language failed, and I snorted at them to signify that I would like the pork dumpling. I have been asked if I am single and interested in dating their son. I have watched aghast as small children (and on one occasion, an adult) go to the bathroom on the street, and now I walk right past it. I never assume it is dog poop.

I have learned how to give directions in Chinese to the taxi drivers, and how to say, “I don’t understand,” very well. I have become friends with the owner of a restaurant, and spent an evening conversing and drinking with a group of old Chinese men.

I have given money and food to the homeless, and come to seriously question what it means to give, and to assess my own blessings. I have conversed with a crippled beggar who told me he was a Christian, heard some of the best sermons of my life, and actually read my Bible.

I have gone to the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and spent one lazy afternoon wandering down a hutong.

I have eaten Peking duck, been taught how to make dumplings, and become friends with the chef at my school, who caters to my love of noodles and dislike of fat, even though he has repeatedly tried to convince me that I should eat it.

I have forgotten I am in China, and wondered why I am surrounded by so many Asians. I have stopped to marvel at the sights before me, and come to love taxi rides at night. I have been squashed on the subway, and scrutinized on the bus.

China feels like the most natural place for me to be, even though it will never truly be home. Whenever I forget that I am white and think I am starting to blend in, I spot another foreigner from half a mile away. One person once thought I was Chinese, for one second.

I have walked in the rain because I am so happy just to feel it, and acquired an oven.

I have witnessed dust storms, and been so cold I thought I would never get warm.

I have been sad from missing family and friends, and exuberant with all of life’s possibilities.

I have been astounded by the generosity, warmth, and graciousness of the Chinese people, and I have fallen in love with the children I teach.

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