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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Insults, accusations, realizations

CHINA | Sunday, 23 September 2007 | Views [512]

When I was younger, I was essentially a B and T girl. Bridge and tunnel. That term that true New Yorkers use to refer to anyone who commutes to The City via the bridge and tunnel system instead actually of living in Heaven or, as most people know it, Manhattan. I spent every summer traveling via air conditioner-less car across some bridge or another to my grandmother’s house on Long Island. It was a tradition during the last four hours of the 24 hour trip when we were stuck in traffic in Manhattan to pick out the famous landmarks that make New York New York. “There’s the Statue of Liberty! And the Empire State Building!” And as these were the days before the great fear of terrorism and liquids on planes, we would watch the Twin Towers loom over the island as we inched over the Verrazano.

When I lived in New Jersey (a brief five months of my life that I mention much too often), I made the half hour trip to New York as often as possible. New Jersey Transit shuttled me through the Lincoln Tunnel into the center of The City. But just before I descended beneath the Hudson River, I had a wonderful preview of the city I was about to indulge in. The lights twinkled and the buildings seemed to throbb with energy all reminding me why I love The City.

Megan, the best friend I made in New Jersey and my companion on most of my Northeastern adventures, and I would marvel at its mass and beauty. One day, exhausted by The City and New Yorkers and much too preoccupied with too-expensive haute-couture and too-skinny models in the latest Vogue, we missed the view. Once we realized it, we struggled to catch the lights through the trees that immediately consumed New Jersey. We vowed that we would never let that happen again, and from that moment, our magazines and books and other distractions were safely stowed until we were deep into Jersey.

When I moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU, it was approximately my fifth time in the city. Having grown up much closer to New Orleans and, figuratively speaking, New York, I never needed to make Baton Rouge a very big part of my life. But after living there for five years, I was consistently learning new things about the city that made me more and more enthralled with it. I loved exploring Baton Rouge. As much as it was home to me, I still don’t feel that I’ve learned everything there is to know about good ole B. R.

The other day, as I had lunch with Chris (New Zealand) and Terry (Chicago), two other teachers, we discussed a third teacher, Mick (Ireland).

“He’s new to Beijing, but he’s not new to China. He doesn’t have that ‘newbie’ look,” Chris said.

“What? Like me?” I responded with raised eyebrows.

“Well, no offense,” he said. “But you can tell because the things that really piss you off or excite you just become normal after a while.”

He meant it as an insult, and I took it as one. Chris is the kind of cynical that makes him see things only one way. It's wet or it's dry, it's Western or Eastern, it's good or it's bad. And to him, the number of people at the Great Wall, Chinese people who don't expect him to speak Chinese, and being labeled a newbie are all bad. He’s also married to a Chinese girl, fluent in the language, been here for seven years, and incredibly helpful.

The conversation moved quickly moved on. But I continued to think about what he meant and how I felt about it. After much inward deliberation, I decided that I like being a newbie.

I like being amazed every time I see the New York skyline. I like watching the Mississippi push tugboats from the roof of the Shaw center. And I like getting pissed off when the recycling guy wakes me up at six in the morning yelling for bottles in Chinese. I like wandering idly through Tiananmen Square thinking about that day in 1989. I like getting excited about communicating successfully in Chinese. I like everything about this place that is so different it’s unfathomable and so similar it's perplexing.

So I’m a newbie. And whether I’m here for six months or sixty years, I’m determined to remain a newbie.

Tags: Philosophy of travel

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