A reflection

This blog took me a long time to write and it was especially difficult to write. Every time I sat down at my computer, I found it impossible to capture all that I had experienced and learned in the last three months. I just couldn't find the right words or couldn't decide what needed to be highlighted. I had written a version meditating on notions of home, and a version more specific to the project I was there to do. None of it felt good, or right. Even still, this version that I am writing right now makes me slightly uncomfortable in how sloppy and imperfect it is. But I am accepting that I am not a perfect writer, perhaps not even a good writer, and I will just have to bite my tongue and put out there what I have.

      I wouldn't say my time in China has been life changing, at least not the spectacular type of life changing that one often fantasizes about before taking on something big and exciting. If I had to describe it as life changing, it would be the type where I perhaps don't realize or appreciate the change until years down the road. What I can say for now is that it was eye opening, educational, and at times challenging. Challenges, struggle, and failure are all good lessons in the end, but in the middle of going through them, it often just feels like repeatedly walking into a wall. I definitely walked into more walls than I had imagined I would during my trip. As much as I learned about what it was like to lead a "normal" day-to-day life in China—a thing I haven't experienced since I was seven years old—I also learned about how I handle tough situations, and my work ethic when there aren't any outside pressure. I learned that while the stimulation of new people and new places is definitely inspiring to a degree, the way you approach any project, any place, any situation, is ultimately informed by your own attitude, habits, and world view. So the excuse that you must go somewhere different to make good work is nothing but that; an excuse.

      There's no doubt that China is very different from Canada, and there is such a variety of different people, dialects, traditions, and cultures within China itself as you go from province to province, even city to city. There were many things I was not used to and didn't understand. Many cultural and political nuances that I didn’t know how to navigate. And as much as it was interesting to dig deeper into those oddities and injustices, I also saw that on an individual level, people simply wanted to be happy, to be safe, and to be accepted within their families and communities, just like anywhere else.

      I think there are many over-simplified perceptions about China and its people; it is either a high-tech, economically innovative super power, or it is an oppressive, fascist regime with many ugly secrets. In some ways, it is all of those things and much more. It is multi-dimensional, with both ugly and beautiful parts. People work very hard to strive for a fulfilling life for themselves and their families, and with China's political and social systems, it is often a struggle for the vast majority of people to fulfill both their social/societal obligations, as well as their obligations to personal principles. I realize now how easy it is for your beliefs to be shaped by the culture around you, and it makes me reflect upon the degree in which my own beliefs are shaped by growing up in Canada. Wherever you are from, it takes great courage, introspection, and discomfort to decide for yourself what your beliefs are, especially when they may differ from that of your family, peers, and/or community.

      It is a vastly complicated thing, how a society functions with the written and unwritten rules that it adopts, which leads to an even more complicated and delicate process to change those rules when they've been ingrained for decades or centuries. Being connected, yet unfamiliar with such a different society than what I'm used to has only deepened my empathy towards people of all kinds, and drives me to tell stories that truthfully represents life's complexities, with a focus on the things that are universal among us.

      I'm sure the fruits of my travels this time around will continue to prosper as time goes on, and as I start to edit the materials I've collected for my project. Sometimes when it's the "end" of anything, it's scary to sit back, take a sigh, and jump in to the next thing. My tendency is to worry that I've not done enough. I didn't take enough risks, didn't shoot enough rolls, didn't challenge myself enough. But in moments like this I remind myself to relax, enjoy the process, and that no accomplishment comes without struggle. I just need to feel that anxious, uncomfortable, constricting, and turning feeling at the pit of my stomach, and pretend that it is excitement.

 
 Me and Dad at the Bell Tower in Xi'an, 1995

Me and Dad at the Bell Tower in Xi'an, 1995

 
 Me at the Bell Tower in Xi'an, 2017

Me at the Bell Tower in Xi'an, 2017