White or Wheat?


So I’m in China, right?

One would imagine that would entail countless tales of a different life. Culture clash should at least account for the majority of the minority of my thoughts, right? I talk to the old folks at home and they want to hear about all the differences and my American expectations live on strong enough to push me to seek the stories I’m sure exist.

But they never quite materialize, and I’m trying to find out why.

Perhaps I’m just too lazy to document all the changes. In theory, my apartment has become a stronghold of American culture, buffered by the confines of the foreign experts dormitory and welcoming campus. Acculturation might occur more speedily and subtly than I suspected. China’s urban development could have camouflaged the unfamiliar in its cultural heritage.

I imagine there is some truth in all of those sentiments, and I am aware of enough cultural differences to satisfy those on both sides of the flight wanting information. But somehow I feel I’m not being schooled in the process of cultural observation and adaptation as I’d hoped to be.Invariably, one glaring cultural difference thrusts itself upon me—language. I cannot leave my dorm’s DCZ (De-Chinacized Zone) without being reminded that I don’t understand a key aspect of this society. Yet I continue to function and even thrive though practically a deaf-mute.

Which leads me to ask an important question: what is communication?

It’s an ironic question because, as a foreign language teacher, I teach all about communication. It is the theme of every lecture, the end-goal of every instructional activity. Yet I find myself unsure of its essential framework.The thought process (purged of my incessant excursuses) goes something like this: I’m walking down the street unable to verbally express a lone thought to passersby. Nor can they warn or inform me of vital knowledge. Yet this stroll feels no different from countless wanderings down countless American streets. My actions are the same. Aside from the fact that both I and those around me follow Chinese rules of visual interrogation—staring is acceptable here—there is no difference from such walks in my native land.

I’m wrong about something. I either fundamentally misunderstand communication and am, like all other humans, fluent in those primal communicative methods of facial expression and body language, as some would suggest, or err in my assumption that I communicate at home.

Either way, I’m learning. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to communicate what I’ve learned.

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