Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: reflection

In and out of my comfort zone

While looking through the MiMe (now part of CeMi) members on the web site today I realized that a lot of my former colleagues stayed in the lab after they finished their PhD. This made me think of two things. First of all, would I have been able to stay if I wanted to? I guess that is based on the premise that there was a project I could have applied to and that they would want me to continue working there. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay in MiMe or Glasgow – in fact, I had gotten so used to that life that it was perhaps easier to stay if I had the choice. This leads to my second point – stepping out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t thought of this in-depth but I ask myself now: was coming to China stepping OUT OF or INTO my own comfort zone?

There was a transitional phase between my departure from Glasgow and arrival in China, and obviously the deciding factor was J (my fiancé), but China was constantly hovering at the back of my mind as I was struggling to make a decision, even before I met J. Thinking back, I owe myself a round of applause for not looking back on this important decision (though I often complain about the downsides of China), being assertive, and MAKING IT HAPPEN.

It is often tempting to stay in the comfort zone rather than venture into the unknown. The path may be foggy, and it will be difficult to see the way. It takes some courage to accept change. The fog won’t fade away, but you will learn to see with new eyes.

For a long time, I’ve had this confusing identity crisis where I feel like a mixed product between western (Canadian) and oriental (Chinese) culture. Still, I always felt like I could and would identify myself as Chinese, no matter where I am. In that sense, by coming to China, I was actually stepping INTO a zone of comfort – familiar language, good food, and physically looking like everyone else around me. At the same time, China has perhaps been much more of an anti-comfort zone for me, especially in terms of expectations, cultural norms and phenomena, work habits, weather, etc. I had expected the challenges and knew that it would not be easy living here, but I was less ready than I thought I was. It’s not about being capable or incapable of adapting to the new environment and lifestyle, but the struggle to resist assimilation into a person whom even I would despise, because of the influence of my environment – that is ultimately what I fear and want to avoid.

Several points emerge from this. The fact that I say this means that there are people around me whom I despise (perhaps unjustifiably), and I attribute this to the way they are due to cultural norms. I also place the majority of the blame on environmental and cultural influence, and even though it can be resisted, it takes the patience, stamina, and wisdom of a saint, which I do not have. I acknowledge completely that this is a hypocritical statement but my opinion remains. This also brings to light my inherent arrogance and lack of empathy, which are areas that I have to work on.

The entire experience so far has been a tug-of-war between me, myself, and I. Society, culture, and the world are not obliged to change for any one person, so I will have to continue adapting to, accommodating to, and accepting – with principle – even the things I cannot seem to comprehend. The conclusion? There is no real comfort or discomfort – the process of bettering oneself will always be filled with pain and tears, but it is also during those moments that I realize how lucky I am compared to most people, who may not even know the meaning of “comfort”. It is indeed as much a lesson of gratitude and satisfaction as it is of self-discipline and self-development.

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My stories 01: That time in San Francisco

From time to time I remember random bits and pieces from my trip to Boston, San Francisco, and Vancouver in 2017. Earlier, the walk by the waterfront near Fisherman’s Wharf flashed in my head, and the feelings were as prominent as ever. That evening, I took the ferry to Sausalito, but by the time I got there, it was already dark (around 6 pm in mid-November) and there wasn’t much to see. I ended up only staying for maybe an hour before heading back to San Francisco. Then I contemplated whether to walk from the ferry terminal to Pier 39 or take the bus or tram, and eventually decided to walk. It was not a short walk, but it was pleasant as I had the entire time all to myself. When I arrived at Pier 39 (I had originally wanted to skip going altogether because I thought it was probably overhyped), it was a lot quieter than I had expected, without many visitors. I guess that only made sense, as it was already what, 8:30 pm? 9 pm? I don’t remember. Many shops were closing for the evening and the buskers have called it a day – I heard there were buskers, at least. The place even felt a little desolate and melancholic but…I somehow enjoyed the atmosphere. Maybe that was how I already felt, and the environment merely reflected the state of my heart. After a brief wander, it was time to eat a late dinner. I again had to make a decision, this time between expensive fish and chips and the never-failing McDonald’s. Of course, I chose the latter…did that surprise you?! Finally, I took the tram from the wharf and went back to the hostel, ending an entire day spent alone. I don’t know why these scenes from that particularly ordinary evening surfaced in my memory, but it was one of those little moments where I felt completely content in spite of the melancholy, perhaps for no reason at all aside from the luxury of freedom and self-fulfillment.

A stroll by the waterfront near the San Francisco ferry terminal in the evening – dazzling urban lights always mesmerize and impress me!

All things beautiful

When life is less than ideal, I have to learn to look on the bright side, and I ought to know. Somehow I’ve forgotten to do this, and I blamed my environment for distorting my worldview of everything and killing my passion for all beautiful things, which is unfair. We are inclined to put the blame of our dissatisfaction on anything and everything but ourselves, and strangely, we feel justified to do so. Rarely do we look deep within our hearts and souls to dissect the root of our problems. Perhaps more sadly, we don’t admit it and fear having to change, and so we close both eyes and blindly conform to all that strangles us. Then I try to remember the little joys in life – the smell of sweet osmanthus in the breezy autumn air, that graceful butterfly that danced without a care, and the people who still choose to love and put up with me in spite of (not because of) who I am – and I steal a breath. I live not so that I would die – how good it is to be (still) alive!

Butterfly dating a flower in the Ma’an Hill Forest Park, September 22, 2018.

Where in the world is Annie?

Ummm…I haven’t updated the blog in more than three months. But I have my reasons (excuses). A lot has happened within the past three months, the most important event being…I moved (back) to China. Yes, moving as in relocating, settling down, and looking for a job in China. All to be with the man that I love the most in the entire world, after looking for him for 30 years.

Yes it sounds cheesy I know. I’ve somehow always known that if I get myself into a new relationship (and this is a very serious relationship), I would let the entire world know, especially after I’ve been single for 9 years after my previous and only romantic involvement. So far I’ve received nothing but blessings and happy wishes, and I’m grateful for the support from my friends and family, who encourage me to pursue happiness, even if it meant moving halfway around the world. And oh, it’s been tough getting all the logistics straightened out, but I’ll spare you the details. At least I’m in China now – that’s the first step, although I’m temporarily unemployed.

Then again, in some sense it’s not that bad because it’s almost like going “home” – back to the country where I was born. It’s strange how it worked out. My parents immigrated from China to Canada 22 years ago and I’m now going all the way back to where it began. Though not permanent, I anticipate staying here for at least 5 to 10 years. My heart has always been attached to this familiar yet mysterious land, and now that I finally get to immerse myself fully and experience the REAL China, I’m beyond excited. It’ll a brand new stage of life and a challenge for me, but at least…I won’t be facing it alone!

The forest-like campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, where I am temporarily staying.

So where EXACTLY am I? I was born in Guangzhou in the southern part of China but that’s not where I came back to. The answer is…*DRUM ROLLS*…WUHAN in the province of Hubei in south-central China. Even 6 months ago I wouldn’t haven’t imagine myself moving here but alas, here I am now, calling Wuhan my new home. What adventures await Annie in her days to come? Only time will tell…

Short travel reflection: Chinatown

“Chinatown” – a thought occurred to me as I was walking through San Francisco’s Chinatown, where I began to wonder what “locals” or “natives” of a city think of these ethnic communities. Do they seem out of place? Are they respected and appreciated as a place to connect with one’s roots, or are they frowned upon as a sign of the lack of integration/assimilation? Are the residents here (or the people who dwell here) still considered as foreigners?

These questions have never occurred to me especially because I live in Toronto, where Scarborough itself is like a sparse Chinatown with various Chinese communities. I was never too interested in or fascinated by Chinatowns until I saw the one in San Francisco and began to actually ponder the existence of such neighbourhoods. And why are they tourist attractions? I don’t really get it.

I sometimes think that it’s not that a group of people – say the Chinese – don’t want to integrate into society. It’s that when they try, they are not really accepted by the local or native communities. They don’t fit in, because they can’t fit in, and so they stick with their own kind. This is simply my speculation. I should consult a professional on East Asian studies on this matter.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the largest and most impressive in North America. (Photo taken on November 15, 2017.)

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