The last week of covid holidays

Things here change so quickly. The entire city is constantly under construction, the pace of life flowing seamlessly around ever shifting barriers and openings. I can’t number the times I’ve almost flipped my bike in a yet unleveled manhole, not to mention the time I re-broke my freshly broken toe on a newly placed construction barrier.

I am about to go back to work after months of unplanned, unscheduled, and unpaid time off. The staffing agency I work for and my school have both been silent the entire time. The school has had many demands of me, asking me to fill out an online form with my temperature, whereabouts, and covid testing status every day (we have to test every two days now), and pressing me to get my covid booster, which after multiple tries was a dead end (more on that), but have not communicated with me about anything other than their own needs.

This is what I have found in my first work experience in China. I will get phone calls and texts at 10 and 11pm that I am fully expected to answer, but the communication is sporadic and one sided. And when I do answer these calls, the caller hangs up. It was just to get my attention so I would text them back.

So, how do I know I’m going back to work? The shopkeeper downstairs, my Chinese tutor, a few taxi drivers, and news articles being shared in group chats all confirm the government’s school re-opening schedule. It marks kindergardens as opening on the 18th, which is next Monday. I wonder if anyone will message me to tell me to return to school. I wonder if no one tells me whether I should come in that day or not. There’s been many a day I’ve come in and school has been closed, the gates locked. Do I wake myself at an early hour to reward such blatant miscommunication?

I don’t know, honestly, what’s behind such a culture. I’ve thought about it many times before. Perhaps we are too much of a headache, these foreigners who don’t speak the language and don’t understand the procedures, to deal with. Perhaps the school thinks the agency is taking care of us, and the agency thinks the school is taking care of us, though both agency and school representatives are in our “foreign experts” group chat and no one is saying anything at all.

Perhaps it’s previous foreigners’ fault, too cocky, too entitled, coming in guns blazing, browbeating people and riding roughshod over cultural values. Perhaps I am paying for their sins. Perhaps I have done something personally to offend without knowing it to incur such callous indifference. My administrator at the school sends heart emojis along with her messages. I imagine these hearts filled with the gas they pumped into the hallways while we alone were in the building, floating through the network of cell phones holding our lives together, paper thin love pressed taught against resentments built over decades.

In other, much smaller news, I am caught in the tiniest most trivial love triangle and it would be funny if I didn’t actually care so much. There’s a boy, and a girl, and me.

I went out with the girl once, and she’s been blasting me with an energy of attachment that I cannot and will not meet. The day I met her, in fact, she messaged me to hug her when I saw her, hung on my arm the entire time, used my phone to take several hundred photos, got strangers to take pictures of us at every opportunity, and spoke in terms of our lives together from that point on. “You’ll take me to America with you, right?” Everything was 一起,一起,一起, and while part of me was excited about all this connection, the instantaneity and relentlessness of it was overwhelming. We had just met, she doesn’t even know me, and already I am her best friend, and I must take her on all my travels, and we must be together forever. I’ve never felt the need to push someone away as deeply before.

Now, the boy. I’ve written about the boy, but he really could be anyone. I’ve only seen him three times, I don’t know him all that well myself. It’s hard for me to differentiate the facts from my feelings, and maybe I shouldn’t. I like him, but I have to take a hard look at why that might be. I told him too much about myself too soon, an error in judgement on my part, but nothing I’m beating myself up about too badly. The facts are, though he reciprocates, he doesn’t reach out to me at all. This should speak for itself. I remind myself to only go where I am fully wanted, and not to dwell where I am merely tolerated.

The boy and the girl don’t know each other yet, but they soon will. I’ve invited a few friends to have dinner with me this week, and they are both coming. It’s for my birthday. She plied me with walls of texts, asking what gift I wanted. Nothing, I said, just come. It’s likely my last time seeing her, but I wanted to give her a chance, I don’t want to be callous, but more and more I am feeling I need to end things with her. She senses this, and has dropped hints in our text threads. After my birthday I will respond. I won’t ghost her, but these types of messages are hard for me to formulate in Chinese, so I have to think on it.

She promised to bring flowers. I feel helpless to stop her, but know she would just bring something even more showy and embarrassing if I denied her, and flowers can’t be that bad, right?

Now, the hypotenuse. The sharp stabbing thought that jolted me the other day. Is how I feel about her how he feels about me? I am certainly not plying this boy as thickly as I am being plied by this girl, but I can’t help but think about this push-pull dynamic I’ve so often found myself in. Why we as humans so often want what doesn’t want us. Let it go, I beg myself. There’s a billion people in this country, and only one me. I’m too important to myself to waste even a moment’s energy where I am not wanted.

I can learn a lesson from this girl, who I don’t hate, by the way. She’s me a few years ago. I know the hell of the bottomless need. I know what feeling unloved and unlovable is like, unwanted and unwantable, unworthy. I don’t feel this way anymore. I remind myself, even if I am alone the rest of my life, it will still be better than being with someone and being so insecure that you can’t trust they will want to stay with you for a moment longer.

Anyway, things change so quickly in China, new roads get paved, new relationships get built. Who’s to say what my social landscape will look like next week, and who will be in it. A pothole or two is bound to happen along the way. 没关系。

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