I want to learn French. I’m in China and I want to get better at French. How seriously I want to learn French, I cannot say. Most likely, this is symptomatic of procrastination: I’m in China so I should learn Chinese. I think back to my college days—crazy how I can say that now—when I had papers to write, or tests to study for, and I would decide that, rather than begin working on papers or studying for tests, my time would be better spent reading a new book, or organizing my room, or doing laundry. Still, my desire to improve on my French is helped by the fact that, even though I could talk to the waitresses in Spanish or English, and be equally misunderstood, I automatically think in French; none of those languages would actually help me order anything here, I just find myself resorting to French, for no reason.
Despite my lacking progress procuring even basic Chinese phrases, I’ve become fluent in other ways. Travel, for one, is now second nature. I can easily navigate Nanjing’s sophisticated metro system to and from every desired location, and now know the location of goods I either need or would like to buy at some point, either to increase my level of comfort, or as gifts. Here’s a quick example: I recently moved into an apartment by Xuezelu Station. First, a quick aside. The school where I work did provide housing on-campus, in a perfectly livable dorm fitted with ample storage space for my clothing, desks for my work, sufficient amenities for my comfort, like A/C, hot water, and a dryer—a rarity in China. What it didn’t provide, which I did not anticipate having the kind of effect it ultimately did have on me, was companionship. They didn’t give me a friend, which I know is a silly thing to ask for, but I could have honestly made due with someone who didn’t speak any English but did follow me around everywhere, like a Hodor type of figure. That would have been nice, especially for the piggyback rides. My acting skills are up to the task of translating my intentions, needs, and desires into workable phrases. Instead, I would retreat to my room, eventually emerge and struggle in a restaurant to order different meals, then return to my room, to a quiet space begging for noisy interruption; or maybe that was just me asking for some kind of noise.
Anyway, the school is by Jimingsi Station, on line 3. To get to my apartment, I have to take Jimingsi south to Daxinggong, and from Daxinggong transfer to Line 2, and stay on, heading east, until I get to Xuezelu, roughly half an hour later. Xuezelu is the tenth station from Daxinggong, and the fare from Jimingsi to Xuezelu is four yuan. To not feel, or be, so alone, I decided it would be better to room with two other guys who came to China as part of the same program that brought me, which meant I would be adding a 40-minute commute, since they lived closer to each other than to me. You may consider yourself a loner, you may even think you’d be perfectly fine with minimal human contact—and for all I know, you actually do match that description. If I was in the US, where I commanded the language and could stream distractions all day long, I would probably have been fine. But I was in a new country, listening to a language I didn’t understand—at this point, Chinese might as well be gibberish—and I didn’t know anyone. Oh, and the Wi-Fi was woefully inadequate for VPN use so I couldn’t access YouTube, let alone load basic websites like Bing. All of that compounded to create an incredibly isolating sensation in one of China’s most populated cities.
Doubly anyways, the apartment has been fitted with quite a few much-desired comforts, like basic kitchenware, such as plates, cups, pots and pans, and utensils. I found a French grocery store, Carrefour, that sells baguettes, so I’ll be spending the 7.60 yuan it costs to buy two baguettes. Should I ever need butter, Carrefour is also the only place I’ve found that carries butter—the Chinese, it seems, are not big believers in it. The local Chinese chain of supermarkets, Suguo, is sufficient for most everything else, as far as food is concerned and items for the house, but for anything a little more exotic, or for a different selection, IKEA doesn’t disappoint. Thankfully, neither do the prices. So if there’s anything else I’ve become fluent in, it’s living outside of home. This is the first time I’m on my own, and managing to do so in a different country I think should earn me some accolades. Having great roommates has, without a doubt, helped, not only for the companionship, but also for the noise.