Monday, 19 September 2016

Extraverting China-wards

"Actually he lives in a mythological world, where men, animals, locomotives, houses, rivers, and mountains appear either as benevolent deities or as malevolent demons..."  --  Carl Jung, on the introverted sensation type.
"Rows of houses, all bearing down on me. I can feel their blue hands touching me. All these things into position, all this things will one day swallow whole..."  --  Radiohead, on Street Spirit. 

Eating dinner in Sichuan is an interesting experience. I almost invariably leave these meals sweating profusely, exhausted, and feeling a little bit violated. Sometimes, like tonight, I find it exhilarating and really enjoy it. Sometimes I don't.

In that respect, it's a lot like the Chinese experience in general so far. I can't make the same excuses as on my last try here 4 years ago, about the smogginess, and hostility or ridicule, or general stressed-out attitude or crowdedness. Chengdu kicks arse. But there's just so goddamn much of it. It's constantly, consistently, unavoidably and seemingly inherently overwhelming. A neverending flood of new information, that probably isn't actually either deities or demons, but it's constantly on the attack.

To backtrack (hopefully) briefly, I have become very excited about Jung's conception of personality and life in general. Basically, if I may summarise the expertise gained by reading two or three whole papers/speeches of his, there's our insides, containing our personalities and the dreamscapey collective unconscious, and there's our outside, containing what we generally call life - society and its conventions and institutions. Introverts can pass breezily through surreal associations and meaningless aesthetics and emotionality but get into a panic when other people and mainstream society and culture pop up - extraverts are the other way round. It's a bad system because being good at one is almost meaningless when you're completely stupid at the other, but trying to improve the one you suck at is a central part of growing as a person, as I understand it.

Enter China. I have a pet peeve about China, which actually seems to grow in its irritatingness as time goes by. It is when anybody tries to say anything about it at all. A major part of China's continuing appeal to me is its sheer uncategorizableness. Its collapsing of our everythings. It's stupid enough to try to generalize about a normal-sized nation or religion or economy or culture or governmental infrastructure; at least you have a sort of vague idea of the object of whatever nonsense you're spouting. China's just too big and moves too fast for there to even seem to be anything to be talking about in the first place. You need to respect it as not being what it isn't.

So I am really perfectly happy to avoid prediction and generalization and just consider China as a setting and language within which to try and keep up if we must and to try and retrospectively understand and learn; as is, in fact, the only suitable way to approach basically anything ever - but in China it's more glaring. But I cannot seem to be happy doing this with my actual boring, privileged, sheltered student life here.

I constantly get lost. Among roads, among words, among foods, among people, among bureaucracies. The regular, decidedly undramatic stuff. And everything invariably ends up okay, especially here, and even if you have been a complete idiot, but everything also remains invariably unpredictable. Today I learned that the four tones I've been struggling so much with in Standard Chinese are actually spoken in this region in four entirely different ways, basically being reshuffled just to confuse me. I think it's a life lesson.

There are two ways to react to being lost in the outside world. Two roads diverging in a yellow wood, if you will. The well-travelled, decidedly introverted one, would be to panic, because oh no it's going to be revealed to the world what an impostor I am and how truly and profoundly I suck at this. I guess the extraverted way would be to just take it in stride with no hesitation, so let's instead call it the introverted-balancing way - would remember that it only matters that you're lost if you're trying to get somewhere, and even then only if you're supposed to be there on time, and even then only if your attendance levels are reaching perilous levels, and they're really quite generous with those allowances.

Today, for example, in German class, this Iranian dude tells me (this is already a good story, how cool is my life?) that he's actually fluent in German and taking this for the easy credit, but it's useful to actually learn about the differences between the definite articles, because he'd always just use "das" for everything. My mind is still reeling a little bit from that one - how can you think of yourself as fluent in a language when you don't have its articles under control? And it reels nevertheless when I easily respond to myself that articles are fucking stupid and almost entirely useless even without gender sometimes-differentiation. I have taught enough English to know that this is the only way to become fluent - to just not give a shit about doing things wrong, but it continues to come as a surprise to me that it's actually done and actually works.

So today I'm being made to move dorms because of course so lemme try to take that as an opportunity to officially pronounce myself China's bitch and see what it plans to do with me.

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