Dispatches from the Road: The Surreal Life in Beijing

China, Dispatches from the Road — By on December 22, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Does traveling make you feel like you’re floating around on another planet–or more grounded on Earth than ever? That’s the question raised by this week’s Dispatches contributor, Maria Colina.

She’s been keeping her blog at www.lavacheespagnole.com since 2005 and used it as a way to record her adventures studying abroad in Seville, Spain. Since then she’s graduated from university and started teaching middle schoolers English in Shenzhen, China. She’s been in the country about five months months.

Maria’s not exactly a travel novice; she’s “been bouncing around the globe since I was a little tyke visiting family in Spain and being carted around, quite happily, to new homes in far off countries because of my father’s job.” She’s 23 now and hasn’t stopped yet.

Check out her Dispatch from the Road, below, then let us know if traveling makes you feel more connected–or out of this world.


Sensational Overload

“Does anybody get the feeling sometimes that you’ve died and this is the afterlife?”

Six of us were sitting at a table in a restaurant that we had to ourselves. It was a restaurant that looked out into the glaringly-lit mall that was, at the time, strangely empty. Jess’s question was interesting. Our surroundings had a surreal quality to them and they could be seen as a reflection of our entire experience in China thus far. Our isolation and separateness. How unaccustomed we are to all the ways here. The strange situations we find ourselves in every day, whether because we don’t speak the language or simply because our faces brand us as different from the very start.

There was a slight pause after her question and then I admitted that I actually felt the opposite. That being in China has almost reaffirmed the fact that I am alive. It was a notion that I had been mulling over for a while.

China is so very different from all that I know, that suddenly everything acquires a weightier significance. What you took for granted back home – and I took most of it for granted – becomes profoundly important. You order the beef noodles and actually get beef noodles, it’s a big deal. You buy vegetables at the local grocery store, it’s an amazing accomplishment. You get on a bus that takes you exactly where you wanted to go, that’s huge!

Every mundane sensation is felt with a more acute perception. Sleeping is so much more intense. You actually taste the food you are eating because half the time you have no idea what you are putting in your mouth. You are suddenly incredibly aware of how you walk down the street because people are staring at you as though they’ve never seen a westerner in real life. And who knows? Maybe they haven’t. The streets are full of strange and unusual smells and every day in this country is a feast for the eyes.

I have come to China and all of a sudden my senses have been besieged by the wondrous and new. Yes, my life here does seem surreal at times, but what I feel every day is so very real that there is no way that this the afterlife and I am most definitely alive.

–Marina Colina

(Photo: Maria Colina at the Forbidden City in Beijing)

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    1 Comment

  • The Old-Timer says:

    Congratulations for making the same banal observations that every foreigner makes upon coming to China.

    For your next post, write a piece about how you bought something, only to have it turn out to be different when you opened the package. Green tea flavored toothpaste that you thought was green mint, something in that vein. Tread on the well-worn path of every self-absorbed blogging English teacher.