It has been exactly four weeks since Xiao Yu, Xiao Bai, Xiao Jin, and Wei Wei arrived in this magical land of hotpot, spices, and strange aromas. During the first week, my senses were awash in all of the new sights, sounds, smells, customs, and of course language. Landing in a new place can be an invigorating experience. It can also be a disorienting experience. Yet as I’ve grappled with the changes, I’ve come to truly realize what Santiago in The Alchemist means when he talks about “A language of the world” – it is something that connects people separated by actions, perceptions, and the world as they have come to know it.
It has taken time, but I now feel that I am better able to communicate with people here in Anyue. I have learned to effectively pantomime what I need, and people here have learned to read my sign language. I have learned that children are inherently curious, and that a smile is universally understood. No matter what the barriers between us may be, somehow, we find a way to connect to that innate “humanness” that resides in each of us. At some point in time I began to feel that people all over the world are inherently the same.
As we look back at the last four weeks, we realize that there was so much uncertainty in our expectations. From the changing shape of the project scope we prepared for, to the surprises in the new working environment, the most useful preparation we made was to expect that everything we knew would change. From the moment we hit the ground, we have been in the midst of constant change. We prepared our work plan and had a set schedule within the first two days. We actually managed to follow it closely for nearly a whole week. But time is a fluid thing in China, and with each succeeding week, our timeline was in constant movement to meet the client’s needs. We hit a few big deliverable dates that had to be met. But outside of that, we have had to remain extremely flexible.
The most challenging bit of news came this past Tuesday, when we were casually informed over dinner that the client needed to move our final presentation up to two days earlier than in the work plan. By morning, that had moved again to three days early. And somehow we took it in stride. We huddled briefly together, touched base with our professor back in the states, and calmly nodded agreement. We’ve worked like dogs through the weekend to finish our presentation and written report. Come Monday, we’ll present our recommendations. And then we will have peace.
Through all of the different phases of this project, through all of the debating and battling over specific recommendations, through all of the cultural and environmental stresses, we have managed to carve something definite, something comprehensible and actionable, from the misshapen stone we held in our hands at the beginning. We have given the client an image of what their future success looks like, and a road map to get there.
Anyue itself has also gone from an unknown, mysterious place to one that is familiar, friendly. As each day came to an end, we were often exhausted, both physically and mentally. In this new place, we have been without our usual favorite restaurants/bars where we go to unwind. But we’ve managed to find our favorites where we can go to relax. Cat Lady’s Noodles behind the hotel where the cat wanders in and out of your legs waiting for scraps to fall. Rice Guy’s Sidewalk Cafe, serving up chao-fan, egg-tomato, and freedom beer. There’s even a place that serves a decent replica of pizza, if you really need a fix of bread and cheese. These new places provide a comfort zone in a town so far from home.
This trip thus far has been personally rewarding and challenging for me in many ways. Even as timelines were squeezed and the work became more challenging, I have enjoyed the opportunity to put the “global mindset” to test. The global mindset teaches us to be more accepting of different cultures and develop a comfort with being uncomfortable. It helps to understand and appreciate the world in all its diversity in a completely new way. In the midst of an ever-changing project, I have learned to appreciate this new corner of the world for all that it has to offer. But somehow I feel something missing. The global mindset teaches you to become more accustomed to change, but in my case, as I approach the end of this wonderful journey, I feel a sense of spiritual connection that makes it difficult to leave.