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Monday, 30 June 2014

Self-Discovery in Beijing

Written by Alec Siegel
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The lights of the approaching subway grow brighter as it nears the platform. X is wearing his favorite T-shirt: a bust of Bruce Springsteen performing on stage with his name printed across the front, and a pair of Blue jeans. The doors open slowly, and he enters the subway car, immediately spotting an open seat and sitting down. It’s a bit of a ride to the office, so X decides to use his commute to get some work done. X has only been in this town for a few months, a foreign land with a foreign people and culture. 


Where he comes from, kids wear diapers and play with Legos. In this land, kids lack siblings and mostly play with their grandparents. X pulls out a sheet of paper. On it is a written language that is one of many spoken here. It’s a strange language, one with little images in place of an alphabet. The man to X’s left is curious of this foreigner studying his language. X furiously erases a mark on his paper and nibbles on the eraser of his pencil, stuck on a particularly difficult problem. He glances up, and scans the people who occupy the car along with him. Almost all are looking at him. If not directly, their eyes dart around over him, just checking to make sure this creature with a high bridged nose and curly hair is still in his place. 


X simply can’t work out this problem on his own, so he decides reach out to the gawking natives. X looks to his left, and meets the eyes of the stranger who was studying him moments ago. “Excuse me, what is the meaning of this character?” X asks in the stranger’s native dialect. The stranger’s stern response and pursed lips don’t quite hide the excitement dancing in his black eyes. After assisting X with his work, the man asks who is he, where does he come from? They talk for a good while, right up until X arrives at his stop. He’s elated. He just utilized the skills he’s been learning in an insulated classroom for years in the real, breathing world. He made a real connection with a complete stranger who grew up speaking a different language than him, watching different TV shows, eating different things, and that is something he will never forget.



Meanwhile, Y is already at the office. He’s twirling in his chair and snacking on peanuts. He has absolutely nothing to do but Wikipedia irrelevant things like the history of the peanut, and quietly observe his co-workers as they labor away at their computers. Time passes slower than the bus did on his way to work earlier that morning. He mindlessly scrolls through the web page while listening to Bob Dylan, an artist who sings of the loneliness he’s been experiencing since he took this job. He’s always at arms length, not quite capable of communicating in a meaningful way with his co-workers, and he feels like he’s just a nuisance. 


An hour or so later, after multiple lower back spasms and the end of the Dylan album, he gets up, eager to assist someone in something, anything to save him from the monotony. His boss is at her cubicle, oblivious to Y’s current lack of activity and frustration. He approaches Joanna, hoping for a savior. She says, in her native tongue, the one that Y just butchered in asking her if she needs a hand, that she’s fine. No help is needed. Before he returns to his cubicle, he quickly glances at Joanna’s computer screen, which has an instant messaging app up over her background of cats. He sighs and sits back down. 


Y is a doer. He appreciates the laidback vibe of his workplace, but would like more structure. He’d like to have more to do than bother co-workers and study peanuts. It seems to Y that unlike back home, where work is done efficiently and effectively, companies in this place generally do things just to satisfy a higher authority. As Y’s reflecting on the lack of structure and general boredom he’s experienced thus far at his new job, X walks through the door. 


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Last modified on Tuesday, 01 July 2014

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