A Tourist in Your Own City

Experiencing some prime China shopping

I itched, scratched, and clawed at the opportunity to live in another country. Minnesota is so boring I thought. Dullsville. When I go abroad, my life will be filled with sounds blaring, scents fuming, and crazy, wild adventures with new friends that I will continuously speak about with old despite disinterest and maybe even protest. I won’t care. My life will be so interesting I’ll have to buy a new journal every month to keep up with the onslaught of ideas and revelations on what “culture” is and who I am as a human being, woman, American.

I’m in China now. I live in the northeast corner, snuggled next to Russia and Korea. There are a litany of things to do. The Great Wall is an hour away. I can get to Beijing and Shanghai on the fast train for cheap. There are night markets and street performances. My friends are people from China, US, Canada, Great Britain, among others. I have a vacation planned for Seoul in October and Bangkok in February. Chinese food is very, very good here (who knew?).

What did I do on Saturday?

I worked at my school all day, went grocery shopping, went to bed.

Sunday?

I worked again all day, napped, went to a bar, went to bed.

Monday, my day off?

I stayed in bed all afternoon. One of my four-year-old students wiped a booger on my arm and coughed in my ear. I’m either ill or hiding from another such encounter. I went to dinner at night and walked around the city with friends. Ate some Russian chocolate. Went to bed.

Last year, three Italian men came to my university for their study abroad. How interesting, I thought. Who would come from Milan to Minneapolis to freeze in a pile of snow? They made my girlfriends and I spaghetti carbonara and lamented about their grocery store experience. “Where’s the fresh-a pasta?” they wondered. Despite our food, they seemed to love America. They were enthralled by Minneapolis and posted Instagram photos in Vikings jerseys. They did activities around the city and braved the Mall of America.

The year prior, an Australian girl studied abroad at my university and joined the club volleyball team I was a part of. She told me Australians took travel very seriously and her parents urged her to wander, which explains why I believed every hostel in the world came with its own set of Australians. She was going ice climbing that night and told me it was less than a ten minute drive from campus. I had never known ice climbing was a real thing, no less a hop, skip, and sleigh ride away.

When I think about home, sometimes I forget about the days where I couldn’t believe my luck. Where I biked with a friend from craft brewery to craft brewery down elm-lined streets on a perfectly temperate July day. When my friend and I fought against blizzard winds to get fixin’s for nachos. When I hiked Lake Superior Trail and saw the past, present, and future settle across the great expanse of the Great Lake. Those were the days where I looked around, closed my eyes, and inhaled a deep, contented breath.

Everyone should travel. I’m experiencing the splendid, humbling discomfort of being away from home and barely speaking the local language. I eat rice with chopsticks one grain at a time. I’m stared at, pointed towards, and constantly wrong. I’m a stereotype of America whether I act like it or not.

I am finding out who I am as an American, woman, human being. Little by little I find my wall of expectations and preconceived notions crumbling into white chalky dust. I am a little raw, to be honest, and am the most self-aware I’ve ever been. This is good; this is why we travel. But to say that home is a place without self-discovery and adventure is wrong, dangerous even.

I want to do a cooking class here in Shenyang. My friend and I are going to search around today to find one. That’s the trick with cities. You can always stay in your home, apartment, hostel, hotel. Quiet rooms are universal. It’s the days where you choose to search, be it alone or with someone who adheres to your brand of thrill, that you may find what you’re looking for.