“My” China is not that of so many a visitor to or expat in that country.
I have not lived there for so long, took quite a long time before I finally went and stayed, but then it was neither the Beijing or Shanghai (or other large city) of most tourists and expats where I found myself.
It was Xiangtan, Hunan, where I lived and worked for three years (with only a month’s each interruption in Beijing and Shanghai and, more recently, another 6 months in Beijing).
With the woman I got to know and love there, and everywhere, I have made it even deeper into the country, to stays with her parents in her home town of Jiubujiang.
Where that is? Here:
It’s the China of old stories in rural settings, a China where a foreigner is still a strange sight – and also the China where many migrants working in coastal factories come from (or have returned to) and where development is also starting to both take its toll and bring improvements.
There used to be “only” rice fields here, now it’s meant to become a tourist village…
(If one wants to delve deeper, it is also the China where many revolutionaries and generals came from, not least Mao Zedong himself – and fittingly for my interests, many people like to blame the Hunanese penchant for the chile pepper for all that martial prowess and revolutionary / “red” zeal ;)
So, being there in China is another situation where I am “adventuring”. And making myself at home.
Admittedly, “adventuring” there is different from doing so when in Austria.
I grew up in Austria, after all.
Therefore, it takes somewhat more special things to be thrown out of a routine and into the spirit of “something else” that makes the ordinary less usual and more eye-catching.
In China, just living with the parents-in-law, going for walks, accompanying the mother-in-law on the local market, having fun going for a swim in the local reservoir-lake (which is increasingly being turned into a tourist attraction), is somewhat adventurous.
Swimming in the reservoir lake of Jiubujiang… This is right below a sign saying “The lake is large, the water is deep… No swimming!” ;)
But, it is also an at-home-making, trying to get to really know the place and live there, not just be the tourist who sees nothing but the most noteworthy and most strongly promoted attractions.
This is easier to realize you need, and to do, when you go somewhere other than “home”.
In fact, I may have noticed that whole problem-we-don’t-know-we-have of our need to make ourselves at home (rather than think that “home” is something we naturally have and get to and then know everything about, merely through our familiarity with it) because I went somewhere else for long enough.
It is only too easy, though, to remain superficially “touristy” both at home and somewhere else.
If you want to become at home in this life, in the places you are, in this world, you’ll have to make yourself at home. Educate yourself, explore, experience.
It’s worth it.