Greetings Friends, Family and Strangers,
My name is Sam Cox 柯山慕 (pronounced Keh-Shaan-Moo in my new default tongue) and I am heading to Beijing to study at Minzu University. I was fortunate enough to be named Union College’s William Cady Stone Fellow this year, affording me the honor and responsibility of representing my school overseas for the duration of my junior year. The program is wholly immersive, both linguistically and culturally, and my nerves remain in healthy governance of my excitement. That being said, nothing frightens me more than the thought of being halfway through my time in China with only a smattering of Tumblr-post equivalents to show for myself. Heaving synonyms and selfies onto one post after a next, a Pollockian display of my cultural complacency, is not how I want to stake out a place for myself on the internet. Nor is it how I want to remember my time in a country so vastly different from my own. Instead of exposing – no, bludgeoning – my readers with a series of ‘look-Mom-I’m-serendipitously-bungee-jumping’ updates, I plan on simply sharing my most memorable anecdotes as they relate to my personal life and to events happening in the real world. How my purchasing a toothbrush might prove a sliver in a burgeoning trade war, or how my ogling at an objectively adorable infant might not have been the same under a recently discarded one-child policy. Imagine Hunter S. Thompson meets Rick Steves, save the ether and tourist traps. These are the things that will matter to me – I think – while I’m in China, and hopefully they will appeal to a few of you.
I definitely didn’t expect my sojourn to the far east to begin as it did. An eleventh hour dentist appointment and the extraordinary tooth pain that followed (think a molar giving birth to twin canines) landed me in the chair for an emergency root canal. Though it delayed my departure by a few days, the good news is that I got to hear all about my new Endodontist’s red wine fueled Labor Day Weekend and his kid’s earth-shattering little league performance as he inserted a human hair sized drill into my decaying tooth. Telling my new, jock dentist and his receptionists about my study abroad plans provided me with a sobering reminder that many people share a mistaken perception of China. When I told him Beijing was to be my home for the next year, he looked at me like I was about to slap my cool new dental dam over his mouth and go to town with the hair drill. Many Americans, I’ve found, allow themselves the privilege of thinking about the world’s most populous country in faraway terms, as if the People’s Republic doesn’t claim nearly half of our treasury bonds and daily newspaper headlines.
Today I am finally on my way to Beijing; the belly of the beast. I’m sitting in a cafe in Chicago right now, relishing the friendly company of a barista who decided to take a few minutes to ask me about my travels. This is my first time in this city, and it’s pouring. My summer spent working in New York City produced exactly zero interactions like this one. Part of me loves that for some cynical reason, but my more chummy half questions why that is. I suppose New Yorkers have a sterling social reputation to maintain. I wonder if Beijingers will be friendly to a Gweilo such as myself, like this midwestern coffee lady has been. Will find out, and report back, soon enough.
Word of the Day: Gweilo – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gweilo
p.s. – Chicago is pretty great. Finalizing my maiden post in the foreground of a community-sourced Keith Haring mural right now, which is being displayed (free of charge) in the Cultural Center downtown. Hit the superb Chicago Art Institute as well. Penultimate meal was a Chicago style Vienna hot dog, and my final supper was a slightly different Vienna sausage, 25 minutes after the first one. Tasty, and apt. Godspeed America.