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After a month here, I’m still a curiosity for so many people here in Suzhou. Today as I was walking to my parents’ store from my bus stop, I walked past a guy selling fruit on the street, and he started shouting at me that the fruit he was selling was “很好吃” (really good to eat) and that I should buy some. I told him “不要” (don’t want) and kept walking, and behind me I heard him laughing and repeating over and over to the woman with him, “不要,不要” Later, as I was sitting in my parents’ shop studying (yes, I do choose to spend my Friday nights that way, lol. I’m lame.), a man came in and did a double-take at me. He asked if I was Russian, which annoyed me because my last name gets me mistaken for Russian enough at home. Not that I have anything against Russians, of course; I’m just NOT RUSSIAN, lol. He then asked how old I am, and was very surprised when I answered instead of my host dad. The foreigner answering questions about herself gets them everytime. They freak out and go, “:O SHE UNDERSTANDS!” and then start laughing. I don’t really understand why; I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be just sitting in a side street store if I wasn’t studying the language.

Speaking of studying the language, I’ve gotten much better at listening and understanding. I can’t always get every detail of a conversation, but I can often pick out key words and figure out the main ideas of other people’s conversations by carefully watching and listening. I’m also growing more and more able to understand the television shows that my sisters watch; it helps that they put subtitles (yes, Chinese subtitles, though) at the bottom. I plan on getting the names of all the best shows here so I can try to find them online at home. I’m afraid that if I don’t, my listening abilities will regress a lot. I’m also proud of my slowly but steadily increasing speaking confidence. It’ll be interesting to see how many times I lapse into Chinese during my first week back in the US, especially since I’ll be starting up real school that week.

Public buses. You’re probably sick of hearing about them, but they’re a whole culture in themselves. Not only do people bring on interesting things (think back to the chicken I mentioned in an earlier post), but they also act interestingly. I’ve spent a lot of time on the bus, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time observing, and I’ve learned that it’s a no-no to sit directly next to a person (stranger) already there when it is possible to take a single seat or put a seat between the two of you. I’ve also learned that the bus drivers, especially the male bus drivers, drive very aggressively and as if it is their life goal to bring their buses to a complete stop as little as possible. If the driver sees that there is nobody waiting at a stop and there is nobody standing by the bus’s back door (and sometimes even if people ARE standing there), he shouts, “有没有下!?” (Is anyone getting off!?), and if he doesn’t receive an answer, he zooms on past the stop. Sometimes they don’t ask; they just slow down a little, and if nobody gets up or shouts and nobody at the stop moves, oh well, we’re not stopping. The drivers also like to drive away from a stop before all the new passengers are seated or have a hold on something, which is rather inconvenient for off-balance people like me. Sometimes (SOMETIMES) they’re nice enough to wait for elderly ladies, but not usually.

So, I’ve been thinking about what it’s going to be like when I return home, especially going right back into American high school. We’re supposed to have some sort of re-entry orientation or something like that our last week here, but no amount of orientation can remove the habits, tastes, and relationships I have developed and am still developing here. I’m going to miss my host family and the foods my host mom makes. I’m going to get funny looks in Chinese restaurants when I eat as if I was still here. I’m not going to know what to eat for snacks or buy to drink or what shoes I should wear to school, and I’m going to be rather confused as to why I’m not wearing flip-flops around the house. The air conditioning will be different. People won’t walk around in the sun with umbrellas or shout “WEI!?” (pronouned “way”) when they answer their phones, and their ringtones certainly won’t be famous Chinese pop songs. I can’t drive at home, and there are no buses, so I won’t be able to transport myself like I can now. I buy bubble tea here on a regular basis, but the nearest good bubble tea at home is half an hour away. My bed will be different, softer, and I may or may not be able to sleep on it right away. The list goes on and on, endlessly. Reverse culture shock, here I come!

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