Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Three Phases

I have a theory that there are three phases to the experience of living overseas.

First, Novelty - a perpetual state of confusion and dislocation, yet coupled with a keen excitement at the constant challenge, the constant discovery.

Second, Familiarity - the 'comfort zone', the happy satisfaction of having found your feet, got to know your way around, overcome the initial difficulties.

Third, Ennui - you miss the bewilderment, the exploration of the early days; life has become too predictable, too much a matter of habit. Time to move on.

Yes, in fact it is exactly like the phases of a love affair. Discuss.

What saves so many of us from Phase 3 here in China, and especially in Beijing, is that things are changing at such a frantic pace. Favourite neighbourhoods disappear, sometimes seemingly overnight; huge new buildings sprout up almost as quickly; there is an astounding churn-rate of shops, bars, restaurants; and of people, too - most expats are only here for a year or two, fairly few for more than four or five. It's scarcely even possible to settle into the Phase 2 comfort zone for long before the ground has moved from under your feet.

It is both a curse and a blessing. This is a very demanding environment in which to live; but also an intensely stimulating one. That's why I'm still here after 5 years, and not making plans to move on any time soon.


Anonymous said...

Funny you should say that. I often think of each new city I move to as a new love affair.

For Beijing, I'm somewhere in between stage one and two. But as you say, the shifting nature of the city keeps me on my toes. I never quite reach stage two.

My fastest progression from Stage 1 to Stage 3... Initially I wanted to say it was my move to and away from Beaumont, Texas. But, on second thought, maybe it was my move to and away from Alexandria, Virginia.

In the case of Alexandria, it wasn't so much that life in general and the love of my life had become predictable as it was the realization that I would get dangerously close to crossing the sanity line if I were to continue with that life and that love. (And the reason why deserves its own Blog.)

Your command to discuss brought to mind SNL - "Discuss amongst yourselves".

Is Saturday Night Live popular in the UK? Do you know the "Deep Thoughts" section?

In high school, we would conclude each National Honor Society meeting with a Deep Thought by Jack Handy.

Froog said...

Saturday Night Live has never been shown in the UK. I only know it from re-runs (on Comedy Central, I guess) when I've been visiting the States.

Where I come from, the single word instruction 'Discuss' is commonly used on exam essay questions. Surely in America too?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps. I was always more the "take the test and forget it" type rather than the "take the test and fret about it" type. I rarely remembered the test questions an hour after taking the test.

my blessed selective memory protects me well. :)

but, if I really think about it, then, yes, you are right. But its obviously not what came to my mind first.

What about Daily Show - do you watch? have you seen?

Froog said...

When I am in America, I generally stay with the same old college friend in Old Town Alexandria. I have a few other friends to look up in that part of the world, too (like Caren, when she's not in China), but I stay with Tim and his wife.

I cannot afford America. I am always pitifully trying to make a few hundred dollars last me a couple of weeks or so. Therefore, I spend my time running (I run the Mt Vernon bike trail almost every day, and usually aim by the end of my stay, to run ONCE all the way to Mt Vernon and back again, which is pretty much a marathon), browsing in bookstores (there's a very good secondhand one on King, half a mile up the hill from the Metro), reading.... and "catching up" on TV (mostly Comedy Central and VH-1; and the early evening Simpsons almost every day). So, yes, I am familiar with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Anonymous said...

DC is a GREAT place to have no money. Granted, you are in Old Town Alexandria (btw, my short move to Alexandria was closer to Springfield, off of Hwy 95), but Old Town is just a metro ride away to all the free stuff going on in the city. And not that you bike, but it's also an easy bike ride - I assume that makes it an easy run into the city for you?

I could easily avoid spending money for entertainment when I lived in DC. Or at least, spent very little. Not that I have anything against Comedy Central and the Daily Show - but I definitely recommend more city-time next time you're there. During the summers, the Smithsonians run a series of cost-free cultural events... and there are others.

During much of my time there, I did not have a TV or if I did, I did not have cable - so when I'd go visit my aunt in suburban Conn. or family in suburban OK and TX, I'd spend hours soaking in the novelty of TV... just as well since outdoor activities in those parts are not as exciting as the city.