Prepare for a rant ...
The tiny annoyances that I found amusing at first are now, every single one of them, unbearable. The smells from below the sidewalk, the pushiness of people, the general disorderliness. I am ready to leave all of it.
Although there is much I will miss about this year (mainly my students), there is plenty I won't miss. For one, I won't miss having cigarette smoke hanging in the air wherever I am. I won't miss the smell of beetlenut. I won't miss the early morning sound of my upstairs neighbor clearing his throat and then heaving a heavy wad of spit somewhere over my head. I won't miss bathrooms in China.
China is a developing country, I remind myself. Hygiene standards are obviously not what they are in the United States. But there are some things people can do to make life cleaner and healthier. (For example, babies can wear diapers and not piss and shit in the street.)
Recently a restaurant manager asked me when I thought China would catch up with America in development. We were talking about how quickly China was changing, with all the new buildings and roads.
"Do you think in thirty years?" he asked.
"Maybe," I said with fake optimism.
The truth of what I was thinking was that China could develop all it wanted, but there were still fundamental problems with human rights and the environment. Tall buildings and new highways do not alone make for a developed country.