Monday, December 17, 2012

Looking for Coffee

And then I found myself sitting in Marks and Spencer's* cafe, having a cappuccino and a lemon muffin, British music in the speakers, looking out over the buzzing and messy Shanghai streets. Having survived the first week in China without pretty much any coffee at all, I needed this break. Not only for the caffeine and pretty interior fix but to get back into my western easy-life bubble that I realized even more apparently now that I belong to. Having travelled to India and China the past month reminded me and accentuated my knowledge that I am among the few privileged people in this world. I can afford everything but also have a built in right to be here in this sub-part or upper-class area of the world that is Shanghai right now. I have never been ignorant of my own privilege as some westerners, even as an adult my thoughts frequently turn to how my particular situation would look from another person's perspective, in a less privileged situation. How would I deal with a limited set of resources that we take for granted, like electricity and water? How would I have known about infant care if all the information I had was from the other mothers in the village? (I'm not saying that China or India is specifically this, but exemplifying characteristics of 'less privileged' as I view it)  I knew what China looked like before going here, yet I was positively surprised about the infrastructure, the kindness of people and the availability of goods (and yes I mean availability in terms of affordability too, for the people who make a couple of dollars per day). But just as these people who live their life on limited resources and in a tight-knit community of settled cultural customs very foreign to me, just as they don't even dream of stepping inside Marks and Spencers, let alone having a cup of coffee, I find it difficult to walk around and immerse myself in their cultural customs, social structure and simply their neighborhoods. If I don't focus and keep my eyes and ears constantly open, people surprise me with their honking (tooting a horn here, and in India for that matter, means "I'm behind you, watch out" not "Get the h*** out of the way, you idiot" as in northern Europe and the US), they surprise me with their invitations into the shops and offend me by approaching me unsolicited. I constantly have to have an open mind and interpret little actions anew instead of going with my solidly established western social norms. And this is tiring. Exhausting. I am perfectly capable of having a week without coffee, I'm not addicted to the caffein. But I am addicted to my social culture just like most of the people here are settled into theirs.

The other cup of decent coffee I had in China

Tonight I will be flying to Taiwan for our last university visit and then I'm off home to Stockholm. I can't wait to see Zoe in Copenhagen on Friday where she will have been dropped off.

*Marks and Spencer's is the essential traditional solid middle class department store.

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