A New Equilibrium

One of my long-time concerns, especially since having children, is establishing a “balanced” life. One often thinks of balance in terms of dichotomies (e.g. work/family) when in fact balance is really a multi-dimensional, not a two-dimensional, thing. Where will I live, what type of department will I work in, what kind of parent (friend, person) will I be, what other activities will engage my time, how involved will I be with my community/extended family, etc? Balance cannot exist a priori but instead shifts with the conditions. Imagine an old sailor’s hammock. The sailor slept more comfortably because the hammock swayed with the swells tossing the ship. If your bed was fixed, you might likely find yourself tossed out when the seas were rough (this is not to say that doesn’t happen with a hammock, just not as easily or often).

What I mean is, it seems to me that an intelligent person recognizes that things move and does their best to adjust and stay flexible and help others do the same.

When things are going well here, I feel perfectly content. Sure it isn’t home and I don’t anticipate feeling the desire to relocate to GZ permanently, but we’ve got a nice little set-up and are having an invaluable experience. Moreover, I’ve lived in places in the U.S. I felt exactly the same way about – fine, but not home. Most of my time here I am feeling well. When things don’t go smoothly or I am feeling impatient and unsettled, I project my angst in such a way that it colors the whole of my current situation. In fact, what is really going on in those situations is that I am not being flexible enough – clinging to ideas, plans, tastes, and manners that belong to another setting. I need to shift.

In some ways we have already changed our behavior. Food is one area. While in the U.S. we did our best to be localvores and purchased primarily unprocessed, and minimally processed and packaged food such as bulk dried beans and grains as well as fresh fruit and vegetables from our favorite local farms. We even attempted to use primarily local honey, sunflower oil, cider vinegar, and maple syrup/sugar. I really miss my cupboard full of variously labeled canning jars full of local and bulk ingredients. Until my dissertation consumed most of my time over the summer, the children’s snacks reflected the offerings in the house – consisting of fresh local fruit, local cheese or plain yogurt, and homemade crackers or granola bars. Everything was organic and if it wasn’t certified we have talked to the farm to find out what their practices are with regard to pesticide application.

Here in China, things are completely different. Instead of buying at the market, we do most of our shopping at the neighborhood “Mega Store” where we buy prepackaged organic vegetables and imported fruit because there we have a modicum more faith in the cleanliness of the food. Fortunately, we have been able to keep up a diet that includes lots of dried beans and grains. Here our children occassionally get raisins and prunes – Sun Maid and Dole dried fruit that we would never buy at home. We try to keep their snacks healthy but a host of industrial and industrial organic junk foods (snack crackers, candy in diguise as fruit, and sweetened, flavored dannon yogurt) make their way into the line-up.

I think we are doing what we need to do in this place. All the same, it will be so wonderful to get back to Vermont and to food the way we do it there.

Another shift has been in terms of television. Our children rarely watch television (although they are allowed when we are staying at a hotel and we had a couple of Chinese language programs they watched occassionally last summer). However, here in GZ we have decided to allow the children a little television from time to time in Chinese over the weekend. Part of the rationale was that this would help with language acquisition on days when they are not getting any immersion and the other part is that we live in a smallish apartment with no yard and the days can get a little long. I must admit that I still don’t feel good about the TV. I really hate the blank expressions and glazed looks they wear when it is on. All the same, this past weekend, Jie Jie heard several words that she already knew and seemed a bit emboldened to try them out herself once she heard them coming from the Princesses on the screen.

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