I was sitting in the backseat of the car, listening to my friends debate about how to get to an ice cream shop. We were on vacation at the time, in a tiny Michigan town that made you U-turn instead of turning left on the main street, actively driving at the time and I knew exactly what we needed to do to find the street. I said it once and neither of my friends responded. I said it again and one of them turned around and told me I was wrong. I sat back, still pretty sure I was right, but not willing to argue, not sure enough of myself to make my opinion heard.
My Beijing roommate and I were sitting in our new apartment debating how to get to our subway stations in the morning. We’d wandered a bit a few hours before, and gotten lost enough that we’d had to ask for directions (more than a little complicated when neither of us speak the language), but now I was sure. I knew exactly how to get to my station, and I knew exactly how to get to hers. She argued with me a few times. She told me she knew how to get to her station and then gave me directions that I knew were wrong.
But I’m here to learn to stand up and speak my opinion (among other things), and so I did. I told her how to get to her station and then we decided to take a walk and make sure we knew what to do in the morning. I showed her my way, and we realized I had figured out the shortest possible route to the train station.
I’m more sure of myself here. I’m not sure why. I don’t speak the language, at least not well. I can’t read the language at all, not even enough to make educated guesses about what things mean. I can recognize the kanji for man and RMB, but that’s not really that helpful in figuring out how to function. And yet I’m very sure of myself here. I stand up for myself and I don’t let people take advantage of me. When I’m annoyed, I use my words and I tell the person I’m annoyed at instead of just brushing it off as me being unreasonable.
I feel very at home in Beijing and while I have reasons to go back to Chicago in a year, reasons that are quite powerful in fact, if that’s what I do, I want to bring this new certainty with me, the ability to stand up for myself and make my opinion heard.