Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ugly and the Beautiful

I've been thinking about race and being a foreigner a lot lately. In Canada, when I was young, my father was an angry man who was very sensitive about any racial issue that he perceived against him. I can remember a couple of incidents where he'd yell at a Caucasian for some kind of injustice, or for being called “Chinese”. As I grew into an adult, the opportunities I was able to enjoy, plus the wave of immigration into my city, made me forget the issue. As far as I was concerned, being a woman of colour was not a big deal where I grew up.

Then I moved to Spain. Specifically, non-touristy Jaén. A very mono-cultural city. I think I've seen 10 Asians and a handful of African people since moving here. Coming from my multi-cultural city, it's a very isolating feeling, to be different amongst thousands. I've become hyperaware of how Asian I look. After a few incidents over the past year, I'll admit that lately I've been paranoid. When I enter conversation with a stranger, in the back of my mind I wonder how it will turn out: will they be welcoming? Or put on a grouchy expression and impatiently speak so quickly that I have to back out? When I am approached by a non-smiling person, I wonder: will they stare and keep walking? Or will this be the day I get cursed at? It's tiring to keep wondering about this. Plus it's morphing my mind into something I don't want to be burdened with.

If you try too hard to avoid the bad things, then you can't remember the good ones. The teacher who laughs at your jokes and encourages you. The nice guys who love your Rolling Stones shirt, and tell you about seeing them in concert in Madrid. The people who smile when you mention Canada, and say they really would like to visit it one day. The student who listens to your every word, and raises their hand to participate. The kids who shoot their hand up before you even finish your question, “Who wants to volunteer to read?” Seeing an Asian kid laughing with her Spanish schoolfriends. The shop owner who beams when you walk in, and asks about your week. The bus driver who loves to kid around and greet you in a funny way.

Really, what should I be focusing on? The negative moments only? Or the hundreds of good times that come to pass? My mind is a terrible thing; it tends to focus on bad things, for some reason. Perhaps reflecting on all that is good, and remembering that the beauty of it all includes both sides of the coin, can help reset my path.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jaén Impressions

Only two weeks in, so I'm still settling into my new city, Jaén. I feel discombobulated, but I remember I felt this way in Villacarrillo in October 2013, so poco a poco. First impressions:

-       Jaén really IS  a “big pueblo”, as they say. True, it's ten times the size of Vcar, but there are so many pueblo aspects: the empty streets on Sundays, people STARING, and not a lot of English (although the level is higher than in Vcar).
-        There are some 'bad' parts of town. For example, the “Poli”. 10 p.m. is basically the cutoff for a Canadian like me to walk around there.
-        One of my students asked if Asians eat cats. WTF. In reality, I smiled and said no. In my mind, I bodyslammed him.
-    High school students are not as bad as I'd thought. I came into this job with a sinking feeling in my stomach, but I changed my attitude and they're actually okay people. Except "cat boy" (see above).
-        About a week ago the rain started pouring almost every day. People are depressed, but I kind of like it because it reminds me of home. Terrible for the Jaén feria, though.
Jaén's opening parade for feria
-        Dog owners: you need to pick up after your dogs. Seriously. It's as bad here as the streets of Paloma, Italy. I get asked what I think of Jaén's monuments and I answer, “I don't know because I'm too busy LOOKING AT THE GROUND WHILE I WALK.”
-        There is a running track near my house, and at night it's lit with a few lights but crowded as hell. Moral: don't wear black. Other runners won't see you and you'll get bodyslammed.

Although I severely miss Vcar, I do see the advantages of living here: easy access to train travel and better Blablacar trips (putting “Villacarrillo” as my starting point didn't do me any favors); things to do on Sundays; gyms where women lift weights, a running track at night; and university classes. I'm still working on settling in, but I'm confident it won't take too long.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gracias Villacarrillo

I've moved out of Villacarrillo and skydived into the insanity of moving to the capital, Jaén. Amidst all the noise, traffic, people, and apartment renos, I find myself regressing into that special place in my heart for mi pueblo, Villacarrillo. I feel depressed.

And what better way to cure one's depression, than to wallow in it and pay homage to what ails thee?

Thank you, Villacarrillo.

Thank you for teaching me to be strong, by giving me an alien environment in which to grow and explore. This city girl fell in love with the tranquil lifestyle, the warm people, the cozy pubs, the streets that were empty during siesta and while stumbling home at 5 in the morning, the gorgeous stars that filled the sky as I walked home. I felt secure walking in your streets, although at first your people stared at me with eyes that pierced through the shield that surrounds me. Later those eyes transformed into smiling recognition as we exchanged “Adio'”.

In the beginning, I could barely ask for vegetables at the produce store. By the time I left, I was having long discussions that lasted deep into the night, even after the pub owners were mopping up the last of the discarded serviettes and pipa shells.

As they say, “You arrive crying and you leave crying.” The resistance I felt in my body my first few weeks in Villacarrillo turned into a connection. I met amazing people that reflected this side of the world, and some of them even carry me into the next phase of my journey.

I loved gathering with my friends in your pubs. I loved taking a slow walk from one place to another, stopping each time to talk, discuss, argue, and laugh before moving on – eventually – to the next gathering. I loved the affection I received from friends and acquaintances. When they greeted me, they were so warm I felt like I was the center of their world, even if it was just for a brief moment. Whenever I was in need, neighbours and friends stepped up to help, even if they were in need themselves. It made me want to adopt parts of their personality – warm, touching, smiling, generous, friendly, loving.

Even the things I didn't like, helped me become who I am. Unlike in Canada, where it's easy for me to feel one with the crowd, in Villacarrillo I learned to accept that in Jaén I am strange and unique, and I had to work harder at accepting that in order to feel comfortable.

During the noisiest times (loud pubs, la feria) I learned that I love peace and quiet, and I learned to create space during my day to honour that need.

I learned that dating is often very different here, and sometimes a single girl has to change up her technique in order to make any progress.

I learned that for any one person who chose not to accept me, there were 20 more ready to take their place and be my friend. The world is filled with much more good than bad.

Will you ever know how much you changed my life? I don't know if I could ever return the favor with the same ardour, but please know that there will always be a special place in my soul for mi pueblo.
View of the sierra from my bedroom.