In 2007, I went to China. Other than visits across the bridge to Canada — which do not count — the China trip was my first international experience. When I returned, after 9 days or so, I was fairly open about my response to China, or at least to my host city, Nanjing: unfavorable. I freely groaned when describing the air quality, the smell of certain streets (other streets were spotless — most of them, actually), the lack of air conditioning in the office building where we were stationed, the people who gawked at my circus-freak appearance.
I didn’t like China.
After a few months of owning this truth, I woke up to people’s reactions and realized that it is unfashionable to feel this way. It’s cool to enjoy China. It’s unenlightened not to enjoy China. Because I couldn’t get the many variations of duck meat past my gag reflex, I’m considered a closed-minded Midwesterner. I’m hopelessly American because I had assumed I’d be able to find a bag of potato chips and maybe a box of Cheerios in China (I could not). (And when you see cheese pizza on the room service menu of your “Westernized” hotel, lower your expectations.)
I’m a people pleaser, so in retrospect I kind of wish that I had not been so honest. When people gushed, “How was China?”, I should’ve said, “Amazing!” No harm in that. Instead of cringing when someone asked me if I’d like to go back someday, I might’ve exclaimed, “In a minute!” When anyone inquired about the food, I could’ve said, “Delicious!” But I didn’t. Because it wasn’t. And if you hear one of my colleagues say it was, she’s just trying to seem enlightened.