Finding a new outfit at a cheap retail store, buying sheets for a new apartment, grabbing a bottle of water on the run: all typical white girl activities, now elevated and satirized by the hashtage #whitegirlproblems, or more inclusive #firstworldproblems. They’re usually hilarious and sometimes even enlightening, encouraging me to look at my immediate problem with new, humbler eyes.
Being in China has changed this.
Buying a new, cheaply made outfit, sheets or bottle of water has real ramifications, and now they happen in the country I live in. Living in China has entirely changed the books and news stories I seek, and what I’m reading terrifies me. Cheap clothes are the product of poisoned rivers. Plastic water bottles pollute China at both ends of their life cycle: production and recycling. Sure, it’s not in my neighborhood, not in my current city.
I catch glimpses of it — the sickening, synthetic smell that hits you and leaves you with the strange, distinct feeling that these odors cause cancer and tumors. I see deformities in open view — from the hopelessly disfigured beggars to a misshapen ear on a policeman. As anecdotal as my personal evidence is, it’s too many examples for me to push the idea out of my mind.
I type this in the dark of my bedroom, far past my bedtime, because I can’t sleep. I moved into this room yesterday. I haven’t bought proper sheets yet, because I feel paralized. Why do I need to consume new things when I’m quite certain there are plenty of sheets in the world already?
This is changing my opinions, from recycling to adoption….
The next evening, I break down and go to IKEA, but I can’t shake these feelings of helplessness. I know there’s no answer, but I feel that in my struggle, something good may arise.