I’m travelling back from a vacation in Thailand. I was already in Thailand for a retreat, and stayed for some vacation. For the first day or two of my vacation, I struggled with how or if I would share this time with you. I thought about not sharing anything or just with a few close friends. I thought about only putting photos on Facebook. I decided to write about the struggle instead. Because it isn’t a struggle only when I’m on vacation. I have questions about what to share on social media when I’m at home (i.e. China), too. Do I tell the story of how frustrated I am by something that is so inefficient? Or my embarrassing cultural blunder? Do I share a photo of the view from my window when the air is bad?
Reputation and image has been part of society for years (case in point: many of the storylines on Downton Abbey), but social media has brought it back in new ways. Social media has created the need to curate your image online. Almost all of us do this. We don’t want unflattering photos or status updates floating around the internet. We show photos of our cleaned up newborns, not photos of labor. We all do it, and we should do it for a whole host of reasons.
And yet, I am feeling this pressure in new ways. So many of my friends and family — people who invest in me–only know my current life through my photos and stories. You’re depending on me to tell the story authentically. There’s no chance you’re going to show up on my doorstep unexpectedly and see real life (you are of course, welcome to come and see real life but it probably won’t be unexpected).
And it gets more complicated because we interpret images through our cultural conditioning. I’ve noticed this in sharing photos with people when I’m in North America. North Americans notice details in my photos of China that I don’t because it is just what China looks like. The photo below is one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken, but my general experience is Americans don’t get it. I love it because it is a quintessential old Chinese man, shuffling slowly down the street, wearing a Mao jacket and carrying a little stool. When he gets to his destination, he’ll unfold the stool and sit on it while he visits with friends. Without all those other observations I’ve found this photo loses its effectiveness (people usually have to ask what he’s carrying).
So I’m trying to figure out ways that will communicate clearly—in words and images—and be authentic. I want to share the joys and the sorrows with you. I want to share China with you in an authentic way, too. China is like any country—there are amazing things and less than amazing things. I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes or hold a giant venting session or show the country through rose colored glasses.
My recent vacation has brought these questions to the forefront of my brain. I was in Thailand in winter, which sounds pretty exotic to my frugal Midwestern self. And it was beautiful and great and I want to be able to share that joy with you. And at the same time you should know it isn’t as exotic as it sounds. Cost of living is fairly inexpensive in Thailand (although not as cheap as it used to be), so even though it is an international trip it probably isn’t more expensive than going to Florida from Michigan. And so I don’t want to feel guilty about this modest but exotic sounding vacation, and I want you to share my joy, too. So I’ve decided to share some photos and stories with you. Hopefully you will be able to share my joy at getting some time away to rest and be refreshed to continue life in China. And hopefully I’ll be able to share an accurate view of China (at least from my point of view), too.