Laughing and Crying, a Fitting Chinese Idiom

Jake Knotek
June 26, 2019

哭笑不得 (in pinyin: kū xiào bù dé). This is a Chinese idiom, or chengyu, meaning that one is between laughter and tears. The Chinese use this idiom to describe a situation that is both funny and embarrassing, or an experience or movie that is dynamically happy and sad. My coworkers taught me this idiom yesterday, and there is no better description, even in English, that could describe my past week.

The other students and I started our internships last Wednesday. We were initially excited for and curious about our jobs. We longed for some type of routine after our first two weeks of adventure and chaos, something productive to do. The first couple days at my job were a mix of interesting and disappointing at the same time. Everything was new and exciting, but it also seemed a bit disorganized, and I was not assigned anything to do. I wanted a project or at least some task to keep myself busy for eight hours. This experience soon took a turn for the better, however. The team must have forgotten that I mentioned my SolidWorks capability in my interview, because they seemed surprised when I asked about it. They were impressed by how much I was able to do and assigned me different parts to create. Along with this, we all agreed it would be fun and beneficial to have daily meetings to teach each other our respective languages. So, together with another student who works with me, I create flashcards every day about various topics: hobbies, food, nature, basic conversation. These cards include the English word, Chinese word in both pinyin and characters, and an illustration. These conversations have been intriguing and fun, full of laughs and learning about each other. Today we discussed the Asian squat! I now feel closer with my coworkers and have something to look forward to each day at work. At the same time, though, I have to wake up at six in the morning for my 90-minute commute, and I don’t get home until seven at night. Again, 哭笑不得!

Recently I have started to develop my first real signs of homesickness as well. There are many things I take for granted at home, such as paying with a credit card, having fast WiFi and data, and easily accessing TV shows and movies through Comcast or Netflix. Most places here do not accept Visa, so I must withdrawal thousands of yuan every couple weeks at the ATM to fund my purchases. Any time a place accepts Visa, we jump with joy! Also, the WiFi and data are painfully slow, and China blocks all social media, Google, and most other sites I frequently use. I use my school’s VPN to access these sites, but it is often so slow that I give up. It is frustrating to load directions, search restaurants or tourist sites online, or order a DiDi. As President of my fraternity, I frequently need to view and respond to emails, fill out forms and applications, amongst other things—all of these require access to WiFi to load websites and download documents. You learn to find any possible way around such barriers when constantly faced with them, though. I learned that turning my data off and on will give me a short spurt of strong connection to load certain things, and I now make a list of things to do in my free time at work with its stronger WiFi. These barriers are nothing too serious, of course, and they do boost my creativity! But they definitely emphasize my developing homesickness as I see videos and pictures of what my friends and family are up to in America. Not to mention, I have been craving a Chipotle burrito for weeks now—it’ll probably be the first thing I eat upon my return.

To add laughter to the tears, we just toured the Great Wall of China this past weekend. Mountains are one of my favorite features of nature, and this trip full of vast mountains was one of the best experiences of my life. It incorporated beauty, thrill, food, and shopping for one unforgettable experience. On a 96 degree, sunny day, we took a ski lift to the top and trekked the steep inclines and stairs of this 13,000+ mile long wall for two hours, all the while taking pictures, panting, sweating, chugging water, and laughing. I wish I had more time to explore the side footpaths that weaved through the surrounding mountains. To get down, we rode toboggans down a windy chute with breathtaking views all around. I stalled at the beginning to allow a large gap between me and the next person and proceeded to plummet down the chute without braking, yielding some concerned yells from the work attendants. What a rush! To top this off, we enjoyed a turntable lunch with various cultural foods and explored the souvenir shops. When I returned to my hotel room later that night, I knocked out as soon as my face hit the pillow. This day was extraordinary and will stay with me until I die. Hopefully, one day I can return on my own to further explore this Wonder of the World.

According to another student, 哭笑不得 is a common feature of the fourth week. We have all been here for close to a month now, and while we are finally referring to our apartments as home, we are paradoxically experiencing more longing for home than ever before. I imagine waking up in my own bed, walking to get haircuts with my younger brother, going to Wawa to grab a hoagie for lunch with some friends, and finding silly, random things to do at night in my Philly suburb. Meanwhile, I navigate the streets of Shanghai more and more, discovering new things to fall in love with. I am sure the laughter will soon outweigh the tears.

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Jake Knotek

<p>I am a junior in the Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) program at Lehigh University, studying chemical engineering and finance. At school, I am the President of the Chi Phi Fraternity and enjoy participating in service opportunities, such as tutoring local middle schoolers or leading recruitment for Dance Marathon to raise money for CHOP. I also enjoy snowboarding and traveled to the breathtaking Stowe, Vermont this past Winter. I have a passion for nature and currently intend to focus on alternative energy with my ChE degree.</p>

2019 Summer 1, 2019 Summer 2
Home University:
Lehigh University
Glenside, PA
Engineering - General
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