I forgot I was American. At least I didn’t feel American when I returned from China. I truly became Chinese. I’ve been back on U.S. soil for a month now and sometimes things are still really weird.
Leaving China was one of the most bittersweet things I’ve ever felt. By the end of my contract I was really fed up with everything about the job I had. I hated the place, I hated the people, I hated the company. Don’t get me wrong, it had it’s great moments and there’s parts that I loved, but by the end I was done. Especially when they tried to tell me I had to stay an extra month with no money, no passport, and no apartment. It’s no secret the job was not all I thought it would be, but China was so much more than I thought it would be. China truly became my home and I really miss living there. But I seem to be developing a pattern where I leave before I get too comfortable and start to feel stuck. I could have easily stuck out the job for another year and would have loved the chance to see more of Asia. But to me, that would have been the easy way out. It’s easy to stay in the routine you’ve set, it’s easy to stay in a job you hate, it’s easy to keep going back to that boy that treats you like crap, it’s easy to just stay where you are. What’s hard is moving on. It’s hard to realize you deserve better, it’s hard to take a chance, it’s hard to start over. So here I am, back in America, starting over. We grow up with the notion that starting over is bad. That you’re meant to go to school, grow up, pick a job, and that’s about it. Clearly I’m not too good at that, but I really don’t care anymore. I was seeing this boy in China and –actually that’s a story for another time– but what I learned from that was too many people, including myself, live a life based entirely on what other people will be happy about. And because of that we lose who we are and forget what we want. Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make people happy, but what I realized was that if you’re not also happy then what’s the point. Someone else’s beliefs should not dictate your own life. So what if your mom doesn’t want you to live in China (sorry mom), but if it’s gonna make you happy then she’ll get over it, and maybe she’ll come to visit. What i’m trying to say is do what will make you happy even if it’s not the easy choice. So I found when it came to deciding whether to renew or not I realized I wasn’t really happy there anymore, I was just comfortable there. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love China or the experience or my time there, it just means I knew it was time for another change.
Anyway, back to leaving China…so there I was crying in the taxi on the way to the airport wondering if I made the right choice to leave. My roommate and I had just lugged three big suitcases and a carry on down seven flights of stairs (this is when I realized I have way too much shit), it was raining, my realtor Bamboo didn’t show up to help me, and my taxi was late. It was the start of a typical “damn it China!” day. But sitting in the taxi I realized just how much I loved this country, even during the times I really hated it. It became the same conversation that ran through my head when I left America. Is this right or will I regret this? Throughout my return journey I noticed just how Chinese I had become and how I was clearly not fitting in with the rest of the ‘foreigners’. There was barely personal space when I stood behind the guy in line, I deeply sighed and pushed forward when I thought the line wasn’t moving fast enough, and I sucked my teeth when I checked the time. Talking to people was strange, or rather having people talk to me, and realizing a hearty grunt was no longer an appropriate response to “how are you?”. I also wasn’t reading signs in the airport. I was totally confused about where to go for my layover. I must have asked a million people where the heck I was. I guess I was so used to not having the ability to read Chinese that I didn’t even notice I could read again. Also, I became the foreigner that thinks all Americans look the same. I was staring at people! In China it was ok to be like ‘oh hey look another foreigner, lets watch and see where they’re going’. Yeah I was doing that. And forget about trying to deal with U.S. currency, I still can’t do it yet.
Fast forward a month and things are getting easier to adjust to. I’m still mesmerized by the bright blue sky of California and being able to see the sun, the moon, and even the stars! My vocabulary definitely shrunk in China and I still sometimes say ‘shenme’ instead of ‘what?’ but my English is slowly getting better. Also the food is just so much better here. Especially the endless supply of cheese in the fridge. Though I do miss my local rice place and late night street food cart, and hot pot. Man oh man, do I miss hot pot. But i’ve got to stop just darting into the streets and realize there’s a crosswalk for a reason. And I should probably stop using the ‘it’s more expensive to hit a foreigner so they’ll definitely stop for you’ mentality. Especially since there’s no mob of Chinese people surrounding me either. Part of me really misses weaving between mobs of Chinese people, dodging motorbikes on the sidewalk, and fighting for a seat on the metro.
Actually, there’s a list I’ve been keeping of things I miss about China. In no particular order here’s 31 things in honor of the 31 days I’ve been back -because that’s the kind of person I am.
- Hot pot and the dancing noodle man- the best Chinese dining experience you can have.
- Milk tea- forget the boba. Bring me a milk tea, big cup, no ice, with pudding. Xie Xie!
- Delivery – anything from McDonalds to a local street food cart, to hot pot, to coffee, to dumplings, to ice cream, to fruit, to milk tea, to noodles, to salad, etc. literally anything can be delivered to your door and it’s the most amazing thing in the world. Especially when it’s 105º and you refuse to leave your AC. **update: I just found out about this Uber eats business…but i’m still gonna rave about China’s delivery service.
- Allipay/WeChat Wallet – Paying for everything on your phone is the most amazing thing. There’s no need to carry cash, or even a wallet. Of course I always kept an emergency 10rmb in case the taxi driver was a few years behind the technology.
- The cost of living – Seriously I felt rich in China. I probably should have saved all the money I was making, but I would rather travel. And buy novelty purses.
- Cute adult things- It’s perfectly acceptable to be a grown woman in China with a giant teddy bear purse and a just as cute hair accessory.
- Quiet – besides the scooter horns, there isn’t much going on. You can realistically go the entire day without talking to anyone if you wanted to.
- Stress free living – No one bothers you. Besides the occasional Chinese person who attempts to speak English with you.
- Foreigner freedom- Not that we could get away with anything illegal, but just that they pretty much let you do whatever you want, because -well no one can tell you not to. And by this I mean cutting a line, or getting in the wrong ticket line and just standing there until they help you.
- The adorable children – No matter how annoying and uncontrollably bad they can be, they still love you so much and show you how much they love you often. Also shout out to the girl in my class named Elsa who wore her Elsa costume to every class.
- Mickey backpacks- God I wanted to steal one of those things so badly. They’re just so stinkin cute and I miss seeing them lined up on my classroom wall. Also my really cute classroom- and sorry new girl but I guarantee your decorations are not as good as mine. -Oh sorry did I really write that?
- People telling me I’m pretty – and not in the shallow, I need to be told I’m pretty constantly kind of way. In the – they genuinely think you’re so beautiful and they want to tell you – kind of way. Also it’s one of the only English phrases they know. “Wow, you’re so beautiful!” and then they run away giggling with their friend.
- The Chinese people- in general it’s just a really great culture. And I will miss them attempting to help you, even if they can’t speak english, when they see you’re struggling.
- The little bag your drinks come in so you can easily walk around with them.Especially when it’s 100º and your drink is literally melting in your hand.
- Tracy. Even though my job sucked almost all of the time, my learning partner was amazing. She is the kindest person you will ever meet in your life. She made the best of every situation and always went out of her way to make sure my job and life in China was easier.
- Actually I miss a lot of the Chinese staff at work. They’re just really great and I miss the daily conversations with each of them.
- The friends I made- especially the ones that were there for me when things got rough.
- People taking your picture- It’s a little strange and took a while to get used to, but I really miss the hilarity of someone sticking a phone in your face to snap a photo of the laowai they saw on the metro.
- Having a staring contest with the old man across from you. You know how when you catch someones eye you immediately look away as if you weren’t just staring at them? Yeah, that’s not a thing in China. In fact they will continue to stare at you even after you’ve caught them. They’re really not shy.
- Speaking Chinese- Or at least attempting to. I’m probably going to continue saying hao ke ai as long as I live.
- Taobao- the most amazing shopping app. It will show you things you didn’t know you needed and you will question how you lived without it.
- Embarrassing the Chinese couple that was just talking about you. There’s no word to describe the joy when you turn around and reply to the conversation they think you can’t understand.
- Feeling safe- I never felt threatened or scared. Even walking up the dark path to my apartment with the guy sleeping on the corner.
- The beauty of China- yeah the sky might be smoggy and will probably kill you, but the architecture is amazing. And those gardens -wow!
- Finding temples in the middle of the city- I will say this over and over and over again. Walking down the street in China is like – skyscraper, skyscraper, skyscraper, temple, skyscraper, skyscraper, garden, McDonalds, temple, skyscraper, skyscraper, Starbucks.
- MoBike- I freaking love bike sharing! Also I miss being able to bike everywhere.
- Bamboo randomly showing up- Bamboo was my sometimes inappropriate realtor that was everywhere at the same time. Also he had three phones…I don’t know.
- My apartment- or really my huge master bedroom. I just really loved my room, and the fact that I had a balcony and a bathroom and really didn’t need to leave the room if I didn’t want to. Though I’m fine without the seven flights of stairs it took to get there.
- My little rice place- and the cute girl that was there every single time I went and entertained my attempt to order in Chinese.
- Successfully guiding the taxi driver to your destination! That was always an exciting accomplishment.
- TRAVELING – and how cheap it was to travel throughout Asia. I miss my weekend trips to random places in Nanjing, or to cities around China. And all the countries I was lucky enough to visit while I was there. There’s still so much I want to see so I’ll probably be back.
It’s a unique experience to feel like a foreigner in your own country. I’m still trying to figure out how things work here and catch up on all that’s changed since i’ve been gone. Also I’ve sort of moved to California, so I get to continue exploring new places! But until then I’m probably going to keep talking about China. Special shout out to my grandparents who’ve had to deal with me interjecting *China* into literally every thing I’ve said for the past month. Also thanks for letting me eat all your food.
I would love to go back to visit China in the future. Until then I’ve got my ‘Oh, China’ moments to keep me company. And don’t worry I’ve still got more China travels to write about so you’re not done seeing those yet! Basically if you’re sick of me talking about China you should probably just stop being my friend. wo ai ni zhong guo!