Monday, August 24, 2015

China: What I'll miss about you

As of last week the date is set and flight is booked, the flight that will take me back to the US. . . permanently. The reality of the situation hasn't fully hit me yet. In truth, I've been desperate to move back to my home country for awhile, since William was born or perhaps even before. It's hard to remember exactly.

I know returning will be challenging. I've read blogs about it. I've had friends who have done it, who shared their stories of reverse culture shock, their struggles to reestablish themselves in a place that is familiar yet. . . yet not. After being away for awhile, the place you once knew so well, the place you may have called home most of your life, seems a bit foreign.

With the exception of my time in college, my entire adult life has been spent in China. Ten years. And now it's quickly coming to a close and I don't know how to feel about it. I want to enjoy my last weeks here, while at the same time just wanting them to be over with. I am ready, so ready, to move on with my life. But I know I will one day, perhaps one day very soon, I will miss China. I once wrote a post detailing the reasons I want to leave, but today I will write about what I will miss, reasons that I may have liked to stay.

always something going on on the sidewalk
1. The hustle and bustle (or what is known in Chinese as rènào) 
Chinese people love rènào and many of those who come to settle in the US lament on how quite and empty it can be. Even when I visit downtown Chicago, I am taken aback by how little is going on during the (work)day. Sometimes I struggle with crowds and noise that comes with living in China, but I think I've come to appreciate it in some ways.

 2. Attitudes toward cross-race marriage and biracial children
Compared to many countries, China is incredibly accepting of mixed race couples and children. That's not to say some people don't take issue with it, especially when it occurs withing their own family, but I think Chinese society as a whole is more open to it than Americans. Thanks to our little "mixed blood" ("hùnxuě" as biracial people are usually called in Chinese), we face a constant barrage of admirers whenever we are out and about. While it can be overwhelming, it is also sweet that people take a positive interest in our cross-culturally family.  P.S. Check out Ruby Ronin, who writes an enlightening post about her experiences as a biracial woman living in both Japan and China.

local small business
3. Endless possibility
If you are business-minded (I'm not, though getting better), China is ripe with opportunity. This is the place where rags to riches stories happen, where a good idea or the right connections can turn you into a millionaire overnight. With the rise of the Chinese middle class, there's also a market for many items and services that could only cater to a niche market a decade ago. In Chengde, western-style cafes and photography studios are popping up everywhere. Locals are taking an interest in foreign foods. Everyone with even the smallest amount of disposable income is planning a vacation. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, this is the place to be. I may have tapped into that side of my personality a little late, but perhaps there could still be another business venture in my future....

4. Language
While I sometimes missing the ease of being surrounded by my native tongue, I have totally fallen in love with Mandarin. Sometimes while looking walking home, I look around and marvel at all the Chinese characters that surround me--a system of writing that once seemed so exotic, so impossible to learn. The fact that I can now read it still surprises me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would study Chinese. I don't know if I could have ever succeeded without being totally immersed in the language and I don't know how I will continue (my life long goal of fluency) being away from it.

Jiuzhaigou, China 2013
5. Travel
Of course, my love of travel is what brought me to China in the first place. For those who love adventure, Asia is a great place to be. It's diverse and generally very affordable. I am sad that I may never again visit southeast Asia and disappointed that I never made it to Nepal or Korea. But I did make it to many other wonderful places. Some of my favorites include my fist solo trip within China, to Guilin and Yangshuo in 2005. I also (in hindsight) loved the very intense trip I took to India in 2010 and my crazy adventures in Sumatra a few years ago. Next frontier? North (and one day South) America. This fall I am planning to visit friends in Texas and New Jersey.

6. Safety
Safety means different things to different people. The kind of safety I'm talking about is the ability to walk down the street alone after dusk as a woman. I have that in China. While the ability to cross the street without the fear of getting rundown by an Audi still alludes me, I've long come to terms that I may meet my maker under the wheels of a speeding Chinese motorist. With only three weeks in China left, it seems I may make it out of the country unscathed. Fingers crossed.

7. Food
my m-i-l making dumplings
Chinese people are incredibly proud of their cuisine and tout it as the most diverse in the world. Let me let you in on a little secret: Chinese food is actually not my favorite. While American food holds a lackluster reputation internationally, I swear we are not all Big Macs and hot dogs. You can find a variety of cuisines pretty much anywhere in the US and in larger cities, your options are endless and often very authentic. Unfortunately, I've had pretty crappy luck finding decent Chinese restaurants in my hometown and even the good one (tipping my hat to you Emperor of China) is nothing like what we'd eat in China. I'll miss zongzi and Peking duck. I'll crave shuǐ zhǔ ròupiàn real kungpao chicken. But at least both my husband and I are able to cook many popular Chinese dishes and my mother-in-law makes excellent dumplings.

Have you ever missed the things you left behind when moving from one place to another? How did you cope?



Anonymous said...

Yayyy!!! Thanks for the shout out!

China is super welcoming of half children, much to my surprise. Even here in the U.S., when I go to a super authentic Chinese restaurant, the servers speak Chinese to me without batting an eye (despite the very non-Asian face). I think they just know I'm half. Still, feels great, it makes me feel at home.

Wow, though, what an exciting time. You must be so busy and overwhelmed, both physically and mentally. I think if I were you, though, I would do the same--I would much rather raise a child in the USA, environment and health alone being huge factors.

I really miss speaking Chinese--but luckily, you'll have your husband, so you'll still get some practice! And the renao of China! Oh, how I miss it. America is too car-centric and spread out so it's hard to bring people together. However, younger people are starting to bring life back to the run down city centers, and it's been a refreshing change to see downtown alive and well again, instead of a scary ghetto.

Very excited for your return Rosie! I can't wait to hear all your reverse culture shock stories, mwahaha!

rosieinbj said...

Hi Mary! I just remembered you also have some good reflections on repatriating. You've gone through it too.

I'm actually doing fine. I have been preparing slowly so I don't feel too overwhelmed. Ming is shouldering a lot now as he has to take the dog to Beijing for her final check and then him and Ping are going to GZ for their interview.

Yeah, I think taking the kids to the US is going to be for the best in the long run, even if it's hard at first. The schooling here is so grueling and I don't really like the methodology. If it were just Ming and I, I'd consider staying here longer.

I will try to be good about updating with what's going on. I don't want to abandon writing once I leave China. There should be more stories to tell!

Autumn said...

Yes, take those kids home...since Finland is not an option. Seriously. I've been reading articles on everything from high rates of suicide to high rates of cancer in China. And don't let Ming Tiger Parent!!

Oh, wait. Are you still going to Wisconsin? Maybe you should hold off until Walker is out of office! :)