My “China Thing”

Summer is over and I have my work visa in hand. I’ll be heading back to Shanghai next week and I’m actually pretty happy about it, primarily for three reasons.

1. I’m bored out of my mind

I live in a small town, far from everything in the US. It’s incredibly hot here and there are sandstorms almost every day, limiting the time one can spend outside. The last friend I had in this town moved away last week, leaving me with my cat and my husband, both of whom are sick of me. My husband is at work 14+ hrs a day anyway, so entertaining me is a huge burden on my poor kitty. I’ve kept myself busy reading, studying Chinese, working out, and listening to courses on iTunes university. I’m ready to go do something and feel useful again.

2. My back hurts!

I have a back injury and now a hamstring injury (thanks a lot, pole dancing instructor) that I haven’t been able to find any solution to other than traditional Chinese massage. I’ve tried physical therapy, chiropractors, western style oily gross rub-down massage (there aren’t any other options such as deep tissue in this crappy town), medicine and acupuncture. At best, those methods offer temporary relief, but most of them are really expensive. They just can’t compete with 60 RMB blind massage. I haven’t had one since I came home and I’m walking like one of those 400 yr old nai nais that spent her whole life carrying heavy buckets of water on a pole across her shoulders.

3. I feel like a weirdo in America.

You know when people ask you about what you’ve been doing in China and you try to explain and about 30 seconds into it, they get that glazed look in their eyes? Yeah, that’s basically every conversation I’ve had since I’ve come home. I blame my husband. He makes me go to parties and stuff (ugh, people) and he introduces me to people by saying “This is my wife, she just finished a master’s degree in Chinese!” I know he’s trying to help and he’s proud of me, but it just doesn’t go well. WHY CAN’T I JUST STAY HOME WITH THE CAT?!?! I simply try to avoid the topic now. People ask me what I do and I say something like “I’m in between jobs right now” and then ask them what they do. Everyone would rather talk about themselves anyway, right? The few people who try to seriously understand whatever it is that I do, can’t really make heads or tails of it because they don’t know anything about China other than what’s in the news and we all know that’s not exactly putting China in the best light. They can’t (won’t?) understand why I would go there, much less keep going back. I hear questions like “But isn’t the food really unsafe? What do you eat there?” or “How do you breath with all that smog?!” These are valid questions, but even though these issues aren’t the end of the world for me, it’s hard to make people understand why I keep going back. The other reaction I often get is even worse than the usual indifference/confusion – and that is when people think I’m just showing off. I get that mostly from people I went to high school with. Most of my former high school classmates are still at home (small town, population less than 10,000), have a bunch of kids, make minimum wage and/or are on meth. When you run into a person like that and they ask you what you’re doing with your life, it’s pretty damn hard not to sound like you’re bragging. However, I feel like they shouldn’t ask that question of the former Honor Society president and women’s cross country team captain (I know, I know, I was hot shit) and expect to get an answer that’s going to make them feel better about themselves.

At the end of the day, my “China thing” (as it’s often referred to) is none of anyone’s damn business and it really has nothing to do with anyone else, but I just hate never knowing how to deal with these conversations. I like the fact that I don’t have to have this conversation in China with other expats. There’s an unspoken understanding and you rarely get asked about it, much less judged for it. My Chinese friends and my expat friends have more context for understanding my life, which makes it easier for me. I don’t have to go into minute details to make myself understood and I can speak Chinglish. I guess I’m just lazy. No, that’s not all it is…I don’t like feeling like I don’t belong and in a lot of ways, I don’t belong in America anymore. Maybe it would be easier if I was staying here for a few years, but I’m not ready to find out.

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15 thoughts on “My “China Thing”

  1. the “China thing” it’s almost impossible to explain, as I found out after coming back from my year abroad. I either end up either speaking as little as possible or speaking long enough to see any spark of interest in the eyes of my friends slowly dying . Sad.

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  2. “Back home” can be often difficult when working abroad, especially when it is more exotic for people like China. I have been often asked about my “Finland thing”, well, nothing to explain especially as I have finnish nationality so I always wonder what is wrong with other people with their odd ideas when somebody goes abroad for a long time…

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    • Ha ha, I love that people are confused by your “Finnish thing.” Also, you’re right – it is something wrong with them for getting the odd ideas, nothing wrong with us for going abroad!

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  3. I totally get what you mean by the “China thing.” When I’m back home with friends and family, I usually find it quite difficult to express what life is like here in Asia. And I don’t blame them for not understanding. It’s hard for them to put themselves in my shoes when all they know is their life in America or Canada.

    But I cherish the moments when I meet with someone (who is living back in North America) who has traveled a lot, or who comes from another country. They truly “get” what it’s like to cross cultures and experience a completely different lifestyle.

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    • You’re right! Furthermore, people shouldn’t really ask about other people if they don’t care to hear the answer, should they? I think Americans are really bad about that, always asking things like how are you? or what have you been up to? and then walking away before you can answer or seeming surprised if you say anything more than a word or two.

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  4. I hate when someone asks “So how have you been?”. Do they really expect me to summarize one year in a sentence, or do they really want to hear a 30 minute reply? So I always end up saying “Fine”. Or like when people ask “How’s China?”. Well, fine, thanks.

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      • “It’s kinda sad that we live in a society where people ask those questions, but rarely care to hear the response.”

        Agreed. I was talking to my Taiwanese friends about this. I said that they ask how you are doing but they don’t care for the answer. It’s like you’re “supposed” to say “I’m fine.” I said to them it’s simply fake nice. They nodded and told me their experiences while living in the States and how confused they were when they were asked that question.

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  5. Loved this post ~ I’ve felt the same way and it is a good thing. I remember discussing many times my missing “home/China” with a sage/friend in China, and one time he asked me:
    S: “Do you miss the USA when you are in China?”
    Me: “Yes”
    S: “Do you miss China when you are in the USA?”
    Me: “Yes”
    S: “Well good, whenever one of those answers change, you know where you should be…”

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    • That’s pretty good advice. When it’s all said and done, I prefer to be in China, but there are always going to be things I miss about home. I’m from the Pacific North West and the scenery there is absolutely stunning and the air is nice and clean. I will never have that in China, but there are other things that make up for it. I also miss my family too, but if you read my post about my parents visiting me here, you’ll see why I’m not expecting them to join me here anytime soon. Once my husband gets here, I’ll be good to go for awhile. Thank you for your comment!

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