I know. It’s been ages since I’ve updated.
I’ve opened up wordpress and stared into a blank page for minutes at a time, trying to compose my thoughts into something that flows and make sense. I tried multiple times to post something that is profound, moving, touching, and somehow manages to convey all of my distraught feelings for leaving behind a life full of love and comfort in Shanghai. I tried to sum up the overpowering emotions of saying farewell to China and the wonderful life I lived there for three years–but every time I tried to type something, it just didn’t feel right. It felt forced, sappy, or empty.
I don’t think this entry will do any of my feelings justice, but I think at the moment… all I really need is verbal diarrhea. My mind has been a whirlpool of thoughts since leaving Shanghai and arriving in the USA, and some of that mess needs to spill out.
Leaving Shanghai was like distancing myself from a lover I wanted so dearly to cling onto.
Isn’t there another way?
Do we really have to part ways?
Can’t we make this work?
But I knew it was time. Time to go. And man, it wasn’t easy.
I know the friends I made in Shanghai will stay with me for life. To me, the few fateful encounters that turned into deep and lasting friendships were worth every single day I spent in China. I know that finding a true friend is something that some people never really find in life–and for me to meet so many in Shanghai, I feel that I was truly blessed.
I lived in a beautiful metropolis where every day was different. In Shanghai, the night can lead you anywhere. A quick drink at a bar can turn into a fashion show followed by a museum opening. The Shanghai life is fast and dynamic, similar to what I imagine a New York “Sex and the City” lifestyle to be. In Shanghai, there’s a chance encounter around every corner, a new coffee shop or restaurant just waiting to be explored, and old neighborhoods tucked away in hidden alleys that become new treasures.
The blend of traditional China with the international vibe of incoming business, a rising economy, and an influx of ex-patriots make Shanghai one of, if not the most interesting city to be in Asia. I have been in many Asian mega cities, and nowhere else has managed to capture my heart like this little place we call Shanghai. In just one night, Shanghai can introduce you to a room of people from at least ten different countries. Dinner can be conducted in 2, 3, sometimes even 4 languages. It’s the one place where Chinese culture is bursting from every street vendor and bike peddler, but still manages to retain an international and modern vibe through its sleek bars and sea of skyscrapers.
Really. There is no place like Shanghai.
Being Alien at Home
And here I am. Back in the USA.
I think about those ex-pats that live in Asia for over ten years, suddenly decide to move back home, and somehow manage to buy a house with the white picket fence, marry, and go on with their lives. After experiencing and living in such a different world, is it really so easy to go back to what you once called “home”? Can it even be called that anymore? How do you re-adjust… and is it even possible?
There’s too many cars. The supermarkets are too large. Everything is packaged. The fruit isn’t fresh. People are too fake. Americans ask so many useless yet polite questions. Everything is too big. Too many items are sold in bulk, and unnecessarily. Commercialism is rampant. Need a car to go anywhere. Public transportation is horrible. Everyone is really, really tall.
Just a few culture shocks from being here only a couple weeks. Walking into a gigantic supermarket in America still leaves me breathless, as I’m completely unused to its warehouse-like size and the giant sized products it houses. Interacting with waitresses and customer service representatives is somewhat tiring, as we always have to reiterate useless banter about how we’re doing (in China and Japan, we get straight to business). Also the excess Americans have in life–why get 2 bottles of mayonnaise when its buy 2 get 4 free? Seriously? Why do you need 6 jars of mayonnaise?
Anyway, after being abroad for so long I find myself lost and apprehensive in the very place I was born and raised.
Why does life feel so much harder here than it did in Shanghai?
Challenges and Upcoming Hurdles
I’m looking for work and it’s been absolutely awful. The American economy still has not made a full swing recovery (as I have learned from recent interviews), and asking for starting salary usually has me moping out of the interview room, asking myself why I didn’t become a lawyer or doctor. After my years of fun in Asia, coming back to the United States and having reality punch me in the face has, well, sucked to put bluntly.
Still, I’m being positive. I’d hate being a lawyer or doctor, and I know that all of us were put on this Earth to do different things. I wasn’t here to take people’s money in court or diagnose the sick–no, I was here for something else. I have a set of skills that I’m supposed to use, and I want to use that not only for monetary gain, but to make this world a better place (still, financial stability is a very high priority on the list!).
You’d think moving back to the USA would be easy for me since I’m American, but it’s quite the opposite. Starting up again in the USA has been much harder than Shanghai, which makes me remember the words my aunt (a Vietnam refugee) once told me:
“America is not a nice place, Mary. It is not an easy place to grow up, and it is not a friendly place to learn about the world. People will not help you, and no one will hold your hand and tell you where you should go or what you should do. You’re on your own.”
Mary is Mobile
Despite sounding negative, I’m staying hopeful for my new life in the USA. Being American gives me financial stability that I don’t have in China (aka, benefits and a possible retirement fund). Finally being close to family is also another main factor for my return, and seeing the joy I give my immediate family and relatives with my long awaited return to the United States has been worthwhile. Also, I found someone very special in the United States and I’m excited to start a new life with him.
Despite being “back,” however, I still can’t see myself settling in the USA for the long run. As J put so efficiently:
“Mary, you are mobile. Mary is not a stationary woman.”
Maybe the USA will remain my home, or “base” as I like to call it, but I have a feeling that the world is going to call my name and I’ll be on a plane to some other far off country within a few years.
It’s like the question I asked before–when you live abroad so long, just how can you return back to the life you once had?
Many people say the wanderlust for travel fades with age, but I think for some it never goes away. I’ll always have my gaze in the sky, thinking of the next place I need to discover and learn about in the world. And hopefully, in the future, I can do more than just travel–I can make some kind of difference in whatever country I go to.
Really, once you get bitten by the travel bug, once you live abroad, once your heart is in love with the world and its undiscovered beauty–you can never go back to the person you once were.
But no matter where you go, there will always be those you never want to part with. There will be people that change your life.
Although we said our farewells, I know that we’ll meet again someday. Somewhere.