Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Woman in her Thirties Reminisces

A few weeks ago I noticed that a friend I taught with in China had posted something on Facebook about schools being closed due to weather.  I'm not great at keeping up with the nuances of Facebook, but upon closer inspection I saw that her status had been posted near St. Paul.

(P.S. Creepy, Facebook!)

After a quick 'uh.... are you in the Twin Cities?' note, we realized she was living 30 minutes away from me in P-ville.

Let's think about this for a second: A girl I taught with IN BEIJING had relocated to the Twin Cities.  The world is small, people.

She came over Monday with her new addition, and while our kids played we reminisced about the old times.

Which really wasn't that long ago at all.  But a whoooooooole lot has happened in the last six years. For example, how cute is her baby?!

When L and I announced to our expat friends in China that we were moving back to the US, people warned us that the transition would be difficult.  They were right.  That first year home was a doozy, for both L and me.  I think when you live overseas time sort of stands still.  You live in this strange, privileged bubble.  You assume that life at home is staying the same, and when you come back you realize that not only has it not stayed the same (the price of a movie jumped $3 in the time we were gone, among a billion other things), but your friends and family have moved on with their lives since you've been gone.

And you:  you have changed most of all.  You've seen and experienced things that most people haven't.  It is difficult to find someone who understands how awesome and crazy that is.  You feel like you don't fit in anymore.

My visit on Monday brought all of that back to the surface for me, and I've spent the last few days missing China and the many great memories I have of there.  Here are a few:

1.  Jack

Forgive me for starting with something mushy, but I must.  Part of L's expat package included our own, personal driver.  Since L traveled all the time and his office was only a block away from our apartment, I used Jack's services far more often than L did.  Jack drove me to and from school every day, which on some days was 15 minutes and some days, due to the crazy insanity that IS Beijing traffic, that was an hour and a half, each way.

I never called Jack my 'driver'.  I called him my zui hao de pengyou (best friend).  He truly was.  He patiently helped me with my Chinese flashcards, correcting my terrible pronunciation and teaching me slang.  He was my translator anytime I needed him. He was always patient and always kind and always made me feel safe is a huge, scary city.

We still exchange emails every Christmas.  He sends pictures of his daughter, whom I gave the English name of Sierra, and I send him pictures of Anna and Aaron.  And then I cry a little, just like I did the last time Jack dropped me off at the airport on my way home for good. 

2.  Food

Okay, now that the mushy stuff is over... I miss the food  A. LOT.  This is a picture of me having hot pot with a group of teachers.  So, so, crazy good.  


Obviously, the food was not always amazing.  And there was one bout of food poisoning that I would prefer to block out of my memory. But it was more than just how the food tasted, it is how people eat in China.  Long, family-style meals.  Everyone shares, no one gorges. Each person on the the lookout to keep everyone else's glass full. The dinner pictured above took 3 hours, easily.  Love that.

3.  Massage

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, I miss China for its massage.  I went at least a couple times a month for a one hour, five dollar, elbows-in 'beating'.  And then I discovered the wonders of acupuncture, and my life was never the same.  Yoga has now taken the place of the massages I used to get, but man.  I miss it.

(Side note:  I did sliding cups once, and this was the result. Didn't do much for me other than give me some street cred. Give me the needles and a beating any day.)

4.  Bing

It was through friends of friends that I met Bing, and she became a very important person in my life during my three years in China.  We had lots of adventures, too many to count here.  Here is a picture of that time we decided to model for an installation piece in the 798 Art District.  Cuz why not.

I never realized how unusual it is for a laowai (me) to have a friend who is a true Beijinger until several of my expat friends pointed it out to me.  I feel so lucky to have seen Beijing through Bing's eyes.  

I'm going to get mushy again if I talk too much about Bing, but I will say this:  We both have two children now, one boy and one girl each.  We may or may not have arranged their marriages.

5.  Hilarity in Translation

I kick myself every time I think about all the hilarious signs I failed to take pictures of in China.  For me, it was such a relief to laugh at a poorly-translated sign not just because it was funny but because it made me feel better for all the times people laughed at my terrible Chinese.  

'No taking a blunt to enter.' Boo.

6.  Adventure

Right now, my biggest adventure is planning my trip to southern California this summer for my cousin's wedding.  Granted, traveling with children is an adventure of monumental proportions.  But I do miss things like this:

Panda holding.

Thailand exploring.

Happy hour dancing.


Great Wall Climbing.

But of course a woman in her thirties puts it in perspective.  There's plenty I don't miss about China.  PLENTY.  And as I was going through all these old pictures, I was noticing two very important people who are absent.

And while I miss the old times, I wouldn't go back to them for the world.  There lead me here.  And here, wherever 'here' ends up, is the right place as long as we're together.  


  1. I was laughing out loud at the signs "forbid carrying the greasy dirt entering" might be my favorite. Also, are you upside down in the happy hour picture? Seriously, I love hearing about your time in China. It sounds like such an amazing experience.

  2. How cool that you live near your Beijing friend! And, super cute baby. :)

    That picture after the cups freaks me out every time it see it.

  3. I love this post. Especially the translations. Literally laughing out loud and this is the second time I've read them. Aw, Jack. :)