Beyond the Great Wall

A lot of people used to ask me if I’d go back to China. They’ve stopped asking so much anymore, probably because the experience isn’t shiny or new anymore. It’s been five years since I came back from my year in China and generally, people don’t even mention it. I don’t mention it much either, but it’s always there, lingering in the back of my mind. I think about China when I’m having bad months and wonder if it would be so bad to just move back. I think about how easy it would be to email my contact and have a job and place to live in a day. It would be easy. Beyond easy.

But then I think, do I really want to? Usually the answer is no. I don’t want to move back to China. I don’t want to deal with the language barrier again, the huge cultural differences, the lack of diapers for babies, being unable to flush toilet paper. Yeah. But people used to ask if I’d go back.

At first, I said no. Definitely no. Coming home from China, I was burned out. I was tired of struggling every day, even if it was just the struggle of going outside and being stared at. Being the odd man out is exhausting, mentally and physically. 95 days left read my journal entries near the end; 83 days left; 72 days left! The countdown got smaller but the wait got infinitely longer.

I wasn’t the only one. The other American teachers had their own countdowns, waiting for the day they could leave. It wasn’t that we hated China. I certainly don’t hate China. I was just tired. The same kind of tired you get from being in school all year and knowing summer is just around the corner, if it would only get there already.

Those days when I think about going back and all those negative things come back, the reasons why I wouldn’t, there are other things that surface too. The good things. The amazing food, cooked in probably unsanitary conditions but delicious all the same, the ridiculously cheap everything – clothes, jewelry, literally everything, and a few people I had good times with. Of course, those people aren’t in China anymore, so going back for that reason would be pointless. But China had its good days.

So when people ask these days, I kind of go back and forth. Would I live there again? No. But would I visit and buy a thousand pearl necklaces? Yes. I can’t say China didn’t teach me anything because it taught me a lot and I’m glad that I went the first time around. I was probably the right age, at the right stage of my life, to get what I did out of it. Earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it, and later, I wouldn’t have bothered handling it.

When you’re young, you need those types of experiences. I’m not saying you have to go to China to figure things out, and it may not be obvious right away what it’s teaching you, but doing something out of your comfort zone is important.

Now, if you ask if I would move back to France, on the other hand, I say, hell yes! Just let me pack a bag and I’ll meet you there!


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