Two years ago Friday, we flew into Tianjin with a very frightened and skinny kitty, a couple of suitcases filled with not-warm-enough clothes, and a certainty that whatever it was that we were about to embark on, it would not be boring.
How true that was. And now that we’re marking two years into our time here, I want to write a short summary of all the good stuff and all the bad stuff, and what it all adds up to in the long run.
The good: Chinese people are unfailingly warm and interested in everything we do, even if they’re laughing at us much of the time. It’s not mean-spirited. Chinese food can be delicious, especially Yunnanese cuisine. Living in Asia has given me a different sense of the world and most particularly the contrast to life in free, clean, wealthy, blessed America. I’m learning every day about China and yet even if I lived here the rest of my life, I’d never fully understand this place. And yet I enjoy trying to understand, from the courtyard living that is so different from DC’s front-porch culture, to the arid craggy mountains outside Beijing where I’ve been hiking recently.
Living in an apartment has freed us from the sorts of weekend house-related chores that prevented us from having as many adventures back in DC. I’ve made some incredible friends here in China, people I hope I’ll have as friends forever. Some of those friends have little ones who are truly the light of my life. And the travel has been wonderful, from the northern reaches of China to its tropical south, as well as Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Korea, and Cambodia.
But the bad: As I type this, my internet is balky and slow, and it’s taking me five minutes to send through each email all day long. Facebook and Twitter are blocked and when I want to post something on my blog, I turn on my VPN – which refuses to stay connected. It can take me hours online to do what takes me minutes elsewhere, like download an issue of the New Yorker or stream a video. And earlier this week, the air was hazardous for 24 hours, causing my head to pound and my eyes to itch. I have barely been outside today. I’m staying indoors with three air cleaners blasting. Even so, I wonder what I’m doing to my lungs and if I’m setting some kind of DNA groundwork for cancer later on. And speaking of being indoors, I also have two space heaters going because the heat won’t be turned on in our apartment until November 15. When I try to figure out what to make for dinner, I immediately reject half the things I used to make in the US because I don’t know about food safety: chicken, pork, beef, fish. All could come from very very dirty places. I eat lots more vegetables but I don’t know how coated with pesticides they are.
So the sum is lots and lots of good, and lots of bad on top of all that. I think the answer – or at least the answer that works best for us – is to make this a limited adventure. Some expats here say that the three-year mark is significant: people either extend their stay or decide to go home. I think we have already made that choice.
Bob tells me that I’m in danger of idealizing and sentimentalizing our life in America. Since that’s kind of my natural tendency anyway, I’d have to say he’s got my number. But I still do look forward to sitting on my front porch and reading an actual newspaper. I look forward to channel surfing. I look forward to getting in a car and driving somewhere, wearing a seat belt. I look forward to seeing blue skies every single day.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a lot to do in the next 365 days.