This week I am mentally celebrating my four year Ch.ina Anniversary. There is no cake, but there is lots of contemplation! I cannot believe what my life has turned into. It is wilder, weirder, more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.
To put into perspective just how stinkin' long I have had a Chin.ese address, here are some facts: when I moved to Chin.a, Bush was president, the word "recession" was not around, Twitter was not popular, the Beijing Olympics had just ended, and international travelers could take two 50 lb. bags for free.
I moved here in the stone ages.
On September 4, 2008, I flew into the Hangzhou Airport and was greeting by a Ch.inese stranger holding my name scribbled on a paper sign. I got in the car with this stranger who drove me to my new home, a university in the center of Hangzhou. I remember looking out the window, wondering why it was so "cloudy" (helloooo smog!) and thinking to myself, "I did it."
What I did not know then was that my life would become intertwined with this place and four years later I would still be here. With no expiration date in sight. (Well....June, 2014.....but who's counting?)
I had stars in my eyes and idealism floating through my veins. I spoke not a lick of Chine.se and was illiterate to the world around me. Yet, everything was grand, exotic, new, and interesting.
|my first visit to West Lake, Sept. 2008.|
|At the same spot with my mom, 4 years later - June, 2012|
These past four years have been everything and nothing I could have hoped for. The amount of change that occurs within a person in four years is incredible. I think of who I was then, and who I am now, and the person is almost unrecognizable. The idealism is gone. And in its place is a deeper feeling - gumption. I have a clearer sense of self and a more concrete goal for my life.
The past four years have held a lifetime's share of highs and lows and I can honestly say that if I died tomorrow, I would not have any regrets about my life. I'm so proud of that.
In the past four years I have had two pets - a rabbit who lives in the countryside now, and a cat who I plan to return to America with. I've loved and lost twice - one Asian, one African. And still hold both men in my heart. I've lived in two places - a two bedroom apartment, and my current dorm room. And I've never paid a bill (housing, school, or other-wise). I've owned pink 4 bikes, one yellow, all of which have been stolen.
My travels have been a great exploration and an eye-opening realization that our world is small and my worldview pre-Ch.ina was very narrow (still is, in many ways). I've traveled to the temples of Korea, snorkled on the beaches of Thailand, and wandered the streets of Singapore at night. I've seen the giant Buddha in Bangkok, eaten chicken rice in Malaysia, and waited in line at Hong Kong Disney World while eating an ice cream cone. I've experienced an earthquake in Taiwan, seen the ice castles in Harbin, and watched the rats run through the hallways of Indian trains. I've lit fireworks during Chin.ese NewYear in Beijing, pet water buffalo on a family's farm in the countryside, and trudged my way through the Great Wall Half Marathon. I've climbed Yellow Mountain, learned to make dumplings, and backpacked through Europe with my sister.
And yet with all these travels, it is the conversations over coffee that matter most. The long walks through bamboo forests and along bike trails to talk about life and the meaning of it all. Behind the plane rides and train rides and excitement of movement, there has been a common thread of truth - of a plan bigger than the day's circumstances.
One of the greatest things about living abroad are the people I have met. I have friends who are Buddhist, Mormon, Muslim, Athiest, Sikh, Hindi, Unitarian, Rastafarian, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic, and Christian. I have friends who are Communist and attend Party meetings. I have friends who meet in clandestine places in order to worship. I have friends who have been jailed for their beliefs. Most of my friend's first language is not English.
I can tell what country a white man is from by his pants. I can tell what part of Africa a man is from by his skin tone and hair style. I know a French girl before she speaks. I know a South American by their tank tops. I've been chided by Europeans for America's medical care system, and told by Middle Eastern men that my country is ignorant and racist toward their kind. I've had classmates from all corners of the globe and have decided that being from America - a land of such comparative wealth and freedom - is a blessing not to be taken lightly. (can't choose where you are born!)
I've been mentored by two amazing women, one Malaysian, one South African, one of which is now in America attending seminary and one who has passed away entirely too soon. I've attended one African wedding and three C.hinese weddings. One of which I gave a speech in Chi.nese and acted as the lone bridesmaid.
I've had four jobs that I love - university english teacher, private english tutor, hospital english teacher, and am now in my second year as an adjunct professor for the university that sent me here. Talk about full circle. I've had over 300 Chi.nese students and 50 American students. The orphan program is now entirely Chi.nese run and has exploded beyond my wildest dreams. Over 50 heart surgeries have been funded through local efforts. I have worked myself out of a job. I am not needed anymore, and that is a wonderful feeling. I could disappear tomorrow and the orphan work will continue regardless.
I've learned that hot water cures all ailments, sweaters should be worn when it is less than 80 degrees, sparkles and hairbows are perfectly ok and even expected during the day, and that wearing your clothes for more than one day in a row is normal. I say, "maybe" too often, grunt, "mmmm" at people instead of saying "ok," and have learned how to cross traffic without having a heart attack. I know to get on the bus with my elbows out and that 24 hour hot water is a luxury, as is a soft mattress, air condition, and central heating.
I've made so many mistakes. I've let people down. I've not held up my end of bargains. I've had freak outs, allowed fear to grab hold of me, and not emailed or called people back in time. I've cried. Oh, how I've cried. You could fill a river with the tears of the past four years. (not pretty). I've been harrassed by a teacher and thrown my passport at the international laison of my university. (not my proudest moment). I've fought the office to change my major (something not common in Ch.ina) and won after shouting, "I can do hard things!" at a dean. I cuss more than I used to and I am worried that my newly enlarged temper might follow me back to the States one day. I am already planning on re-entry counseling because it is going to be necessary.
These past four years have been wild. I have no idea what two more years in Ch.ina will hold. One thing's for sure, I will be different then than I am now. Hallelujah. With more trials, challenges, joys, and triumphs comes more chances to grow.
I have decided that my 20's are dedicated to Ch.ina. These are the years in which I am making my most exotic stories (gosh, I hope). There will be a season for settledness, for marriage, a family, a yard, bills. But for me, those things come after a season of discovery, travel, intercultural relationships, and faith building. All in due time. Or so they say.
There really is only one thing I know for sure - and it's at the end of my life when I stand at the pearly gates, the Big Man is going to say to me, "Well wasn't that one heck of a ride? Come on in and see your friends who are already here. We'll hang out until your other friends arrive." And it will all have been worth it.
It's been four incredible years. I am so thankful and undeserving of the provision, safety, and blessings I've experienced. I always wanted an interesting life. Careful what you wish for. ;)
Here's to another year, Chin.a.
Hip, Hip, Hooray.
walk slow. xoxo.