Sep 2, 2015

On Leaving.

(Consider this blog reborn, at the request of my mother. I will continue on without an excuse for 2 years of truancy.)

I could never imagine leaving China. I just couldn't picture it in my head. 

For seven years I made friends and acquaintances and then attended their going away parties and hugged their necks goodbye without being able to understand what it really would feel like to leave. I remember discussing this phenomenon of being the "ones who stayed" with a dear friend. "How do people just leave?" We wondered. And then one day about a year later, she left. 

And I stayed. 

And stayed. And stayed. 

There is strength and power in perseverance. After 5 years in a heart-breaking and high-blood pressure inducing Phd program, I surely have learned the art of gritting your teeth and taking it. I have bent my head and agreed to unfair criticism more times than I can remember. I saw it as proof of inner strength. 

But there is also power and dignity in choosing what is best for you. In standing up and saying, "This is not serving me anymore, and I have the ability to walk away." 

And so, one day in June, I decided to leave. Two months shy of my seventh China-versary, I bought a one way ticket out.

Leaving China was everything and nothing like I had imagined all those years. It was peaceful, not some heart wrenching, dramatic affair. I spent time one on one with those I love and who love me. Those I may never see again, but who will always be with me. It was my childhood dream to live there, and was truly my first real dream come true. I can feel China in my heart. I "get it." Which is something only someone who has invested significant time and energy in a place that is not their own can say. 

When leaving, I gave most of my earthly belongings away. But I brought home with me lessons that are etched into my being. 

China taught me that my body is able to withstand so much more than I used to give it credit for. 36 hours on a bus? No problem! 

China has also taught me that you don't always have to know what time something will start or end or what you are eating. Just exist and just eat...all will be fine. Until it is not fine, and then things will be fine again soon. It's just how life goes. 

China taught me that America is not the center of the universe. And our ways are not always compatible with the outside world. There are other ways, and they are equally valuable. 

China taught me that cultural religion is something to be aware of. That people are not in control of where they are born and where we are born dictates so many things about us, including how we practice religion, how we interpret religious text, and what worship looks like. 

China taught me that everything is relative. Problems, ideas, personal opinions, the concept of pets, standards of cleanliness, business manners, ways of dressing, perception of time, ways of going about daily activities - it's all relative. 

China taught me that language is the most important facet to understand a place or a people. The concept of a heart language is real and should be recognized for anyone choosing to interact, serve, or live among those of another culture. The language we use to express ourselves has so many nuances that are easily missed by those who do not share it. 

China taught me that big life hurdles are not big hurdles for very long. There is always another big hurdle on the horizon. 

China taught me to be a better listener. For an entire year as an english teacher, I thought my student's understood me because they shook their head, "yes," when I asked, "Do you understand?" It wasn't until the final few weeks as their teacher that I realized - these student's don't understand me! The next year, I changed my methods. But I still regret that I was such an airhead in the classroom that first year. 

China taught me not to be afraid. There are really very few tangible things to be afraid of in life. The intangibles shouldn't be scary either. We all fail. We all feel lonely sometimes. Nobody really knows what is going on. The unknown is only unknown until you know it. So no fear. 

Along that same line, China taught me to be tough. To bargain to the point of screaming and to always assume someone is lying to you. (reasons #48975498 I need re-entry counseling, haha). 

China taught me the value of hot water, personal space, and physical comfort (by taking them away). That no one deserves accessibility to various methods of cooking, the other-worldly convenience of pre-packaged foods, and that it's a miracle to have safe drinkable tap water for free out of a faucet. These things are not necessary for survival or even to thrive. And when you have access to any or all of the above, you should never stop being thankful. 

China taught me that anything you buy online can be fake. I don't even trust Amazon! (and you shouldn't either.) 

China taught me to be observant. To always be watching what people are doing, how they are talking, and what the traffic patterns are like. China taught me not to be a pansy when crossing the street. 

China taught me to focus on making projects sustainable by involving local people. I haven't been an active player in the orphan ministry in years because - hallelujah! - they don't need me! It's all being covered by local groups and is flourishing more than it ever was when under foreign direction. 

China taught me that sometimes the goodness of a stranger can save your life. So, never pass up the chance to BE that good stranger. You never know when you will need to rely on someone for information, safety, or a ride. Luckily, there are amazing people on this earth who will offer those things to you in times of need. We really are all in it together. Most of the time. ;) 

China taught me that no matter where I go, my family is close to me. 

China taught me to look at the big picture in life. In seven years I travelled to the beaches of the Philippines and the cities of India. The temples of Burma and the icebergs of Iceland. I completed the Great Wall Half Marathon and started an orphan program. I wrote 200 pages of a dissertation in Chinese and taught over 1500 Chinese students English. Yet, the days felt entirely normal - going to the market, ordering noodles from street vendors, going to the bar with friends, and riding the bus to Walmart. The normal, mundane days added up to seven incredible years. I hope to always look at my life this way, it takes effort to remember to see the big picture in the middle of a regular afternoon.  

China taught me that it's ok to let go. To unclench your teeth. To face the unknown with the expectation that good things are to come. 

I'm not entirely sure who I am without China. It's the context that I know, it's the language that I dream in most often, and it's my comfort zone after all these years. I never imagined what it would feel like to leave, and then when the time came, it felt like peace. 

Goodbye, China. Thanks for the memories and the lessons. 
Onto the next, wildly surprising chapter. 

walk slow. xoxo. 


Carolina said...

China may have taught you all of these things, but it was your heart that allowed you to unearth them within yourself.

On a different note, I so enjoyed hearing about your perspective on the mundane and normalcies of life abroad - it's what I miss most and what I genuinely want to teach Margo.

Ke Xiao Mei said...


AndieM20 said...

I really loved reading your thoughts on China, especially since I taught English there one summer many years ago. (Note quite seven years, I know!) I enjoy your writing style and will continue reading your blog. I wish you the best on your next chapter... 😊

Ke Xiao Mei said...

Awesome, thanks for reading!