I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m against goal setting. I’m one of the most goal-oriented people I know . . . Maybe a little too obsessed with where I’m at and how quickly I’m getting there. The problem I have with New Year’s resolutions is more about not wanting to wait until the New Year to take control of my life or fix my bad habits.
I’ve always loved exercising, but with other goals and pressures on my time, it’s often the first thing to get pushed aside. My to-do list is filled with the essentials to keep my household running smoothly, to finish my online classes, and to pursue my writing goals. By the time I check those items off my to-do list, it’s fairly easy to convince myself to save the exercise for another day.
And then I decided to register for a marathon in mid-May, and this forced me to be more consistent in my exercise regimen. My other commitments didn’t go away, which meant that I either needed to start getting up at 5:00 in the morning and exercising before my kids wake up or be completely unprepared for my marathon.
The summer I turned eight years old I spent a day at the beach. It was supposed to be fun—a family day with my sister, mom, dad, cousins, aunt, and uncle.
I want to say there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sand was clean and white, and it flicked up behind our heels as we ran. I wish I could tell you that grit stuck to our legs, and we had enough sand throughout our shoes and clothes to build our own beach when we got back home. But I don’t remember any of that.
Maybe I was sweating and sticky and eager to cool off in the water. Maybe I lingered on the beach like I usually do now—only dipping in when my body can’t take the heat, and only long enough to take the edge off before getting out and sitting on the sidelines again.
I don’t remember that, either.
I remember the moments immediately leading up to what happened.
When my son was only two, my husband told our friends that his first child was a genius.
Okay. Maybe he didn’t say those words exactly, but he did like to inform anyone who would listen that his two-year-old son knew the whole alphabet (upper and lower case), could tell you all the letter sounds, and could count and recognize numerals as well.
During these cringe-worthy revelations, the realist that I am, I’d take it upon myself to divulge the rest of the story. Between the obligatory ooooh’s and ahhh’s from the poor recipient of this information, I’d fold my arms and my usually soft-spoken, barely-there voice would speak up with an uncharacteristic sarcasm. “What he’s not telling you,” I’d say, “Is that he knows all of that stuff only because we’re lazy parents who use the iPad as a babysitter.”
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a family event at a conservation club, the grounds of which had a large building, a shooting range, and a pond for dog races. Having attended several United Kennel Club (UKC) Coonhound events growing up, I recognized the use for the pond right away—at one end of the pond was a tree and at the other, a coop rigged to release multiple dogs at the same time. I watched so many dog races at ponds similar to these, looking at it evoked memories of weekends spent at the coon club watching water races or running around with other kids burying a treasure we had gathered inside an old coffee can. (If you’re curious what a coonhound water race looks like, check out this video.)
My husband and I were both born and raised in the United States but experienced very different childhoods. He also had noticed the pond—oblong, man-made, and obviously serving some purpose—but hadn’t quite figured out its use. As my dad and husband stood around outside, Hubby finally asked him if he knew what the pond was for.
In my last post I talked about the frustrations of living in China. Simple errands—opening a new bank account, changing phone plans, returning items to the store—become complex projects. Even mundane tasks—buying groceries, driving a car, communicating simple sentences—can become grand accomplishments.
And yet even if I sometimes have bad days and miss home, there are many things I love about being an expat, and I wouldn’t want to give them up by moving back to the States. Here are eight things that I love most about expat life.
When I first arrived, the other expat moms I met here didn’t bother to sugarcoat their experiences in China. “I’m going to be real with you,” they said. “Be prepared to have good days and bad days. When things start to go downhill, take a deep breath and tell yourself, ‘It’s China. That’s just the way things are.’ And then move on.”
I’ve been pretty fortunate since arriving that my good days have far outnumbered the bad, and yet one day last week, I was walking home and the sights and smells and sounds of China—the tuk-tuks driving by, the language I couldn’t understand, the slight smell of smog in the air—left me wishing for home.
Several months ago I took my children to a coffee shop and treated them to a smoothie. One cup for the two of them to share would be plenty . . . at least I thought so at the time.
Their faces tell the story:
Any time we move into a new country, a part of us will change. We have to. We learn a new language (or at least pieces of one) or other tricks to enable communication. We learn cultural taboos and make sure we don’t commit them. We embrace the differences when we can. When we can’t embrace them, we endure them and try to be positive.
Perhaps the biggest culture shock in coming to China was not the language (having lived in Korea, I was accustomed to getting by with minimal language) or the air quality (I was prepared for the worst and ended up being pleasantly surprised).
The most difficult challenge was the seemingly flippant regard for others’ safety and well-being—mostly on the road. In a previous post, I discussed the morbid Chinese reaction to car-pedestrian accidents. You can read that here.
I came across a photograph of myself recently.
I’m standing in a cave somewhere in the Philippines, the turquoise water sloshing against the rock near my feet. I remember that day. I remember getting dressed in the morning—that bikini top I have on with the turquoise trim and yellow and blue stripes (I loved that swimsuit). The short shorts I’m wearing in the picture—I often used them as a cover up for bikini bottoms. I even remember pulling those shorts on that day and noting that they felt smaller—lamenting that I had gained a few extra pounds, that I wasn’t exercising enough anymore, that I was maybe eating (or drinking) a bit too much. I even remember the blue flip flops I have on my feet.
But I don’t remember me. At least not the way I am in the photo. I never looked like that. If there would have ever been one moment when I was actually happy with my body, it would have been then—the previous year I had run three marathons and was in the best shape of my entire life. In the photo, I look youthful—tan, slim, physically fit. Yet all I remember noticing when I looked in the mirror back then were the things I didn’t like.
Memories fade with time. Now I don’t know the truth anymore. Do I trust the photographs or my fickle memories?