When we returned to China in August this year, my family decided to be committed to exploring China rather than remaining in our expat bubble here in Beijing. I really did have good intentions of recording and sharing our adventures, but intentions are one thing . . . and (clearly) our actions might not match them in the long run. But now, here I am, remembering my commitment to record our adventures. The most significant one we took this year I absolutely loved, but it was ages ago, and I have yet to talk about it.
During the China National Holiday in October (yes . . . it’s taken me that long!), my children were released from school for a week and we decided to try something totally new and go on our first road trip in China to the city of Hohhot in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. We really enjoyed our time there. It was nice to see parts of China outside of Beijing where we live, and it was a trip that I would definitely recommend to other expat families here.
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.
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.
My husband tells me stories of his family history that are filled with such adventure that the pictures and emotions they conjure up in me linger for hours. In 2007, his grandparents sent us a letter that recounted the details of their expulsion from China in their own words. They spoke of gold strips carried in their shoes, books buried for for their possible return, and a communist officer carefully stepping over their vomit on the deck of the ship. Their descriptions piqued my interest in a time and place I couldn’t quite imagine. Their experiences were so far removed from the world I know.