Tag Archives: leaving

I am a Slingshot

I discovered a few days ago that I am a human slingshot.  Just go with me for a minute, okay?

When I was nine years old, my family moved from Vermont to Hungary, where my mom taught English for a year.  When we return to the States, after a short stop in Vermont, we drove across the country and moved to Oregon.  Where I have spent the majority of my days.

Now, fast forward almost TWENTY years, I just got back from 14 months of teaching English in China.  After a couple month stay at home in Oregon, I am driving across the country to move to Nashville, TN.  Yes, that is correct I am moving to the southeast United States.  Once again, uprooting myself, taking on a new city where I don’t know (hardly) anyone and continuing this adventure we like to call life.  At least they speak English in Nashville – I just need to work on my drawl.

What does this have to do with a slingshot?  Visualize it for a second… I was in Vermont – then was pulled back, across the Atlantic Ocean to Hungary – after a year, I was flung back across the ocean, past where I started, to the opposite coast of the USA.

This time, I was pulled the other way… the human slingshot stretched me back across the Pacific Ocean to Shanghai, China and I’m continuing to be hurled across the country again, until I land and settle in Tennessee.

A human slingshot.  So… if I ever decide to make my way back to living on the West Coast (which I would love to do sometime because I still don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live in the glorious Pacific Northwest), I might just have to spend a year in Africa or something first.

This all being said… people keep asking if I’m going to continue blogging.  Well, about what?  Life in America surrounded by a bunch of Americans just isn’t as entertaining, challenging, exciting and blog-worthy as living in Shanghai.  On the other hand… I’m moving to Tennessee, I’m a Pacific NW girl, who just spent how long in Asia?  Yea, Tennessee might present me with some culture shock.   That and I just enjoy writing and having an avenue to ramble on about things for longer than the typical Facebook status message.

I cannot, however, write about life in Nashville on a blog named “Life in China” which is why I am here to announce I am starting a new blog… Life in Crazy Town that is juliakeepswriting.wordpress.com.  So please subscribe to my new blog, and continue following my life’s adventures post China.

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Thoughts upon returning…

Have I really been back in the States for over 3 weeks?  My how time flies.  Culture shock is to be expected when you leave your homeland and travel abroad; yet, culture shock also works in reverse. After spending a significant amount of time in a culture different than your own, you return and are shocked at how strange things seem; things that are oh-so-familiar just seem odd.

Here are a few of the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the last weeks of being home.

Wow.  There are SO MANY white people here!  And the words ‘so many’ are relative to other ethnicities because really there is hardly anyone here.

It is empty… the airports are empty, the streets are empty, the stores are empty.

Portland is SO quiet, peaceful, clean! The air smells so good! I’m so overwhelmed!

Shhh… you hear that?  NOTHING, oh wait, there is a bird… silence is amazing.

Everyone is so friendly!

There are so many conversations to eavesdrop on… Everyone is speaking English!  I can understand it all!

Where are all the Chinese characters?

Portland (which until 2011 was the biggest city I had ever lived in) is so SMALL & cute!  Look at those quaint little buildings downtown that think they are skyscrapers… how adorable.

Clouds are so cool.  I could spend hours staring at the clouds.  They are all different types, shapes, sizes, colors… they are magnificent and beautiful.  Some bring rain, some don’t… Some are wispy, white and whimsically float through the air.  Some are big, billowing, beastly and loom over the valleys.  In China, it was often cloudy… or just smoggy, but I realized I never really saw the clouds.  In Shanghai, you get one type of cloud – the monotone, all encompassing, sheet of gray – with a hint of brown.  There is no variation, no beauty, no personality in the clouds.  But here… oh, clouds are mind bogglingly fascinating.

Can’t I just swipe my Shanghai subway card? (When looking for cash to pay for a public bus ride in Portland. Fact, a ride on the bus in Portland is about the same as the starting fare for a taxi in Shanghai.)

The freedom to drive and the open road – LOVE IT!

Wow, us Americans spend a LOT of time in the car.

People are fat.

Does everyone in America always wear that much make-up?

Holy crap this place is expensive! (When I find myself converting everything back to RMB in my mind.)

Seeing Asian babies and children makes me happy… like, an “I feel at home” sort of happy.

Was I really in China for over a year?  Was that just a dream?

I hate small talk.  Small talk after returning from Asia sucks.

“Oh wow, you were in CHINA?  For HOW LONG?”

“Yup, 14 months.”

“Wow! How was CHINA?”

Seriously?  How does one respond to that?  We have 30 seconds for small talk and you want to know how China was?  Here’s an idea… read my 96 blog posts.  Then ask me a better question.

Bubble tea in Portland sucks.  I want to go back.

You say “Chinese food” but I don’t think you mean Chinese food… at every Chinese restaurant I go by… I know they are only there to disappoint me, so I don’t bother going in.

You are 3-D? (My response to seeing my boyfriend after 4 months of video-chatting online and not seeing each other in person.)

I’m BORED… Unemployment is no fun.

I watched more TV in 3 days than I did in the past year.

Grocery stores – AWESOME.  They are huge, they have so-so-sooo much selection.  They are neat, they are organized, they have so many familiar things.  It is sort of like heaven… but a grocery store.

Smile, say thank you.  Cashiers at grocery stores and other places here don’t just glare at you or completely ignore you, so you can be nice back.

What?  My ID?  Why do you want to see my ID?  Oh yea… we control who buys alcoholic beverages in this country.

Public restrooms – they have toilet paper, they have soap, many have paper towels, they don’t smell all that bad… and I even dare to sit on the seat occasionally.  Seriously, a girl could get used to this!

AHHH, I’m gonna die!  Oh wait, people STOP for pedestrians here.  Random… I mean, I know I do have the right of way, but you actually stopped for me?!?

Don’t run into people, don’t run into people… I know they are in your way, but you are in America, you need to be nice.  You can’t just bump people out of your way here.  Be polite, Julia.

Darnit… we have to tip.  The no tipping custom in China is an easy one to get used to.

Yes, I’m home.  Home in a place that sometimes seems so foreign, but only because something truly foreign became such a home.  It’s definitely an adventure, whether you are coming or going.


In Transit

I’m sitting in the Vancouver, BC airport.  It is 6:22am, Tuesday in Shanghai, and 3:22pm, Monday in Vancouver.

I woke up over 22 hours ago, stressing, worked up, anxious.  Got everything packed and ready to go.  Had an amazing lunch with a couple good friends and then had a lovely, relaxing, just what I needed, 60 minute massage, before leaving for the airport. (I think I need another one post flight!)

My flight was good, despite only getting about an hour of broken-up, interrupted, uncomfortable sleep, the 10.5 hours went by fairly quickly.

As my plane took off from Shanghai, I was full of emotions.  A mix of emotions.  A season of my life is ending, my life in China.  It was an amazing adventure, an unforgettable 14 months.  I enjoyed life to the fullest, I made connections and friends that I will never forget, I saw so much, learned so much, grew so much.  I’m sad to leave it behind, but I’m excited for the new adventures awaiting me.  I’m anxious to see what is next, where life will take me, all of the new things that are in store.

I felt it was appropriate to update the world on my life from the Vancouver Airport, I do have a history of blogging from this airport.  Normally, it is on my way TO China though, and I’m much more awake and coherent.  One year, two months and nine days ago, I sat in the Vancouver airport awaiting a flight to Hong Kong before my China adventure began, I had just learned of my grandfather’s passing minutes before getting on the plane from Portland to Vancouver and I wrote: Saying Goodbye.  Eight months and nine days ago was the last time I was in North America, as I awaited my flight out of Vancouver, I reminisced on the beauty of my sister’s wedding and my quick two weeks at home in And I’m Out.

Transitions… that is what airports are all about, right?  We think we just transfer from country to country, city to city, gate to gate, plane to plane, but really, we are transferring, transitioning from one journey to the next, one adventure to another. As one chapter of our lives ends another begins, and we find ourselves flying in a new direction, looking towards the horizon, wondering what awaits.

Just don’t forget, there may be long layovers, there may be delays (like my flight outta here), sometimes you may lose your luggage (or your mind) but enjoy the journey – cause sometimes it isn’t all about the destination.


14 days of 14 months

In 14 days I will be leaving China, just 14 months after arriving in Shanghai. Bittersweet. It is hard to believe that it was fourteen months ago that I wrote about the bittersweet day I left the Casey Eye Institute in my post Here we go: 2011. In some ways, it feels like it was a lifetime ago, in other ways, it feels like only yesterday I began this adventure. Yesterday, was my last day of teaching at Kid Castle. No more of all the crazy little kids.  All the times I couldn’t stand them, they drove me crazy, they drove me to tears.  All the times I came to the realization that my sister is absolutely insane for choosing to be a teacher as a lifetime career and that I could never cut it!  (Love you sis – insane but I am eternally grateful for you and other people who have a passion to teach children.)

All the ups and downs of teaching.  The spoiled children, the crying, the yelling, the playing and not paying attention, the dear child that vomited all over the floor of my classroom on Wednesday, the parents that drove me mad, my lack of creativity that sometimes made me feel incapable of planning a lesson to hold the attention of 18-20 small children.

But there were the hugs, the sweet words, the children that GOT it and were so bright and amaze me everyday with their abilities to learn English. There were the screams of JULIA! JULIA! JULIA! when my students saw me.  The high fives, the laughter, the amazing bonding and friendships built with my co-workers.

This week it came to an end.  This week, I saw the emotion in the faces of my children.  I saw tears from a class-clown, the funny boy, the tough boy, the little bit naughty, but very smart so I loved him anyway boy, he drove me up the wall… but I really liked having him in class.  As I said goodbye, his eyes filled with tears, he was quiet, not yelling and shouting, not acting out… he was silent tearful and sad because I was leaving.

My little student, Michael, who hangs on me, never letting go.  Always coming into the office to sit with me, giving me the biggest hugs each time he sees me. At six years old, he told me (in Chinese), that he was going to study English really hard so that he can come to America and visit me.

I had some of my older students asking me for my phone number in America, since I don’t know what my number will be and I don’t think they would actually be calling, I wrote down my email address on the board for them instead.  My students scrambled to jot down my email address, as my co-worker and I stood there saying to each other that we didn’t think any of them would actually ever write.  Thirty minutes after getting home last night, I received this email:

Julia,I like you.Don’t go away.
Jieli
2012/3/4

My students may have driven me crazy.  But they love me, and for the most part, I love them back.  My coworkers surprised me with a wonderful going away present and almost brought me to tears with the messages they all wrote for me.  They have made me feel so welcome, they have helped me out so much, they were such a part of my life for just over a year and they definitely sent me off feeling the love.

I have a feeling there will be more bittersweet days to come in the next two weeks, as I move on in life, from one adventure to another…


In my window

Other than my bed, there is probably one place where I have spent more time than any other single place in the past 13 months.  My very favorite spot in Shanghai, my favorite spot in my apartment, is sitting on the wide window sill of my bedroom window.  Made comfortable with blankets and pillows from Ikea, the small desk with my laptop next to me, or sitting with my laptop on my lap.  On the 28th floor, looking at the Shanghai skyline, lit up in gorgeous colors on clear nights, looking down the river to Nanpu Bridge, or sometimes just looking at smog.  I could check to see when people were walking up towards my apartment if I gave them directions from the subway stop, I can look down and see if my fruit guy is selling fruit from the back of his van.

The apartment gate, my fruit guy and a man selling DVD's, my typical view

I watched lightening storms here, I spent hours on skype with family and friends here, I wrote almost all of my blogs sitting here, I watched fireworks on Chinese New Year here, I watched giant snowflakes floating through the air here, I watched the progress of the (soon to be) second tallest building in the world being built here. I cried here, I watched movies and TV on my laptop here, I read here, I drank my morning coffee and ate dinner here.  It is my little spot. I love my little spot.

Snowing in Shanghai, watching giant snowflakes from my window

Today, I sit in my little spot for the last time.  I look out over the Shanghai on a cloudy day for the last time.  I close my eyes and envision the lights for the last time.  I look down and see my fruit guy for the last time.  I see taxis, buses, cars, bikes, scooters and people on the main road just half a block away for the last time.  Today I’m leaving my apartment, my wonderful roommate, and my sweet kitten.

My last day view...

In 45 minutes, I have to be at work.  When I come home I’m grabbing my stuff and heading to a friends house.  I will be bouncing from house to house for the next 19 days until I leave China. I’m moving back to the States, my Life in China is, for now at least, coming to an end.

Cloudy and smoggy, but always pretty...

When I think back, I have many memories, may adventures, many stories.  But honestly, it is this spot right here, sitting in my window, looking out over the 26 million people in my city of Shanghai, where I spent so much of my time.  It is such a perfect spot.  I will miss it.

My spot


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