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One of my more memorable days, bumming around Zhonghuamen, playing hooky with the kids.
I never imagined when I landed in China one year ago I would feel like this knowing I cannot go back, at least not any time soon.

For a variety of reasons – we will not be completing our 3 years in China and are moving back…well, now. I’m devastated to be perfectly honest. But the last two months have been…beyond what words can really describe. Intensely scary and unnerving, testing the limits of my sanity and self-worth. It’s important that we come back.

I think some people would be overjoyed to come back because of top-notch medical care and Costco. I don’t really understand why I’m not, despite the fact I know it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s just the exhaustion having sucked my ability to feel.

We made a home and a life in China. I was starting a new career. I was love-hating every single crazy minute there. I was making good friends. I was just learning enough Mandarin to surprise people. And for better or worse, I was reminded often of how incredible it was to be alive. Everything felt more tenuous, dramatic, strange, and even threatening there, and as a result, more precious. Any excursion brought with it the prescience of how different everything really is outside of the limited life I’d always had, yet never knew…and it is disappointing to leave that behind. I liked that knock-me-upside-the-head drama of awareness that living in China brought with it.

This entire year has been a deep-dive into stunning paradox, and it came to a wildly dramatic end being medically escorted from hospital to hospital, across the world, separated from my family, caring for our son alone, petrified and yet extremely thankful he was alive.

Just typing this makes me feel hot, dizzy and scared all over again. I will never forget how that feeling began when I received an email from my pediatrician in Michigan (who I asked for a second opinion on some labs because it looked like diabetes to me, but what did I know, I only Googled this stuff) at 9:57 pm on May 16th that I needed to take Milan to a hospital as soon as possible “to get treatment or he could go into crisis.” Within one hour, I mobilized everyone close to me to help watch my other kids, called Mike to fly home from California, and jumped into a car for the 2+ hour trip for Shanghai (my one and only trip to Shanghai while in China was spending a week in that hospital, leaving only long enough to buy toys to help Milan cope with his treatment.)

Yes, of course we should be home. But I’m so disoriented when it comes to that word now. I have no sense of place or purpose to go with it. I feel like it could be anywhere, doing anything.

And that is truly a gift from China to me, that I believe will last me my whole life. China taught me that I can be happy, alone in a strange 70s era hospital in Hong Kong, or in a two bedroom apartment with 3 kids and none of my belongings. China taught me I can be happy starting over at the very bottom of a new career where I am mopping floors to get experience. I get that I lived like a queen by any standards of the rest of the population of China, so I’m not trying to say I had a monk-like existence of humbled sacrifice…but I had to learn to accept a lot of things.

And I saw things. Heart-stopping things. Things that instantly and forever changed me. Over and over and over. I guess that’s why I want to go back. I feel like I was just beginning to uncover something about humanity, and my own humanity that can only be accessed when you live in another human culture. Like, there is no way to replicate that in the US. Fish in water, you know? Sure, I can on a very surface level continue to enjoy and study Chinese culture, I can go to authentic Chinese restaurants and grocery stores, and enroll my kids in Chinese school on the weekends, and take Chinese lessons, and study about China while I’m in the US, but I would do that only in an effort to keep some kind of lifeline to get me back to China. I feel like I have to get back there…almost like I just left half of myself there and I’m not going to be okay until I'm reunited.

And I think that’s the thing. Yes, China was different. I could go on about how much I loved the food, architecture, and people, and how wild and wacky it all was. But I don’t want to misconstrue and boil down my experiences, and the wonder of living in another culture to some cheap “hey, let me tell you some crazy stories about China” porn. China was different and I will miss China, but perhaps more I will miss the person I was in China. I don’t think she can exist here, and I guess I may have liked her better.

Who knows. Maybe it’s the exhaustion.


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