Remember that last letter I wrote you? Remember that?
I had just moved in. I was so nervous and scared. But you were so sweet.
You spoiled me with amazing food and an awesome new apartment and a sixteen-hour work week.
You didn’t care if I wore my pajamas in public.
You didn’t even care that I didn’t understand a word you said.
You had me at nihao (and that was before I even knew what nihao meant).Well, it hasn’t exactly been all roses and lounge-wear-in-public since then.
Shortly after that last letter, I came down with a respiratory infection that took three weeks and two different kinds of antibiotics to shake. It didn’t help that you kept on plying me with bitter-tasting Chinese medicine that promised to cure the “wind-heat in the upper part of the body,” when all I really wanted was some decongestant. (And what the heck is “wind-heat”, by the way?)
Then there was the loneliness.
I’ve made a few friends since moving to Wuxi, but it hasn’t been easy being the only single, thirty-something, foreign gal on campus. Not that I’m saying you’re not super fun to hang out with, China, but a girl needs her girl friends, okay?
And, well, there was a little boredom, too.
After one great weekend in Beijing performing at the Beijing Improv Festival and another great weekend in Shanghai catching up with friends, I realized how much I missed the hustle and bustle and the lively expat scene of living in a big city. Wuxi, with its sprawling parks and sweet pork ribs, is the perfect place to settle down. But I’m not so sure I’m ready to settle down just yet. I am young after all. (No matter what my birth certificate or my grey hair might tell you.) Besides, I’ve never been the settle-down type. (No matter what my couch might tell you.)
Oh yeah, and that shiny, new, easy-peasy job?
Well, it kind of lost its shiny, new, easy-peasy job smell once my free time started to fill up with assignments that needed grading. And while my students are, for the most part, pleasant, they are like many twenty-year-olds the world over – more interested in their lunch and their cell phones than thesis statements.A couple weeks into my job, I started to feel the same burn out I felt before I left Japan – the same burn out that made me quit my job and take a year off. I had hoped the time off would “cure” me – make me eager to teach again.
But, after only a couple weeks of working, I was already pining for my days of unemployment when I didn’t have to wake up before noon or fake enthusiasm for five-paragraph essays.
Plus, it didn’t help that I couldn’t find any floss.
I get really cranky when the health of my gums is at stake. I really don’t want to have another root canal in Asia especially since I know the dentists here aren’t so good about doling out the Novocain. (Seriously. I’ve had some great dental care in Asia, but, man, I’ve also had to do a lot of begging and groveling to get the dentists to hook me up with meds. And do you know how hard it is to beg and grovel when there is already a drill inside your mouth? Do you?)To be honest with you, for the past month or so, I’ve been kind of unhappy.
In fact, I was thinking of leaving you, China.
Yep, that’s right.
This was almost my Dear John letter to you.
I even looked elsewhere. I made eyes at Vietnam. I come hithered with Cambodia. Heck, I even played footsie with Russia, Tanzania and Oman – all at the same time! (I told you I wasn’t the settle-down type!)
And, let me tell you, they flirted back – hard.
I was short-listed for an amazing job in Tanzania. I got a second interview with a great school in Moscow. I had emails from another school in Cambodia. On Friday of last week, both Vietnam and Oman offered me jobs – jobs with more lucrative paychecks and better career potential than the one I have now.
And, man, it was close. As of Sunday of last weekend, I was ready to call it quits with you, China. I announced to a few of my coworkers that I was having doubts about us. I emailed half a dozen friends to tell them it was over. I even called my parents to tell them we were breaking up.And, then, I realized something.
It’s not you, China.
And — unlike all the times I’ve said this before — this time, I mean it.
It’s my fault things weren’t working out between us.
I got sick because I wasn’t taking care of myself.
I’m lonely because I haven’t really been making much effort to get out and meet people.
I’m bored because I’ve been spending way too much time holed up in my apartment and not enough time out exploring the city that I’m in.
I’m burnt out because I’ve been focusing too much energy on my job and not enough energy on myself. I also haven’t been focusing my energy on what I really want to do with my life – writing.It was my fault I was unhappy. (Okay, so maybe the whole floss thing was kind of your fault, China.)
To be honest with you, I’m really not cool with this – this whole blaming myself for my unhappiness thing.
I mean, why would I be to blame?
This is me we’re talking about here, people. I’m, like, practically perfect! Well, aside from my less-than-perfect dental history. (I’m telling you, people – floss while you’re young. It will save you a lot of pain and root canals in the future!)
Usually, I’m all about blaming someone or something else for my unhappiness. I just find an easy scapegoat – like, say, my job or, umm, China. (Sorry, China!)
And then I hatch an escape plan – one that involves me quitting my job or the country I’m in.
Then, a couple months or years later, when I’m unhappy or bored or lonely or whatever, I hatch a new escape plan – one that involves my moving to Tanzania or Vietnam or Cambodia or Oman or really any country that doesn’t happen to be China. (Again, sorry, China!)But this time, I’m not escaping.
On Monday, I signed my contract to stay for another semester – which means I’ll be here for at least another eight months. This means I have eight months to take better care of myself, to meet people, to explore and to write. This means I have eight months to work on making myself happy. (I’ve already found floss, so it’s like I’m practically there!)
That’s right, China, I’m not going anywhere.
You’re stuck with me.
For better or for worse.
At least, for now.
SallyP.S. Thanks for the floss. Now, if you could just hook me up a decent selection of cheese at my local grocery store, I’d totally be willing to commit to something more long-term. Think about it.