Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: My Dear John Letter to China

June 22, 2012

Dear China,

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Remember the first time I wrote you?

It was after we had just met.

You were the bad boy everyone told me I wouldn’t like – with your disregard for traffic laws and penchant for spitting in the street.

I had just gotten out of a three-year relationship with law-abiding, neat-freak Japan.

I then spent a year flirting with Thailand and Malaysia and Laos.

I figured you’d be just like my Southeast Asian flings – a good time for a few months before I moved on to a country that I had a bit more in common with. After all, I’d never really seen myself settling down somewhere where chicken feet are considered a tasty snack.

Toenails do not a tasty treat make.

Then, despite what everyone told me about you, I fell in love.

Sure, you have always been a bit rough around the edges.

And, okay, so maybe you like to push me around a bit.

But you showed me a soft side that not a lot of visitors get to see. And, no, I’m not just talking about my couch. Okay, so maybe I’m mostly talking about my couch, but still.

By now this picture really should need no introduction.

Of course, it hasn’t always been good times between you and me.

First, you tried to kill me with all those respiratory infections.

And, well, it hasn’t been easy making friends here. I’ve always suspected this is because you’re the jealous type and you want me all to yourself. I mean, that is why you gave me such a sweet couch, right? So I would just stay in my apartment all day and watch reality TV shows on Hulu and never, ever bother to socialize, right?

Plus, my job hasn’t exactly been easy-peasy, either. I’ve struggled with unmotivated students and a lack of resources and support. Along with a lack of heating in the classrooms. And cooling. Or really any functioning electrical equipment.

Like Little House on the Prairie. But more rustic.

I’d like to think I came out of those hard times stronger in the end.

Or at least my lungs are stronger. I haven’t had a respiratory infection in, like, eight months. Probably because my lungs have morphed into crazy robot lungs. The next time I have to get a chest X-ray, I fully expect them to find a Terminator inside my chest. Or a tumor. Either one, really.

Honestly, since the start of this year, I’d say we’ve been getting along pretty darn well.

You won me back in Harbin even if I almost lost all my fingers to frostbite.

At the Ice Festival in Harbin. I’m pretty sure at this point I couldn’t feel my face.

Then you pampered me with beer and cream puffs in Qingdao.

Mmmm… cream puffs.

And who can forget our time on the Great Wall? I mean, I certainly can’t. I’m still having flashbacks of all those stairs. In fact, every time I see a staircase, I start to get the dry heaves a little.

Ahh, good times.

Things have been good lately, China, really good.

But as they say all good things have to come to an end. (Frankly, I’ve never been particularly fond of this saying. Because there’s lots of good things that really shouldn’t come to an end. Like cake. But, in this case, it kind of works.)

It’s time for me to go.

Yep, that’s right, I’m leaving you, China.

I know this isn’t news to either of us. I announced my decision to move on months ago. You took it calmly enough. Maybe you didn’t think I meant it. After all, we both know I’d threatened to leave you before.

There was that time I applied for jobs in, like, twelve other countries. And, even after getting offered a few jobs elsewhere, I stuck with you.

I wasn’t ready to leave then.

But this time I am.

Even if the pile of clothes all over my bed at the moment suggests otherwise.

The critical put-everything-on-the-bed stage of packing.

You’re probably wondering why I’m leaving when things have been going so well?

Trust me, I’ve thought about staying.

A month or so ago, my employer practically begged me to stay another semester, and I considered it. I really did.

It would have been easy to stay.

Really easy.

And that’s why I decided not to.

Frankly, things have been getting a bit too comfortable around here. We’d kind of become that couple that didn’t really care what we looked like in front of each other.

Well, you always were the casual type — the type to wear your pajamas in public.

But then I picked up a few bad habits of my own – like Ugg boots.

You made me do this, China.

And it’s possible I’ve started wearing sweatpants for activities that don’t involve sweat or physical exertion of any kind. Like, I wore sweatpants the entire three days I was in Hong Kong. I didn’t mean to do it. I had packed real pants — you know, the kind with actual waistbands.

The sweatpants thing just kind of happened.

Just like my shoving huge quantities of dim sum into my face just kind of happened.

Who needs pants when you have dim sum?

Now, don’t think I haven’t noticed all the little things you’ve been doing to try to win me back ever since I announced we were through.

First, I was able to buy shoes in my size.

Then, the local shop near my apartment started selling Magnum tiramisu ice cream bars. These are basically about the best thing I’ve ever tasted on a stick. And, I don’t have to tell you, but I’ve eaten my fair share of tasty stuff on sticks.

Hello there, Heaven.

And, then, last week you made it really, really easy for me to get my visa extension. Like, suspiciously easy.

I mean, there I was at a government office and everyone smiled at me and spoke English with me and were genuinely helpful and friendly. They don’t really do that kind of thing in the government offices where I come from. Or really in any government office I’ve ever been in.

It was weird.

Okay, so maybe they did turn up their noses a bit at my passport photo and demand I get a new one taken. In which, I wasn’t allowed to wear any earrings and I had to wear these fake lens-less glasses and I was told I could only smile “a little.” So I ended up looking like this:

I call this my “angry librarian” face.

I think we can all agree it wasn’t a good look for me. I suspect this was done just so you could be sure those other countries wouldn’t be making eyes at me, China.

Well, I’m pretty sure it worked.

Because Vietnam hasn’t called me back in, like, three days.

I appreciate all you’ve done for me, China.


But it’s time for me to leave.

Or, at least, it’s time for me to leave Wuxi. Tomorrow, I fly to Chengdu. After that, I’ll be heading to Kunming and a few other stops in Asia before I fly home at the end of July.

So it’s not over yet, China.

You still have a few more weeks to try to win me back with dumplings and stuff-on-a stick. And, I don’t have to tell you that I’m a girl who likes her stuff-on-a-stick.

Bring it on, China. BRING IT ON.

How do you know when it’s time to leave a place?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On June 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm Bob Werley said:

    I am still trying to figure out when is the right time to leave Japan. 10 years and counting now…

  2. On June 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm Jessica Hill said:

    I do the same as you – if something begins to feel comfortable, it’s time to move on. I don’t want to risk taking anything for granted. I wrote a post about how I know it’s time to go here:
    Jessica Hill recently posted..The Overnight Bus: Siem Reap to Bangkok

    • On June 23, 2012 at 6:47 am Sally said:

      I think this is actually the first time I’ve moved because I’ve been too comfortable. Usually I like comfortable. I mean comfortable is awesome! But I think I came into China thinking it would be much more of a challenge, and it wasn’t really as hard as I thought it would be. So that part of me that wants the challenge is ready to move on.

      • On June 24, 2012 at 8:41 pm Jessica Hill said:

        I completely understand that. Do you think moving to China was less challenging for you as a result of having lived in other Asian countries for so long before?

        • On June 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm Sally said:

          Definitely. Everyone kept on telling me that I wouldn’t like China and that it was way too challenging, but I think there are a lot of similarities between China and other places I’ve lived in Asia — the indirect communication, saving face, etc. So it ended up being a lot easier here than I thought it would be, I think.

  3. On June 22, 2012 at 5:20 pm Ceri said:

    Awwww. That was very diplomatic of you, Sally. Always good to do it gently, of course. 😉

    I don’t think I ever know when to take the hint that it’s time to leave a place. I’ve been in Mexico City for seven months and have hated it for about five of those. Technically I should have let by now but I’m letting the place grow on me.
    Ceri recently posted..Letter to My Father

    • On June 23, 2012 at 6:39 am Sally said:

      I had the same feeling about Brazil. My first 6 months there were the hardest 6 months of my life. I wanted to leave so many times, but I was way to stubborn and didn’t want to go home and have to admit to people that it didn’t work out. I was glad I held on, though, as after the half-year point things got so much better. When I finally had to leave, I didn’t want to go! So hang in there!

  4. On June 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm Selly said:

    That blog post makes me want to cry and I’m not the one who has to leave…

  5. On June 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm Erik said:

    On my last trip- I didn’t want to leave New Zealand, so I have no idea. Usually, as the end of the trip approaches, I’m ready to go home. I was ready to see my wife & dogs, but I lied to people when I sadi I was ready to come home. I could have stayed 4 more weeks. Or 4 more years… (Shhhh, dont tell my wife I said that. She’s already suspicious of my unabashed love for NZ)

    Seriously, best of luck on the next chapter of your life. I still have a few posts to catch up on here (along with the 3,000 items in my reader….)
    Erik recently posted..Postcard Friday- Yucatan, Mexico

  6. On June 22, 2012 at 8:49 pm Penguinlady said:

    Good luck and Godspeed! The one summer I spent in Buffalo, there was snow on July 1st. So, there is that to look forward to!

    • On June 23, 2012 at 6:34 am Sally said:

      What? I lived in Buffalo for at least 25 years of my life and I never saw snow on July 1st. Now you’re just messing with me… RIGHT? You ARE messing with me, right?

      • On June 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm penguinlady said:

        Let’s see… it was 1995, I think? I spent the summer in Buffalo with some friends. We were on the bus going to Main St Mall and I swear, there was a little bit of snow. It was very cold that day, so it wouldn’t surprise me. I swear on a stack of Let’s Go!

        • On June 24, 2012 at 9:28 am Sally said:

          Main St. Mall? Who goes to the Main St. Mall? It’s obvious you were misguided at the time, so I’m not going to trust your judgment on snow.

  7. On June 22, 2012 at 9:40 pm Priya said:

    Aww, yay! Such a sad letter. So glad you’re moving on to new adventures!
    Priya recently posted..Networking When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing With Your Life

  8. On June 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm Marie said:

    Awww, I’m sure China will be a bit upset but will get over it. It’s got all those dumplings to console itself with. But, come on, you know what we really all want to know…what’s next for you?
    Marie recently posted..Mountain Climbing

  9. On June 23, 2012 at 6:05 am Karen McCann said:

    You know it’s time to go when you’re too comfortable in a place. California, Boston, Ohio . . . I loved them all and left when comfort threatened to turn into complacency. Good for you, Sally! Can’t wait to read about your next adventure! We’ll all miss the couch, though. It’s like will not be seen again.

  10. On June 23, 2012 at 11:56 am Daniel McBane said:

    I love your picture of the Great Wall–it actually makes it look kind of steep and difficult to get up. In all of my pictures, it just came off looking like a slightly longer than average staircase. And nothing could be further from the truth.

    All I remember from my day at the Great Wall is basically dragging myself up one gigantic step at a time, in the pouring rain, as one group of Chinese tourists after another sprinted up past me with a cheerful greeting. I don’t want to–but feel obligated to–mention that the youngest of these Chinese tourists was about three times my age.

    I remember, because I got a good look at all their faces 50 steps and two hours later, when they all came back down with an encouraging, “It’s really nice, you should get up there.”

    Not often have I felt more pathetic.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..What to do Before Entering a Public Pool in Japan

    • On June 24, 2012 at 9:31 am Sally said:

      Probably because I was panting and curled up in a little ball at the bottom of the steps — that’s why it looks so steep. Luckily, the section of the Wall I was on was closed to the public on the day I went as I was participating in the Marathon. I don’t think I could have dealt very well with 80-year-olds leaping past me on the steps.

      • On June 24, 2012 at 11:25 am Daniel McBane said:

        Wait….you ran a marathon up the Great Wall?!? And there were other people doing this with you? Is running 42km (42 f***ing km!!!) on flat land not challenging enough anymore? What is the world coming to…
        Daniel McBane recently posted..Japanese Car Elevator

        • On June 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm Sally said:

          I can see someone has some blog reading to do! I wrote all about my Great Wall experience last month:

          I just ran a 10K and only about 4K of the 10K were on the Wall… but, frankly, that was more than enough for me. There were people doing full & half marathons. The full marathoners had to do the section of the Wall twice. There was no way I could have survived that.

          • On June 25, 2012 at 7:31 am Daniel McBane said:

            You’re right, I do have some catching up to do with pretty much any posts from my pre-blogging days, which is basically anything before June.

            I wish you’d recommended a different post though. Don’t get me wrong–it’s well written, but that’s kind of the problem. I was getting exhausted just reading it and hit a wall halfway through, but after hooking myself up to some IV fluids, I got my second wind and powered on to the finish.

            The only fault I can find with that post is that you failed to adequately describe what would make an otherwise sane person (ok, so I’m making an assumption there; and maybe a pretty big one) want to put themselves through something like that, when we as a species have come up with such technological wonders as buses and chairlifts.

            I know you pointed out that ONLY 4K was on the wall, but if that K stands for 1000, then you’ve committed the most egregious misuse of the word “only” I’ve ever seen.
            Daniel McBane recently posted..Treading Chlorine in a Public Pool in Japan

          • On June 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm Sally said:

            To find out why I did it you’ll have to read this:
            Basically, I was delusional.

          • On June 26, 2012 at 7:38 am Daniel McBane said:

            To me, delusional is always a given when people talk about running distances greater than 100m, but I guess sometimes torturing yourself pays off and you end up with a box of dried fish.
            Daniel McBane recently posted..Treading Chlorine in a Public Pool in Japan

  11. On June 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm kyle said:

    Can I write a response from China that says something like:

    Baby, don’t go. I know I did some things that you didn’t like, but I didn’t really mean it. I’ll be better, baby, I promise. Just don’t leave me; I need you. I know I have a lot of people in my life, but you’re special, I promise.


    P.S. No love flings with Taiwan or I will burn your house down. I’m China. I know where you live.
    kyle recently posted..Fun Things About Living in Myanmar: Money Edition

  12. On June 23, 2012 at 4:03 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    I think it’s time to leave a place when you stop having the desire to go out and explore.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Foto of the Week from … Sucre: Holiday!

    • On June 24, 2012 at 9:28 am Sally said:

      Hmm… interesting. I actually have experienced the opposite. When I first moved to China, I was so burnt out from traveling that I had absolutely no desire to travel. I spent a year hardly ever leaving Wuxi & just enjoyed being domestic again. Now, I’m all fired up & so excited about my travels in China and I’m leaving. Weird, huh?

  13. On June 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm Joseph said:

    luckily I’m heading to the US, and I will experience no desire to leave (of course I could be wrong, and the whole visa thing gets in the way, but I’m determined to win). But I wouldn’t be able to be in a place without something to explore/eat.
    Joseph recently posted..Feeling left out of the world

  14. On June 24, 2012 at 12:25 am Nomadic Chick said:

    LOL! That passport photo is priceless. The pandas, I guarantee they’ll make you love China more. China will miss you and so will I!
    Nomadic Chick recently posted..Vayama and I: In the Skies to Europe

    • On June 24, 2012 at 9:25 am Sally said:

      I’m loving Chengdu actually, and I haven’t even seen a panda yet. I’m already thinking about moving back… and I haven’t even left! 🙂

  15. On June 24, 2012 at 10:18 am Theodora said:

    Where next, lady?!

    If you need a challenge, the Middle East is definitely going to be special…
    Theodora recently posted..I Don’t Know You, But I Blame You Very Much

    • On June 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm Sally said:

      Going home for a bit… then we’ll see. I have been thinking about the Middle East for some time now. I definitely think it would be a challenge for me after so many years in Asia.

  16. On June 24, 2012 at 10:46 am Sam Reeves said:

    You just past my ‘did I spit my coffee all over my computer screen laughing’ test with this…

    ‘..But as they say all good things have to come to an end. (Frankly, I’ve never been particularly fond of this saying. Because there’s lots of good things that really shouldn’t come to an end. Like cake…’

    It’s only my second date with your blog posts, and I thought it went so well, I really did, but now you say there’s no future. Was it my un-clothed blog reading habits that put you off? I mean, it has been known to.

    I can change, really I can. Just don’t leave China. Your next ‘rebound’ country won’t be the same, a mere fancy by comparison.

    ps. Write a book. You should.

    • On June 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm Sally said:

      Not to worry! The blog will continue even after I leave China — I promise! And, umm, second date and you’re already unclothed? Hmmm, maybe I should stop posting that picture of me with the pink pleather outfit. I’m obviously giving people all the wrong ideas!
      P.S. The book is in the works… kind of.

  17. On June 25, 2012 at 5:52 am Camels & Chocolate said:

    OK, I’ve never liked China–even though I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your exploits there (a testament to your wit and writing ability)–and this made me want to give it another chance. Maybe a do-over date someday down the road?
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Photo Friday: Ensenada, Mexico

    • On June 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm Sally said:

      Awww, give China a second chance, will ya?
      Frankly, I don’t know if I would have liked China so much if I’d come here as a tourist. I’ve always felt China is much more do-able when you live here. Having a place you can escape to on a regular basis is pretty much the key to staying sane in this country.

  18. On June 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm Charu said:

    Knowing when to leave a place is hard. I struggle with New York City all the time: on the one hand, it has given me so much; on the other—c’mon it’s a bazillion people! Wouldn’t it be nice to go somewhere really locale and enjoy it –like say, Napa? But I applaud you for pulling the plug. It had to happen sometime, right?
    Charu recently posted..Why You Don’t Have To Go Half Way Around the Globe to Find a Good Travel Story

  19. On June 26, 2012 at 2:33 am Michelle said:

    your photo is damn funny that cause me to LOL in the office. a very unique way of writing from a dear john letter perspective. thumbs up.

  20. On June 26, 2012 at 3:00 am choi kum fook said:

    Miss Sally, it seems you have fallen in love with China! But, anyhow as you are a writer, performer, photographer etc,you should have to face new things or environment and new challenges! These new things could linking to your new inspiration to write for your readers and supports! Yes, too comfortable makes a person to complacency! So, this the right time for you to choose to leave and to explore new things!Lastly, I hope you will get even more better COUCH, then the one in China, in new place to come!Ha!Ha! Bien voyage! Good luck and Godspeed!Miss Sally!

  21. On June 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm Waegook Tom said:

    I think if it’s too comfortable, then it’s time to go. Then again, I’ve been super comfortable in Korea for a while now – but my RTW is booked now, starting March 27th in Boston!

    You’re right to leave China, though. I mean, first it starts speaking English and giving you shoes, but who knows what stalker-like, creepy things it’ll start to do if you give it too much of a chance.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..5 European Cities I’d Love to Visit

  22. On June 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm Arianwen said:

    Sounds like you had a pretty tough time of it to begin with. I’m glad things turned around. That’s the great thing about living and working somewhere rather than just passing through. You get an entirely different perspective and, more often than not, leave with a more positive impression.
    Arianwen recently posted..London south bank: a farewell to remember

  23. On June 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm Heather said:

    Let the sweatpants happen 🙂 And PJs actually. There’s a time and place O:-)

    Enjoy the next month, chica! I’m sure it’ll fly by.

  24. On June 29, 2012 at 9:22 am Edna said:

    I agree with Tom — when it’s too comfortable, I leave. It seems counterintuitive (“don’t you want to live in a place where you’re finally comfortable?”) but then I get scared I’ll stay too long and next thing you know I’ll still be there five years later and it’ll be time to settle down and I won’t have explored or done half the places and things that I wanted to. It’s why I didn’t go back to Shanghai after graduation and why I left Singapore despite life being pretty perfect there. Although to be honest, I’ll probably settle down in Shanghai one day.
    Edna recently posted..Stacks

  25. On June 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm Barbara said:

    The Vietnam thing? It’s probably related to a territorial dispute in the disputedly-named East Sea/South China Sea.
    Barbara recently posted..Sponsored Video: Win A Family Holiday In Paradise!

  26. On June 30, 2012 at 8:10 pm Leah Travels said:

    Look, if you’re going to leave China, I sure hope you go some place with weird and strange customs, odd food choices, and fancy, multicolored couches. I REALLY hope these three things were considered for your next location.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Melodies and Travel Memories

  27. On July 10, 2012 at 3:00 am Audrey | That Backpacker said:

    Sounds like it’s been a good run. I bet you’re going to miss that couch – heck, I’m going to miss seeing photos of that couch! 😉
    Audrey | That Backpacker recently posted..What’s There To Love About London?

  28. On July 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    next? You could always try … Oh I don’t know …something insane like Skating on the Ottawa Canal – during Winterlude … you know … fun times! Just bring those Ugg’s! LMAO!

    When to leave? When another dream starts to bite at your ankles.

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:52 am Sally said:

      You know something funny? I have tried skating on the Ottawa Canal. And I remember being really bad at it. I was visiting some friends in Ottawa a long time ago and they made me do all kinds of winter sports I was really horrible at. 🙂


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