Transnational Life

From Ape Rifle:

> I guess that is one of the biggest downfalls of the transnational life: you meet amazing people, only to let them go as we all drift back to our respective countries or chosen corners of the world. This will be my fourth consecutive year of goodbyes, and I think that emotionally I’m getting rather tired of it. Could it be time to settle down somewhere for real? Do I need to stop being such a goddamned drifter, and realize that I can’t keeping hopping around the globe leading a disposable life without suffering the consequences once the glory of youth starts to fade?

I really identify with Patrick’s feelings.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Greg Pasden Says: September 20, 2005 at 12:33 am


    Welcome to my world. People think that as a pilot that I get to goto great places and meet new people. Well, yes that’s true, but it does come at a price and now you are realizing the same grief that i’ve experienced on numerous occasions. I can’t really give you a magic spell or pill but i can tell you that I’m going to continue doing what I do even though I will continue to experience similar emotions time after time.

    PS- Have you heard of the Korean singer “Rain”. He and I road together on a commercial flight. He says he’s popular in Asia. I just wanted your take.


  2. Greg,

    Thanks for the thoughts. I’m pretty much at peace with it. I’ve settled in Shanghai, and a lot of my friends are back in the States (not to mention my family!). But Patrick’s post just reminded me of a time in my life when I wasn’t sure where I wnated to be or how to deal with the friend situation… That was around 2002, I guess…

  3. Oh, and I’ve never heard of Rain, sorry. But then I really don’t know about any Korean singers.

  4. I’ve never heard anyone Chinese talk about Rain, but the Korean kids that I know in Beijing really like him. He did an teen expat concert of sorts here last year and they were all bouncing off the walls.

    Back to the topic at hand, it sounds like Patrick needs to solve his mental issues with a bit of shopping.

  5. Da Xiangchang Says: September 20, 2005 at 1:16 am

    Well, there’s a simple solution to this problem: find a permanent home. I mean, make up your mind where you’ll settle, then go off on long vacations somewhere. Of course, this is easier said than done cuz you need a lot of money for this, but truly this is the only way to have BOTH the excitement and the stability in your life. That’s why I left China. I could never imagine living in China permanently. But if you can, then I don’t see why this “transnational life” could be problematic.

  6. Da Xiangchang,

    Thanks, that’s very helpful.

  7. Da Xiangchang Says: September 20, 2005 at 2:05 am


    You’re welcome (and I hope your praise wasn’t meant to be sarcastic!).

    To elaborate: most laowais get conflicted because they could never imagine living in China forever. So they’re drifting–like I love my exciting life in China, but I know eventually I have to return home (home being their original countries) and settle down to a boringass life. As long as you have that attitude about China, you’re screwed and will ALWAYS have those “transnational” problems. But if you can honestly think, “China is my home,” then you’re good to go. Go native: learn the language till you’re as good as a Chinese, figure out the culture of China, have a bunch of Chinese friends, etc., etc. And NEVER think of eventually settling back to your original country!

  8. Da Xiangchang,

    I completely agree with you- the problem right now is trying to figure out where to settle. I also left China because, despite the great experience I had there, I could not picture myself living there permanently. There are several places I wouldn’t mind settling down in, and that is the choice at hand I guess. London and Montreal top the list at the moment.

    As for your comment trevelyan, well I’ve recently gone textile shopping in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Don’t know if that cured my mental illness, but it sure was fun.

  9. You’re always welcome back. \w/_

  10. dx,

    why “never”? it seems to me that if you can say to yourself, “this is my home right now,” and have that be a chunk of time — even if it is not a defined chunk of time — that it’s possible to be comfortable and satisfied w/ that without ever shutting the door on future possibilities. i’m not just thinking of john. let’s go small-scale (and kinda flip it backwards): i live in tampa, so i am finding things to be satisfied w/ in that and am enjoying the people in my life here; however, i do NOT intend to stay in tampa indefinitely! i’ll leave when the time is right, and i’ll go where circumstances take me. wherever i go, though, my family will always be close in my heart, so it doesn’t matter if i (or john, or grace, or mom & dad) am across the country or across the globe — i’ll always have “home.”

  11. Da Xiangchang Says: September 28, 2005 at 8:40 am


    Well, moving from Tampa to another part of America is NOT the same as moving back to America from China. Besides the very different logistics of it–time, job situation, visa situation, culture, etc.–you also have to deal with a great reduction in status. When laowais who move back to America complain about America being “boring” or “culturally bankrupt,” they’re just kidding themselves. America is every bit as fun as China–if you have money and status. Laowais have both in China but often neither in America (or whatever else western country they’re from). That’s why I always believe if you’re going to live in China, you might as well live in China forever. Otherwise, get your butt back to America ASAP cuz it’s easier to start over from a resultant peon position when you’re 30 than when you’re 40 or 50. The reverse cultural shock most laowais experience has nothing to do with “culture” but rather the loss of privileged status–i.e., not making any more money than anyone else, working 40+ hours a week, hot girls not looking at you anymore, etc.

  12. Money and status determine how much fun you have? Since when? Reverse culture shock is really a loss of privilege, money, free time and women? What? I don’t think everyone bases their sense of happiness and comfort on such shallow determiners. Never confuse making a living with having a life.

  13. Da Xiangchang Says: September 30, 2005 at 8:12 am


    Every single laowai I’ve talked to who’s returned America after living several years abroad has suffered SEVERE reverse culture shock, myself included. When asked why they experienced this, they would invariably babble about how Americans are shallow or American culture is shallow or whatever. Since I don’t believe in either reason–IMHO, Americans are far LESS shallow than the Chinese; American culture FAR richer than Chinese–I always think there’s another reason. And without exception, after I pressed them hard enough, they all admit it’s because of the loss of privilege–indeed, it’s really cuz of “money, free time, and women.” Maybe I just have shallow friends–or maybe I’m just more honest. Who knows?

  14. That’s fair…or maybe I just have too much free time back in the States. I’m not shallow. Honestly though as long as I have enough peanut butter and tequila, I can be happy in any setting.

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