In 2004 I wrote a blog post called To Stay in which I shared my intention to stay in China “indefinitely.” I can’t think of it as anything but a great decision for my career and my personal life. Since then, I’ve gotten married, had two kids, gotten my masters degree, had a good run at ChinesePod, and founded AllSet Learning and Mandarin Companion.
Is life in China challenging? I guess… Internet issues are the #1 (almost daily) frustration, but obviously pollution and food safety are major concerns, especially now that I have children of my own.
What I totally didn’t anticipate was the difficulty of seeing my parents grow old from afar. In that previous blog post, I even acknowledged that “the years before [my parents are] actually old were dwindling,” but I don’t think I fully appreciated what that meant. How could I?
This is the reason for my recent silence, pretty soon after resuming writing in June. My parents are now old, and my father’s health is suddenly not good, so I’m trying to get back to Tampa more often to see him (and my mom). Once a year no longer cuts it.
So I’m working a few things out, but I’m hanging in there. “Indefinitely” hasn’t changed, but I think I’ll be taking a lot more plane trips now.
I know the feeling. I was out in China for three years and on the third year, my father got terminal cancer and I had to rush home and spend what time I had left with him. The thing I find depressing, (it’s even worse for me because I’m in China not because I want to be any more, but because my wife is Chinese and the UK’s immigration rules are absurdly draconian), is that with yearly visits, it could literally be a few dozen visits (at best) left with my mother.
Family should always be first, John. I enjoy your writing, and the things I’ve learned through the years. 我希望你的家人的身体好。 谢谢你， 朋友。
Do you have to be in China physically to do the work you do?
For some of it, yes (the 1-on-1 consultancy), but not everything.
I understand your feelings. I think this is an issue many people around our age are dealing with, but, like pretty much everything, China puts it into sharper focus. I hope you can take the time to spend with with your family and let your little ones have time with their grandparents.
That distance is one of the things that makes China (or any other far-flung locale) so appealing in the beginning, and that makes it slowly become so much more difficult over time. I remember first coming here and being so excited to be moving as far away from home as possible, to be starting my own new life in a completely fresh environment, to essentially be “starting over” in a very real way. It’s only my fifth year and already I find myself almost a little distressed at how out of touch I’ve grown with the other side. Although I keep in touch with family and some of my best friends through email, skype, and even voice texting now (via wifi connection), I can’t get over the fact that we’re slowly moving in distinctly separate directions. Every time I go back to visit now it’s either for a wedding or because someone is sick…the best and the worst occasions I guess. And every time I find that people’s appearances have changed more, there are more new young relatives running around who I hadn’t been there to watch grow, and my hometown has shifted further away from the farming village I remember from my childhood.
I suppose that’s life though. I’ve heard some of my best Chinese friends say similar things about their own families and hometowns in other provinces or cities.
While I think it’s great that the world has become a more open and accessible place I think what you describe is certainly the downside to this. I live in the same country as my family but in a city quite far away from them and I find myself feeling sad quite often about all the daily things I miss doing with them.