Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Shanghai Diaries - Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

When my wife and I moved to Shanghai some nine months ago, we knew we would eventually move back to the States. The plan was to stay for one, maybe two years with the possibility of extending that for another year or two. After that we knew we would have to come home.

As anyone who has spent an extended time in a foreign land can tell you, there are good days and bad. The good days are clear and beautiful. They make like home. The bad days roll up on you like rain and make me wish I was anywhere but this strange land where everything is different and nobody understands.

Having lived on foreign soil before, I knew all about both types of days before we left and as such promised myself not to make any final decisions on how long we would stay for at least six months. Even so there days when I was sure I wanted to live in China, and days when I wanted nothing more than to catch the next plane out.

We have been thinking it over these last couple of months and we have now decided to head back home and start fresh. It was a hard decision, but this seems like the best option for now.

There are a great many things I love about China and those things make me want to stay. Shanghai is an interesting and incredible city. We have seen and visited many fascinating places and it will be hard to go back to what will surely feel like the terribly mundane back in the States.

Money is a great pull as well. We now make far less money than we did in the States, and yet it goes a lot farther. Half of my wife’s check (and she is assuredly the breadwinner in China) goes to an account in Hong Kong which we do not touch. Yet we still live quite large.

We dine out nearly every night, we travel primarily by taxi everywhere, and we continue to buy all sorts of crap from DVDs to fabric to footwear without giving it a second thought. We travel all the time and we are still saving thousands of dollars.

That’s a hard thing to walk away from.

I also really love the people here. I’ve mentioned before that we live in something of an ex-pat compound, and it is something like summer camp, if not paradise. Culture shock is eased by the familiarity of western faces. Friends abound. I can’t leave my home and walk to the corner store without seeing someone I know and having a friendly chat. I have made many friends among the Chinese as well and everyone is always exceedingly friendly.

Like I said, it was a hard decision to make.

I am not a man of great ambitions, but I do hold a few small dreams. For as long as I can remember I have longed to own a modest house on a small piece of land. I want to grow flowers and potatoes. I want to sit on my front porch, sipping freshly made iced tea, while I watch my kids grow old. I want to sit there with my wife, whom I love more than life and watch the sun set over the horizon. It isn’t much of a dream, but it is mine.

Truth is I continue to get older, but the dream seems to get farther away. I simply can’t see how China gets me any closer to it. So, we’re going home on July 28. We’re not sure what we’ll do once we get there, I can only hope. And dream.
Fear not, gentle readers. I still have just over two months left in Shanghai and there are still many stories to tell. The diaries will continue on for that time and I hope you will continue to read.

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