So, big dreamer, you didn’t go native in China, but don’t worry. that’s probably a good thing…
All expats come full circle in the end. They anxiously arrive full of joy; like a virgin on prom night, they’re desperate to have cultural love affairs with the Middle Kingdom—this shining diamond of the East. After all, there is just so much to learn, so much wisdom, so many opportunities and so many Chinese people. Fresh off the boat, it’s time to get down and dirty with all the national habits. Admit it, you did the lot.
There were the kung fu or tai chi lessons (mine lasted six weeks). The brief fling with Chinese tea (“Pu’er is the best”). The interminable language lessons where progress was so painfully slow that you wanted to shoot yourself—and the teacher—in the face (“Ni jiao shen me ming zi?/ Ni hen ke ai/ Mei Nv!”). The fancy chop sticks you bought and used once. The time you decided to read Journey to the West, but quit after 70 pages (you still tell people you have read it, obviously).
Of course, briefly pretending that you liked chicken feet. The “Chinese” massages that came with a variety of endings, depending on what city you were in (yeah, Dongguan’s gone downhill). That three-day phase where you insisted on watching only classic Chinese films. The once-a-week KTV sessions with your foreign and one (two maybe?) Chinese friends, where you always ended up singing “Yesterday” because it was the only tune you knew. Those desperate attempts to bang any Chinese chick that moved (and failing so bad you never got over it). Eating spicy lamb chuan’r at 3 am, while drinking beer, with your top off.
Sometimes you still will rant and rave about things, of course: the weather, air, traffic, food, people, etc., but it won’t be much different than when you bitched about those things in London or Chicago or Dusseldorf or Tel Aviv.
I could go on. But it all ends them same, doesn’t it? You, sitting around at home, pounding off, munching on a Big Mac, while watching True Detective, or whatever is big on Netflix this month—and probably with a hangover.
As I said, full circle. And you know what? There’s nothing to feel bad about (well, not too bad anyway). It’s okay that your attempt at going native didn’t quite work out. At least you tried. It’s fine that you mainly eat spaghetti bolognaise, cheese sandwiches and bangers and mash. You need not feel too guilty about not nailing the language, despite a few pathetic attempts. There’s always time, right? Your girlfriend speaks English, right? Your kids can at least speak it, right? At least you’re still here and didn’t run off like a whiny bitch because you couldn’t handle the pollution.
It’s good that you have grown up enough to admit that you find three hours in a KTV bar hell on earth and worse. It means something that your Chinese friends are your friends not only because they are Chinese but because, well, you like who they are. It is great that you eat jianbing, not as some right-on culinary experiment, but simply because you just love nailing a breakfast (or post-pub) jianbing. So what, if you prefer coffee to tea. Or worse still, you put milk in your tea. Who cares?
In fact, going full circle with China is a good thing, regardless if you become comfortable or uncomfortable with the country. After a while, you’ll stop seeing Chinese people as Chinese people. It will be as if color just disappears. People will either be cool or assholes (or occasionally somewhere in between). Nationality won’t come into it. You will no longer notice that you can’t effectively communicate with 80 percent of people you see at the market or the metro. You will just get used to it. Sometimes you will forget entirely that China is a foreign country because it has become your home of sorts for a while.
Novelty will become routine and you won’t even pause to consider the difference. People will ask you about China and you won’t be able to answer them. Sometimes you still will rant and rave about things, of course: the weather, air, traffic, food, people, etc., but it won’t be much different than when you bitched about those things in London or Chicago or Dusseldorf or Tel Aviv.
Occasionally, you will meet someone who hasn’t come full circle and you will smile because you remember when you were exactly like that. And, of course, you will knowingly ask them: “So, Donny, how are the Chinese lessons going?”