Tagged with " AlyssasExpatLife"
“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
― Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
Being a member of the media has its perks: free show tickets, invitations to fancy dinners with important people, free trips to conventions, video shoots in various parts of the country and social events. But, nothing could have prepared me for the awe-inspiring visit and flight into Hong Kong for VAPE News magazine. My editorial destiny with VAPE started back in 2002 when I met Matt at Drag Racing Online. Back then he was “just” a designer and I was “just” a clerical worker/copy editor. Over the years we’ve done little projects here and there, and when Matt started VAPE I was eager to help. The magazine has taken on a life of its own, which has led me to a factory tour (of e-cigarettes of all things) in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
The flight in was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was like I was getting dropped straight into a James Bond movie with the lush tropical mountains and a city scape you have to see to believe. My photos just don’t do it justice. I can’t even put into words the week I’ve had with the Wingle Group boys. Dman, Shlomo, Igor, Ivan and Borya have really made this 14-hour work days and crazy week of e-cig factory tours and VIP lunches/dinners well worth it. Shlomo (means King Solomon in Hebrew), our driver, and I immediately had the most unexpected of connections. While the boys in the back spoke Hebrew/Russian or whatever their combined languages were, Shlomo and I were in the front of the car teaching each other our own form of Chinglish, laughing and complaining about stupid drivers while he read all the signs to me and laughed as I pronounced them.
The funniest point of the visit was crossing across the border in a van with someone from Lebanon, Russia, Israel, Germany, the UK, China and little old me. We definitely got searched. We were laughing about the array of passports and our unlikely caravan and how we must look to customs.
My last night in Hong Kong with Dman was a dream. He took me on a ferry ride and walking tour of some of his favorite hot spots. We went to a Japanese bar, the Butler, where the bartender took my simple Captain and Coke and lit honey and lemons on fire, mixing it ever so precisely with a flourish. Topping the drink off with a stick of cinnamon, I never knew a basic drink could be delivered with such pride and accuracy. The only sad part about my night in Hong Kong is that it wasn’t long enough. I believe, however, that it won’t be my last time here. That’s my hope, anyway.
There’s really something special about working hard and traveling at the same time. You learn so much not only about the world, but yourself. I feel relevant. I feel important. I feel alive more than I ever have in my lifetime. Coming back home and settling down just doesn’t feel right in my bones anymore. Perhaps that’s why life before all of these blessings never quite meshed with the person I was trying to be. I was trying to be married and have the two-car garage that everyone else had, to be what everyone deems “normal” in mid-America. But, that’s just not me. And now that I’ve accepted it and steered my life in the direction that I have, wow. I never thought I could be so happy. Dmitri even said that he can’t settle and live in one place for more than a year, and for the first time I really understood what that life meant and how it completely agreed with what I’ve always wanted.
Idle time never has done me justice, and that’s why flying, trade shows, conferences, you have it, have been so appealing to me. Listening to other languages, laughing with new friends from around the world, learning about different cultures—it’s all a wonderful gift. I have one more night to wrap up some unfinished business in Jinan. I gladly say goodbye to the city I’ve called my home for five months, and I head to Bali now with one of the best weeks of my life behind me and with what I’ve learned deeply imbedded in my heart.
“Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.”
This has been my hardest week in China by far, and absolutely not one aspect of the range of feelings that have consumed my heart has anything to do with China. As my time here winds down, emotions are running high with my return to the states six months earlier than originally planned. I have a ton of things to worry about logistically. Will my dog be happy now that he’s been running free on vacation for almost six months? I’m almost set on Chicago now, how am I going to prep for this move and pay for it? I live like a queen here; how am I going to adjust to U.S. prices again? I don’t have a “real” job. Do I need one or do I have enough where I can finally have the freedom I’ve always wanted professionally? Where am I going to live? I don’t have a car, how do I get from one place to another? I’ve been an expat and I love it. Simply, how do I return to a place I chose to leave?
My mind has been a jumbled mess this week, and if that wasn’t bad enough, my dad said some very hurtful things in a recent phone call. Everything my mom said to me for 18 years came rushing back, and I learned one very important thing after reflecting upon it—no matter how hard you try some people will never be satisfied with what you do. YOUR best will never be good enough, because it’s not THEIR best. If you aren’t living your life the way they want you to, you will never be pleasing in their eyes. So, you have to be pleasing in your own eyes. It’s a lonely place sometimes. One thousand people can tell you how awesome you are (and lucky for me they have), but until you hear it from the one person you need it from the most, your mind goes back to the child who couldn’t tie her shoes effectively because her mom hit her when she got it wrong on the first try and she couldn’t see through the fearful tears.
To top it all off, the love of my life officially made someone else the love of his life this week. The range of emotions are like none I’ve ever felt, and even though I saw the truck coming miles away, I still stood in the road and blindly let it and the wall of grief hit me.
I carefully and with unbearable pain chose the life path I’m on after the words “You’ll never leave me” were uttered one fateful night in December of 2009. With the help of my amazing friends and utter determination, I put my life back together, but I never truly got over the decision that I made. Was it right in the end? Hindsight is always 20/20, and now it feels like a bet I made with God. I made the bet that I would be treated better than I was being treated at that time, that he would never make the eventual changes I see today. I made the bet that my life would be better, say five years into the future. And I’m still to this day completely unconvinced that it was the right bet, because while I can see where his future is, mine is completely unfinished. Someone else made that bet with him and perhaps in the end reaped some of the benefits of my decision. I have all but lost faith that I will find anyone who knows me and my personality better. Who stops everything else in a room from moving.
However, there is one important point to all of this reflection—while I may have a euphoric high whenever I’m around this person, I am unable to walk the earth with him. In fact, there is no one I’ve ever been in a relationship with who would do the things with me I’ve done so far. With (or without him, however you look at it) I would not have stood on the Great Wall of China. I would not have been inside the Sistine Chapel, or the Roman Colosseum, or roamed the hills of Tuscany. I would not have danced the night away in Vienna or walked the streets of Spain, Budapest, Prague, Florence, Venice, Berlin, Poland or Slovakia. I would not have Maddux, who I’m convinced is my guardian angel on earth. I would not have the strengthened friendships that I have now because my world would be consumed by him, just as my thoughts have been this week. I’m not saying any of this to brag or to try to even the score, trust me, I’m saying it all in my head over and over again to convince myself of how lucky I am rather than be consumed by sorrow and regret.
As I left my British friends’ house this morning and stepped into a cab headed to my house in Southern Jinan, the cab driver started laughing with me and tried teaching me some Chinese on the way home. We learned each others’ names. We laughed at our shared sense of charades and confusion, and as I left the cab, he kissed the back of my hand. I would never have experienced a little moment like this, and even though right now it’s all by myself, I have to have hope that my future isn’t done. That I’ll find my person again.
Tonight I got into a lovely clichéd Facebook war of words with someone I barely know, who took it upon himself to say that I “rant” and that I’m not embracing the food or culture of China. That I signed up for this adventure, so now I have to live with it. Let me provide a small disclaimer; I come from the Webb school of negativity. I was raised to be negative, to have all negative thoughts and to think the worst of every situation. It’s something, along with my depression and bipolar II diagnosis, that I am very keenly aware of and struggle with daily.
I find myself beating myself up over it. “Am I being too negative in this conversation?” “Have I talked too much and have I asked the person enough about their day?” And, it’s because of this that I think about what I say about China on a daily basis. I try to mix the positive posts with the negative. People ask me every day what it’s like here, and I try to give my honest opinion. Whether it’s too negative, I can’t tell—I wasn’t raised to be a positive person so it’s hard for me to seriously gauge.
I will say this: I did NOT sign up for an adventure. I have no idea where people who know me are getting this. I left to become an expat because I simply can’t sit still. I was afraid of being normal and having a “normal” life, whatever that is. I wanted something different, yes, but an adventure? I wouldn’t go that far. Over the past year or so I have tried to steer clear of risk taking behavior, as that is a sure sign of my mental illness. My counselor and I even discussed if this whole thing was just another risky trip.
I’m not as brave as everyone says I am in coming here. I don’t feel brave or strong at all. If I were, I would’ve picked a country that had no comforts and no hand holding. China provides a furnished apartment, Visa assistance and a school that pretty much guides you through every little detail. Even my normal travels are done within the confines of a tour group. I am not an adventurous person, and in my mind I was thinking, OK, I’ll be near the Wal-Mart and the McDonald’s.
So, it’s been tough for me to find out I’m not teaching what I trained to teach or want to teach. I feel cheated, especially with all the money I have put into this. I do believe in fate though, so something brought me to this place whether I like it or not. With that being said, I am going into my classes 100% and giving the kids an education and hopefully what their parents are paying for.
It’s also tough to be dropped into a suburb that has nothing, including minimal food options. It’s hard for me to be adventurous and to go out on my own to find things in a country that doesn’t speak any English. It gets lonely, and the cab ride alone is taxing for my over-anxiety mind, but soon I will be forced to do so if I am to have any sort of life here. The other teachers all are in one building together in the heart of the city. So again, I feel kind of cheated.
Lastly, I will not get used to the level of cleanliness here. That is not a negative expression, it’s a fact. I get sick enough in the states. We’re talking about my health, and I don’t take that lightly. I could easily contract something very serious with the absolute utter lack of personal hygiene in China. So, when someone tells me to get used to people pooping in the streets and having no toilets, it’s not going to happen. If I would’ve known about this, China would not have been a country I would’ve even considered.
But, I’m here. And I am making the most of the situation I was dealt, I promise. Most of the crap I say is sarcastic anyway, and I am settling into life OK. Am I having the time of my life? Of course not. Am I miserable? Not even close. I am doing my best to enjoy my classes and my time here, while it lasts. Even though I did not seek out an adventure per se, the adventure has surely found me.
Professionally I have always been an overachiever. I was the sole participant in my own reading group in kindergarten and only one of seven in the gifted program until junior high; I was singing on stage by age 8. I wrote, directed and starred in my own musical at age 10. I got a full-time job in my field before college graduation and was picked as a managing editor for my first “big” job out of college over hundreds of other applicants due to one line on my resume: Maintained a 4.0 major GPA while working a full-time job in college. It showed that I was an extreme multi-tasker, according to my boss. I’ve always had more than one job at a time for my entire adult life, sometimes upwards of six to seven jobs at a time, more for boredom’s sake than the paycheck (even though that’s nice).
I had always been the best. Until I wasn’t anymore.
After a string of jobs that looked good on paper but left me feeling slightly unfulfilled in my career, over a gradual course of about five years I started to lose my purpose. For someone who has dedicated her life to work, work naturally filters into your very being.
Then two years ago I took a work-from-home local editor position that was a breath of fresh air. I absolutely loved it. I had responsibility, autonomy and the freedom of not being stuck in an absolutely suffocating cube while the clock ticked by. I swore to never have an office job again and to stick with this company forever. And then … they didn’t stick with me. I was working 80-hour weeks, was having chest pains and heart palpitations due to anxiety and stress and endured bronchitis, mono, pneumonia and a hospitalization all in the course of a year. And they let me go. I ended up being the first in a long line of people getting the axe, but it made me realize something that I don’t think I ever realized before. I’m just like everybody else and hard work doesn’t always pay off. The normalcy of that feeling ate at me like nothing ever had in my life.
After a painstaking six months and ego deflation, I finally accepted a position at home in St. Louis. It was the perfect job for me, even with an office being involved, and I loved it. I was so thankful to have this new breath of fresh air creatively and to mean something to the outside world again. But, outside of work the normalcy of being a day-to-day average person still was tearing at my soul. Some said it was due to my current mental status. Some said it was because I was a Sagittarius—we are never at rest. Others just chalked it up to “that’s life” and pretty much told me to deal with it. But, life isn’t meant to just be dealt with, is it? Shouldn’t we always strive to be and do better and be our best selves?
I thought about volunteering, about singing in an acoustic duo, even about singing on a cruise ship for a while. Over the course of several months my either my networking efforts didn’t pan out or someone didn’t return my call—either way it was enough for me to give up trying.
In addition to this weird gut feeling, my personal life, at least in my own mind, was in the toilet. I had two failed marriages, a failed engagement and a line of failed relationships. I couldn’t handle the pressures of being in a relationship, but not having a support system at home and watching my friends happily marry off one-by-one in typical Midwestern fashion served three nagging-my-mind roles:
- Shouldn’t I be like everybody else and have 2.2 kids and a garage by now?
- Wait, I had that (minus the kids) 10 years ago and that’s not what I wanted. I felt trapped in that situation and got out. Was something wrong with me?
- None of my friends can/want to hang out as often as I want to. I see their “one big happy family photos” on Facebook and I tear up. I’m completely alone.
Even though I had great friends and sporadic time with them, it wasn’t enough. They had their own lives and their own families. My new “friends” were bartenders and my time out on the town by myself usually ended up with me crying, yelling at someone or just passing out in order not to feel the pain I was going through. I felt like I was living on another planet compared to my friends. I started to become my own best friend, going to dinner and movies by myself. My dog became my complete world. It’s not like I didn’t have exciting times or a life that others may want. I had plenty of things to be thankful for, and I knew that.
However, about a year into my new job and almost two years after my last relationship—I made a tough decision. I finally had force myself to make a change.