A Letter to Myself, 17 Months After Leaving America

In September 2016, you were so passionate about loving America. You knew, deep down, Ol’ Glory looked like home, you had a future written in American sands. You didn’t know where—besides not Mississippi—but you knew you’d come back home after a year in China with some wisdom and guile and maybe just a little better sense of who you are and what it means to live life wider.

Now, in May 2018, you sit in a coffee shop that brings you flat whites every hour and a Coffeehalf, that lets you use their wifi and practice Chinese. You’re so busy your eyes hurt and you aren’t sure you’re making good choices, but you’re making them and chugging every forwards into the grand oblivion.

You weren’t wrong, baby, you do love America, in your own way. But you love America like you love an abusive family member, out of obligation and bloodlines. It isn’t what you would have chosen, but so rarely are we given what we want by birth. That’s not to say you’d forsake it entirely or have fallen madly in love with your new country:

You see China’s flaw glowing in red lights, so you close your eyes and turn around. The comfort of your life requires a certain amount of willful ignorance about the lives of those around you. It requires you to stay uninformed about Chinese politics and policies, ears only perking up when you hear about visa changes, thanking the gods you’ve got more than a year of experience and a TEFL. Freedom means something different here. In some ways it’s liberating: the ability to be one’s self with so much wiggle room. But you’re painfully aware you only have that freedom because of white skin and native English ability. It’s luck, again.

But between China and America, you’ve chosen the flaws that don’t apply to you. At its core it’s a selfish choice: you’re unaffected by China’s troubles, so you enjoy the benefits. It’s neo-imperialism dressed like education, promoting English like it should be essential. The longer you’re here, and the more Chinese you know, the more you wonder how the world will fair with Daddy China shining over everyone instead of the USA.

But those many, many months ago, when you sat proud and certain in your return to the USA, it wasn’t born of ignorance or naiveté. Well, not completely true. You were ignorant of how much better life could get, of how beautiful a sunset looks through smog, how clean beer tastes on dirty streets. You didn’t know you could be really happy. No one can blame you for saying you’d come back when you expected the misery to taste like MSG instead of disappearing entirely.

Life in the after

You found a life that’s good because of the privileges you’re granted here, privileges you’re aware not everyone has. You thought white privilege was a thing in America? Woof, it’s next level here. Sure there are inconveniences, the foreigner-tax as you call it, but they’re so easily displaced by the benefits. Sure, you’ll pay extra for some things or get the wrong order because your Chinese is bad, but you are given such generosity and benefits simply for showing up.

So, now, 17 months later (to the day), you aren’t sure if you’re ever going home. You like to tell people you’ve found home here, you’ve got no desire to go back. Which is true—you can’t imagine returning. What would you even return to? Your experience here not easily translated into jobs back home. You’ve found a real passion for education, but you don’t know how to bring that back to the USA, especially when here you live like a king and in America your teaching salary would make you feel like a pauper. Selfish again. There’s a lot more selfishness in your new life. Maybe that’s where part of the joy comes from.

Dear girl, I remember being you. I remember the pain, the frustration, the lack of direction. You still weren’t sure who you were, at the core of it. You didn’t know what life was. You didn’t know what you could do. After you’d lived through the implosion of your life, you thought this journey would be another painful one. I don’t blame you, I really, truly don’t.

But it got so much better. You did good, girl. You did good.

I’m proud of you, even if I disagree with you. I’m so proud of you.

Love,

Holly Baer

 

Qinghai

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