I have always clung to the familiar.
I watch my favorite movies over and over, I order the same meals at my regular restaurant stops, my parents’ home is still full of my stuffed animals.
The same goes for the places I call home. Wherever I am installed, with time I expand to fit my container. I spent every single day of my last job complaining and wishing I was anywhere else, but I cried when I left.
And now, after years spent dreaming of living abroad, with bags packed and boarding passes printed, all I want to do is stay home and watch Ratatouille with my mom until the day I die.
I wish Mandarin wasn’t so impossible.
I wish China wasn’t so far away.
I wish I didn’t cry every time my dad drops me off for the unknown.
For the past months, when I told people I’m moving to China, I often hear the words “brave”, “exciting”,”why”, “oh-my-god”, “broadening”, “I-could-never” “youth”(?) and my ego would inflate. The sooner the flight date approaches, my smiles become more forced. Maybe they have a point. What the hell was I thinking? Now, I feel like throwing up my egg mcmuffin.
For takeoff, I had plans to watch America shrink in the distance while patriotically whispering, “Breathes there a man, with soul so dead,/ Who never to himself hath said,/ This is my own, my native land’, but approximately 5 yards off the ground fog or clouds immediately obscure any sight of land, and I forget the second line of the poem.
My nerves settle into my stomach next to my not-so-bravely swallowed tears where it manifests into nausea over an insomniatic 24 hours of Game of Thrones episodes, layovers, and -en route to the bathroom- uncomfortable pseudo lap dances as I butt crawl over my seatmates who I mentally nickname Madge and Pete (Madge and Pete are a very sweet couple who cuddle while watching bad comedies. I never speak to them due to my lingering case of Mandarin deficiency, but over hours and hours of breathing the same recycled air I become emotionally attached to them and many more hours later when I fitfully attempt to string together four hours of jet lagged sleep in my hotel bed, I find myself missing them and their very near proximity.)
I have always loved institutionalized food. School cafeteria food is my gourmet standard, I eat tater tots at sushi buffets.I scoffed at 90’s airplane food jokes. I modify that stance on the second leg of my flight. Dante was wrong, the inferno’s ninth circle is economy class on China Eastern Airline, with a plate of gummy chicken and nothing but car commercials playing endlessly on the TV, and a nauseous headache.
But every second, I am dreading the end. I’m a procrastinator by nature, and for months I have been postponing back the knowledge that I am a homegirl who has lived in the same Midwestern region for her entire life and watches Aristocats on repeat. I dread the next 365 days of nothing familiar. I dread hanging upside down on the other side of the world.
My new seatmate (a poor replacement for Madge and Pete) starts reading his newspaper. I remember the painstaking minutes I spent keying Chinese characters into my language learning app and reflexively think, This man must be a genius to read all those characters. Wait nope he’s learned since birth, it’s the same to him as ABCs are to me. I flashback to flying from Greece to Germany as a 16-year-old, staring at the cyrillic script on one man’s magazine, and wondering how vastly different his life was from mine based entirely on our respective alphabets. Back in the present, all the Chinese passports I’ve seen begin to make an impression.
The US is a monolith, China is a monolith. Some ways same, some ways wildly different. I get to see it all, make venn diagrams, write another of the million young-adult-abroad blogs that exist (or however many posts I can squeeze out, VPN and my resolve providing).
My recently battered dream to go everywhere, learn everything, meet everyone picks itself up and shakes itself.
I’m off into my new unknown, and I’m underprepared and pissing my pants but hungry for what’s ahead.
Day 0 of my year in China is over. Across multiple time zones, I have gone from suppressing an urge to yell for my dad to turn the car around before we reach the terminal, to a taste of optimism and a hint of excited anticipation.