Five years ago today, I was just returning from China. I'd gone over there an idealistic college graduate, newly emerged from the Steubenville bubble and ready to take on The World. I lasted, an English teacher with only a native understanding of her subject, for five months. That idealism of mine must have been seized at US Customs, because I never did see it again: my return was the last in a string of decisions I am still less than proud of. I could have done far better than I did; I didn't; there's little else to say.
And yet, failures and all, part of me will always be Chinese. I'll always refer to we foreign teachers as the "foreign teachers". I'll always have a respect for Buddhism that I never had before trekking up to that monastery in its alcove on the mountainside, sheltered from the noise of the city below. I'll always smile when I see Chinese women on the street, with their distinctive take on Western clothing. When in DC, I'll always be drawn to the one really authentic Chinese restaurant I know of, to sit and fumble with my chopsticks and soak in its stripped-down atmosphere and minimalist service with its echoes of "home". It's not so much that we take with us the places we visit, as that we leave part of ourselves. We leave the person we became in that place, the actions and choices and daily patterns of life that will never make sense in another context. We are strangers and sojourners, some of us more obviously than others, but the very journeying leaves us incomplete.