Sometimes, when I come across a memento of my pre-China life, I can’t believe that now I think of a foreign country as home. I imagine that girl, the one who longed to break free of the suburbs, who dreamed of the world beyond the Cleveland, Ohio area she’d always known. Who’d have thought those dreams would take me across the Pacific, to a whole different country?
I even think back to my first steps in China, imagining the whole experience would turn into nothing more than some “gap year” between my graduation and eventual career back in the US. It’s funny how a small decision like teaching English in China can change your life forever. Soon, one year turned into several years, where I found my calling as a writer and eventually met my husband John, a native of the Hangzhou region.
But while John and I moved together to the US, our attention — and plans for the future — shifted back towards the Pacific shores. Maybe that seems counterintuitive — honestly, even I wondered that sometimes. After all, most of the other yangxifu I know who met their husbands in China invariably packed up their lives, left China and never returned. But after a while we couldn’t imagine living forever in the US; it never felt like home and never fully ignited our dreams and our potential.
Of course, there’s another factor in China’s favor — that we actually have our own home there, awaiting our return. John’s parents added a new suite to their family house just for John and me. They called it our “xinfang” or new home in Chinese. There, the delicious aroma of my mother-in-law’s stir-fried specialties — from smoked tofu with spicy peppers to fresh bamboo with soy sauce — fills the entire household, and delights us at every meal. There, my father-in-law spins stories of life in his ancient village and shares his latest artwork and calligraphy with me. There, my niece bounces through the household with the exuberance of a toddler while my sister-in-law just grins. There, the relatives come over almost every day to visit, or invite us over for dinner, or share some of the freshest fruit in season with us.
When I think of this home in China, anticipating our arrival, I am filled with enormous gratitude. Maybe it’s not a coincidence, then, that our departure date just happens to be November 28 — Thanksgiving Day in the US.