How do you have the gumption to stay in China?
The question — posed by Heidi, one of my high school classmates back in the US — hit me hard. John, my Chinese boyfriend, and I had just returned from spending Chinese New Year with his family, and once again I faced the stir-fried mess my life was.
I’d lost my job at the Chinese Internet Company in January 2003. After some hard negotiations, I obtained a visa that would expire April 15, 2003. I had to move out of my apartment — originally provided by the company — at the end of February. And, with John in graduate school in Shanghai, I wondered if staying in Hangzhou was such a good idea.
But it’s one thing to debate cities, and another to debate countries.
Just as I prepared for my first job interview after Chinese New Year — with Alibaba — my cell phone rang. It was the CEO of a US company I had flirted with last summer for possible employment, but later declined.
“So, I was wondering if you would be willing to reconsider taking the job with us.” Once again, he was offering me a sales position, at the modern Maryland office he had showed me on their website. His voice rang with confidence, as if he was certain of my response.
There was a time when his words would have been as beguiling as the aroma of Chinese food in John’s family. But now, things were different. “I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can take the job.”
The CEO continued, with a voice so strong and resonant I almost wondered if I had indeed told him no. “Could I ask you why you want to stay in China?”
I turned to John, who was sitting in the guest room, reading one of his graduate textbooks with the help of the sunshine that trickled through the windows. “I guess you could say I have too many ties to this country.”
Of course, it wasn’t just John. China stimulated my mind every day — from learning the language to deciphering the culture. I wasn’t sure where I was going, yet I intuitively felt I had a future here.
My future in China, however, would be one with John. Because, after all, John understood one thing Heidi didn’t: I really did have the kind of gumption you to stay in China — even when staying in China is the only certainty you have.
What has helped grounded you as a foreigner, in the midst of uncertainty abroad?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.