Chapter 50: The Gumption to Stay in China

Western woman on a bridge in China
What keeps you abroad when life falls apart? When I faced uncertainty after losing my job, I remembered the things that kept me grounded in China.

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.

14 Replies to “Chapter 50: The Gumption to Stay in China”

  1. I think for some people who have been abroad for a really long time (probably including me) the question becomes “do you have the gumption to return to life back home?”

    There have been times when my life in China has been difficult but I suppose that in a strange way what kept me grounded was that my life in China was fairly fun and predictable. Pre-husband and kids I knew that in China I had lots of friends, jobs were easy to get, apartments were cheap, and, while I might not have been curing cancer or ending world hunger, I was enjoying life immensely. Post-husband and kids what keeps me here, grounded so to speak, is the absolute terror that we could leave our good life here and end up at home living off of food stamps, especially in this economy. It would take the sort of gumption that I don’t have right now take my family into an unknown situation and hope for the best.

    So I’m not sure if “fear keeps me grounded” is the best answer but I think it is probably one that a lot of family breadwinners can relate to.
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Mao Zedong and Hu Jintao =-.

  2. As of now better to stay in China or anywhere in Asia rather than here in the US…economy is recovering but not very fast.

  3. It sounds like you are depressingly running out of options and are trying to justify staying. Thats a very good reason to leave. China’s getting shitty – no youtube, facebook, twitter, google, bob dylan etc etc, the good days are over. The upside is you’ve done this before. Now go explore the rest of Asia (especially India!) and reinvent yourself again…if you can do China, the rest of (a much more fascinating) Asia should be a tonic…and perhaps your destiny…go for it girl, its time to move on. China has been good, but not permanent. Enjoy the memories and find your spiritual home.

    1. @Jessica, thanks for sharing your perspective. I can understand your fears — because my husband certainly had them about coming to the US. Moving back to the US can be very challenging and rough for families like ours. My husband and I didn’t even have kids, but we had a lot of trouble transitioning — so much didn’t make sense to my husband, even though he spoke excellent English, and of course, he needed to learn how to drive. If you have family support, that can make a lot of difference in how your experience is. But it does get easier with time. Good luck with whatever you decide.

      @George, thanks for the comment. It is true that China is a better place to be right now.

      @YahumaMama, thanks for weighing in, and sharing your perspective. I’m actually writing about events that happened some years ago (this most recent post happened in Feb 2003) — I now live in the US. But, certainly, any life change like losing your job can make room for something even better. This life change did for me, as you’ll see if you read on.

  4. “Do you have the gumption to return to life back home?” is really a question for me too, which I completely agree Jessica. I started travelling to the Europe when I was 17 with fearless mind, even though I had a very little English at the time. I guess my excitement at the time overcomed all my difficulties living aboard.
    Study, travelling, and endless parties were petty and unforgettable memories. Happy days almost over now, I took a permanent job about 3 years ago and train to be professional in my field after my undergraduate studies. Until now, my job is very stable with a good pay even in this economy, it will be even better once I get qualified. However, for some reasons I am constantly having homesick lately which I never had before. Sometimes I ask myself, maybe it is the time to go back home (It will be 10 years in UK& Ireland this July…….. I can’t believe it, seriously time flies).
    The thing is that China changed a lot since I left. I don’t know if I could maintain same lifestyle here in china. Besides I have to make sure my other half will have comfortable life in China which is my main concern (she is Irish, I suppose this made even more complicated if I try to move back to China).
    So I suppose in my case, I grounded aboard without any fears because I want to experience different things when I was on my own. Now my beloved fiancée is really main reason. But I believe I will take her with me to China at some point in future.

    1. Dear J,

      Thanks so much for the comment, and for sharing your experiences. It is not always an easy decision to choose to live abroad, or return home — but I can imagine the homesickness. My husband isn’t so homesick, I believe, but I know he misses many things about life in China, and I do too. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  5. Thanks. Well, trust me he will miss home in near future. By reading your previous posts, I guess you and John back US about 5 years………. Around 7 years aboard is really benchmark to get someone homesick, but it depends on different individuals I supose.

    Again, I love to read your posts. It almost becomes my everyday reading list. Well done!!!!

  6. I’m with Jessica. I don’t have the gumption to return to the US. I haven’t lived there full time since 1999. I have considered myself a serial expat for quite some time. In our nearly 5 years in China we’ve left once, come back and then almost left again. It looks like we’re here to stay for at least another 2 years. For me, no doubt about it, I need the expat lifestyle. I need to constantly feel “comfortably bewildered.” (I’m working on a post about this concept right now so I’ve been thinking a lot about it.) Feeling this way grounds me, although that makes absolutely no sense. It helps that both my husband and I are nomadic. China is our fourth country as a married couple. I moved a gazillion times as a kid. My husband was the token foreign exchange student at a high school in New Jersey. We’re nomads! China was an unexpected destination for us, but we’ve found incredible opportunities here and have grown as a couple. We might even start a family in the next year. I have to be honest, it would be exciting to me to be able to tell my kids they were born in China. I suspect, however, that even though we won’t move back to the US, we will continue to move around the globe. My identity is all wrapped up in being an expat. I would have a very hard time adjusting to life in the US.
    .-= globalgal´s last blog ..A Little Spring Reminiscing =-.

    1. Dear Global Gal,

      Thanks so much for the comment! I love the way you put it — “comfortably bewildered.” Sometimes, living abroad can be challenging, but those challenges also nourish other sides of our soul.

      You might find some resonance with the women at Expat Harem — not long ago, we had a discussion on the expat “hybrid life”. You definitely seem to be leading a hybrid life, with abandon — and that’s a great thing. 🙂

      I’ll be interested to see where you and your husband roam to next.

  7. I have never been to China. My Chinese husband has never been to China. (Born in Taiwan, raised in the U.S., remember?) But we both hope to go one day. We have several friends who have been to China, and there seems to be this unexplainable draw to it. My best friend hopes to move there to teach English later this year. She fell in love with China!

    The only thing that would keep me from moving to another country is the fact that I really do love having family around. But I would love to visit someday. And maybe, when the kids are grown and my husband and I are much older, we will change our minds about living abroad.
    .-= Juliet´s last blog ..Illinois trip: Day 1 =-.

    1. Dear Juliet,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. With your family in the US, staying here definitely sounds like the best option for you. But, sure, maybe a life abroad — or even travel — might be in your future someday. 😉

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