Travel To Grow

Understanding The World Through Travel

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Aug '11

Returning home after almost 2 years in China

Near the middle of June, I returned home to Canada after 1 year and 9 months in China for a nice Canadian summer vacation.

I really wanted to refresh my mind with the familiar after spending so much time in such a different culture, and I really wanted to see my family and friends again.

Coming home again was a strange experience. They call it reverse culture shock, but for me it was so much shocking as it was just strange. Coming home was exciting in some ways and unsettling in others. The whole experience of coming home didn’t feel real at first. The best way to describe it was that I constantly felt like I was dreaming and that any second I would wake up and be back in China.

China had become my reality, and Canada, although familiar, felt different. The empty streets, the wide open spaces, the nature, the peaceful residential areas… it all felt a little bit new to me. I definitely appreciated certain things before that I had never really cared about while in China. I was dazzled by how nice the neighbourhood around my house looked. I noticed how many more birds and squirrels and stuff were around. For the first time I could understand the conversations of strangers, and the small talk from the people around me we’re talking about became very interesting.

Going into a store felt really strange… I could talk to the cashier in English fluently… She would treat me just like anyone else… It was completely normal but felt really special.

My home town is full of many cultures and it was cool to see so many different looking people in the same area… In China most people look very similar. People seemed much heavier as well as Chinese people are nearly all super skinny.

Going down to Toronto I was so intrigued by all the interesting looking people with tattoos and dyed hair and piercings and alternative fashions I wanted to talk to all of them just to see what they were about.

Seeing my family and friends was really nice… most of them stayed exactly the same, but some had changed in pretty big ways. The question I got from everyone ‘how was China’ always felt so impossible to answer. I knew from my time in Thailand that I would never be able to pass on my experiences in China to anyone else… telling stories about China pass on no more of my experiences than hearing news reports pass on the experience of the events.

Coming home, besides giving me a greater appreciation of Canada actually gave me a greater appreciation of China as well. Running into situations like a needing to go to a beer store… or getting a fishing licence or fire permit… or dealing with bouncers at clubs… and the vast space between everything making cars almost a necessity… or not being able to walk out of my house at 1am and find something to eat or drink… all made me appreciate the convenience and casualness of China a lot more. Canada has so many rules and regulations and restrictions and social expectations and… well these things just don’t exist in China… I told many friends to their surprise that so called communist China feels a lot more free to me than Canada.

After about 3 weeks all the strangeness of Canada began to disappear. Canada became my reality again, and now China seemed like a dream. I caught up with all my friends and family, ate all the foods I missed, did the things I hadn’t done in years… Then really just enjoyed my vacation while it lasted. I tried not to spend any money whenever possible because of how expensive everything is in Canada, and still ended up spending way more money than I would have liked. I cringe on the inside every time I have to share a $15 pitcher of beer as my mind compares it to the 10-cent beers that I had while in Aojiang or the 90-cent pints we used to get at the bar in Shunde.

I spent hours and hours on youtube relishing the freedom of unblocked youtube videos… and am happy that after 2 years of not having access to it, I now only use facebook about 10% of the time that I used to.

People say I pronounce some words with an accent now… I don’t really notice it.

I decided to really improve my Mandarin during the summer, so I began studying a few hours a day on it. This makes the idea of going back to China much more exciting as it will open up a lot more possibilities for me.

People have asked me how I’ve changed the most since before and after my trip… but I’ve had a little trouble answering it. The changes from my perspective have happened gradually and its hard for me to really remember exactly what I was like before I left. I’m sure if I could teleport my mind between the pre and post China Devin the difference would be pretty staggering. I think if I tried to some it up into a few points I would say.

  • I’m far more confident. I care what other people think about me a lot less than I used to.
  • I totally embrace all the strange things about myself now, and have little interest in normal people.
  • I’m far more educated and interested in world issues. Understanding human behaviour and the workings of society is really interesting to me. I question everything now and try to get a root understanding of it all.
  • I feel more easily frustrated with other people and the way they think and act in (from my perspective) detrimental ways.
  • I approach things from a much more scientific logical mentality than I used to.
  • I value unique people a lot more
  • I’m into many new types of music and lost interested in some of my old favourites.
  • I now know I can never go back to a typical 9-5 job.
  • I try to remove all aspects of my culture from who I am and instead just look at logic and reality and what works and what makes people happy.
  • I’m no longer sure if I ever want to get married.
  • I think I also feel the heaviness of the world a lot more strongly now.
  • I have better social skills, and more interest/enthusiasm in social interactions. I really enjoy a good deep discussion with people.
  • I try to cut through all the BS out there and live in really authentic honest ways. I’d rather be honest with someone and have them not like me than keep my feelings to myself.
  • I’m a lot less patriotic and a lot less into following sports.
  • I have a bigger appreciation for the simple things, playing volleyball with friends, sitting around a campfire with a nice drink, walking at night, looking at the stars, and stuff like that.

I think that’s about it.

Looking back on China I feel a lot of strange feelings about it. While I was in China I lived for an extended period of time in 5 different places… plus the countless travel experiences. In each one of these places I did different things for money, had different friends a different environment and different experiences… It really feels like I lived 5 or more different lives while in China… and now that I’m back in Canada looking back on them all is a bit of a mind trip. In each new place you settle into, it becomes your new reality. Your mind adapts to it and it is your new situation and the you inside that situation is the new you. Sure we have memories that link it all together… but the feeling of each place, seems to be lost after each time you go somewhere new… That feeling only comes back to me if I smell a certain smell or hear a certain song that I strongly associate with each place, and it only comes back for a moment. It’s hard to explain and maybe needs to be experienced to be understood. I wonder how many different lives most people live… how often they just pack up and move across country away from their homes… maybe in these 2 years I experiences as many different lives as some people do in their entire lifetime? Now that each of these lives are over and I’m back in Canada, trying to remember them makes each one of them feel kind of unreal… Did they really happen? Of course they did I have pictures, and friends and blog posts… but besides these little mementos what is really left? I don’t expect others to understand the strangeness of it… but writing about it makes me feel better.

I lived mostly out of my backpack in China and the freedom was wonderful. I wonder how many different lives I will live this time I leave my home.

It’s been 2 and a half months now since I’ve been home. A part of me is really eager to go back, and a part of me wants to stay in Canada and hang out with my friends forever and give up the whole crazy idea of making it in another country again…

…ya right!

We all know which part of me will win :)

My flight is booked for Sep. 26th 😉

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1 Comment »

  • Jacey Fraser

    I realize this post is now five years old, but it is one of few detailed blogs I found concerning living in China. I’m on the verge of moving to China from the US to teach English. The detailed differences you noted in this post is the kind of information I’m trying to scavenge from people who have uprooted themselves.

    The first thing that jumped at me was that you now are no longer sure you ever want to get married. I really appreciate that honesty and awareness to go against something that is such an integral part of society (in North America anyway). After five years, do you still feel this way?

    I’m about to dive into your archives, but I wonder: Are you still traveling? Have you gone to countries other than China? Do you still consider Canada your “home?”