When I was teaching in China, I would go back to the U.S. for a month or two in the summer and invariably people would ask me “how was your trip?” I would give my standard one or two sentence answer while inwardly chaffing, “it wasn’t a trip. I live in China.”
I was reminded of this because I was with people who were legitimately on a trip to China. They were here for 2 1/2 weeks. Although we were all North Americans in Beijing, I realized their concerns and relationship with “home” is really different than mine. Their home—the place where they live the bulk of the time, where their strongest relationships are, the place they love and feel safe–is in North America. They were just passing through here, they knew in a few weeks they would be back on the plane. They were concerned about how their husbands were managing and anxious to see their grandchildren again. They trusted us to keep them safe and healthy. There was no sense of home in Beijing. It was a trip.
My relationship with China is different. This isn’t a trip for me. I have moved in China. When I go back to the U.S., that’s when I’m taking a trip. When I visit the U.S., I take a suitcase or two. When I move within China I have those suitcase plus boxes, bags, and furniture (thankfully I haven’t had to do this, although I thought I was going to have to a few weeks ago). When I come back to Beijing, I feel that relief of coming home to a place I love and feel safe. There are people here who care about me and miss me when I’m gone.
The slightly complicated thing for me is that I also have a sense of home in the United States. There are people there who love me. It feels safe and familiar. The slogan of the most convenient airport is: “When I Land Here I’m Home.” And that’s true.
But, I’ve moved to China and chosen to make it my home, too. This is a conscious choice, and I’ve made decisions to support that choice. I could probably live here but not really make it my home. But I’m choosing this to be home. I recently bought a sewing machine so I can sew things for my home or for gifts (see my first project above). Tourists don’t buy sewing machines. People expecting to be here a year or two don’t usually buy sewing machines. But I’m enjoying this fun creative outlet, and hope to for years to come.
I have to remind myself of this choice sometimes. Tuesday morning I woke up and scrolled through Facebook, which was full of pictures and statuses about Labor Day spent camping and swimming, kayaking and fishing, grilling and sitting around campfires. Looking at all of those photos and imagining the crispness of Michigan air and the feel of the breeze off the lake, the smell of campfire smoke, and how easy it is do all those things, I wished that I lived in Michigan instead of Beijing. I had to give myself a tiny pep talk reminding me of how beautiful the sky was on Sunday as I walked along the ruins of a city wall that was hundreds of years old and the gratitude I felt that day as I got to hear more of the story of a very young Brother. I live here, because I’m supposed to live here.
Home. The idea is fraught with complications, but I know that I’m home here. And I know that I am not on a trip. I live here.