The Flip Side of Normal


At this outdoor Italian beach bungalow bar in Thailand three weeks ago I met this French girl who’d worked in India but moved to Bangkok this year organizing trips for French tourists around SE Asia. When I asked how she was liking it she responded by saying she’s become completely jaded of all things foreign, is over the adventure, and wants to move to France, farm, and just be bored for a bit. Her expat friends think that’s crazy. I wanted to give her an enthusiastic hug of approval.

Chinese in Shanghai have no shame in blatantly staring at whoever they want to, whenever they want to. Apparently I’ve developed the same habit. Shanghai’s completely become my normal. People really can get used to absolutely anything. I’m trying to mentally prepare for intense levels of reverse culture shock for moving back to South Carolina after a year and a half away. Was listening to a Southern sermon online for the first time in a while yesterday. The ‘y’all’s’ completely caught me off-guard. If that was weird, I can’t imagine what hearing them in real life will be like.

I got to farm for a week during October holiday with two French Canadians right outside Shanghai. Deliriously tired one night, full of potatoes, they were playing French-Canadian songs and making me choose which ones I liked. I was being super weird making this foam lizard on a wire with sunglasses dance around the room. They were laughing at me and asked “So Katie do you actually have any friends back home?” “Ha! Ya know I used to. Maybe too many. I’m so bad at keeping up with people though. (It’s difficult to bear one another’s burdens from afar and vice versa.) I know I’ll still have 3 or 4 good friends when I move back, and having just a few really good friends might actually be best.”

When expats in Shanghai would leave to visit ‘home’ for a bit, upon their return I’d ask “How was it?!”. The response was almost ALWAYS “Good to see the family, but I got bored. Was ready to come back to Shanghai.” That never really computed. We are not all cut from the same cloth.

Condescending looks from locals and fellow backpackers in Thailand & Vietnam these past few weeks have thankfully called me out and helped correct some of  my Chinese-accumulated habits. I’ve stopped staring at people, don’t assume that everyone is trying to rip me off, eat a little slower, walk a little slower, no longer stand right up on others in line, don’t cut people off or shove when getting on public transport, and laugh more. (Although last week I did start wearing socks with sandals every day. It’s cold okay. And all the Hungarians are doing it.)

Saying ‘Bye’ to my friend Emily in Shanghai was painful. She’s getting her PhD in linguistics and has been working and traveling for more than ten years. Her advice was “I’m excited for you but am going to warn you: If you’re back for 2-3 months and are still loving it, you’ll be fine. But if the traveling angst is back in that first bit of time–just know that it’s not going to go away.”

I’ll miss Chinese eggplant, the guys at Honkou Stadium climbing gym, bike-aware streets, the cost of living, three of my students, exposure to the church international, The Nest social enterprise, the brave and entrepreneurial spirit of people who move in and out of the city, and my friends. (I don’t think you know how much you’re loved and how much you love people until you leave a place. I cried all the way to the airport.) The list of things I won’t miss is quite longer with pollution, sensory overload,  and consistently saying ‘goodbye’ to people who rotate in and out of Shanghai being at the top.

Honestly though…………I just can’t wait to be bored. (:


One thought on “The Flip Side of Normal

  1. I love reading about your experiences in China! I often feel the same way about visiting “home”….on our last visit I was so ready to get back to New Zealand because it’s become more of a home to me than the States! Its hard to realize how far you’ve come until you have to leave! Thankfully I’ve got a couple more years until the next stage of life!! 🙂 hopefully Thailand will make an appearance at some point!

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