I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's made this all possible: Mavis, Tiny Joe, Smitty, Rufus, Adelaide, Mr. Tibbets, Miss Wanda, Shaniqua, and of course, Bob. We had a great year, didn't we? Laughed a little, cried a little, got freaked out when crotchety old Mr. Dinkis shut down production and locked up all of our set pieces. But by golly, we held bake sale after bake sale to raise the $50,000 needed to keep us on the air. And when that wasn't enough, at the last second, we discovered that old Seamus, quiet old scruffy loveable Seamus who hadn't spoken to anyone in years, was Mr. Dinkis's son and heir to the entire CompuCo fortune.
* * *
Okay, sorry, had to get that out of my system :-) Ah geez man, I don't think there's anything I could say that would do justice to the incredible time I've had in 2008. I could list all the experiences I've had, or all the people I've met, or all the things I will miss -- but none of that would come close to reality. I really could talk for hours, days even, and not get close to the point. But I can try.
I'll miss chopsticks, eating family style, inexpensive food, my Chinese co-workers and friends, my maid, not having a car, not hearing about Iraq every damn day, learning to speak (and even read a bit of) Chinese, surprising people by speaking Chinese with them, eating real Chinese food, night markets, insane amounts of neon-lit modern architecture everywhere, eating things that I have no clue what the hell they are and finding out they're delicious, the terrible terrible 10:30 nightly movies on ICS, catching people stealing glances at me in public places, smiling at small Chinese children when they stare at me, being asked to have my picture taken on the street, feeling different and special when I look around me, the unique aspects of traveling in a foreign country, the seemingly-exotic locations this country offers, doing things just to say I've done them, teaching people English and American culture, seeing myself from the outside-in, and so much more.
I've learned a lot about myself and how I handle adversity, how I adapt to different situations, how people see me, and I see other people, what I like, what I don't like, how I like my life to be, what happens when that apple cart gets upset, and so on. I've had the chance to critically think about things I took for granted for so long, like the English language (why does "I'm working out of Boston" mean the exact opposite of "I'm working outside of Boston"?) and so many facets of American culture. I've experienced an election from outside the country, and the Olympics from within a foreign country. I've seen what these things mean to people not only of the home country, but in foreign countries as well.
With all that said: I am really looking forward to going home for a lot of reasons. Austin is an amazing city -- at least it was when I left, I hope it's still amazing ;-) But the primary reason I'm looking forward to going home is that, while I did not come to Shanghai feeling like this was going to be a "temporary life", it has come to feel like one during the past several months. Ever since going home in January was set in stone, I felt I've put my "real" life on hold because, well, I guess it's just tough for me to invest time in something that I know is ending on a specific date. The same thing .happened when I left Austin for Shanghai, Richmond for Austin, and even Blacksburg for Richmond. I guess I am just practical. But in the last ten years, I have moved addresses in eight of them: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009, with the big moves coming in 1999 (Columbia to Blacksburg), 2003 (Blacksburg to Richmond), 2004 (Richmond to Austin), 2008 (Austin to Shanghai), and 2009 (Shanghai to Austin). The rest were in-city moves, but still, I am tired of packing up my life every eight to ten months. So while I feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience, I'm very much looking forward to, well, not moving from place to place for a little while ;-)
I mean, of course, who knows whether I will stay in Austin? Who knows how long anyone will stay anywhere? But I am not looking to leave the ATX (as it is known to us cool kids) anytime soon. I have no plans to do so. I remember having fond feelings for the city and, as some Shanghai friends and co-workers can attest, I've been babbling on about it for some time now ;-) We'll of course see how I feel after I've been back for a bit. I'm not expecting life to be the same as it was in Shanghai or even how it was right before I left. But I'm really looking forward to just ... settling in and not having to think about moving anywhere unless I really, really want to.
I'm not complaining about having to move to and from China, of course. The experiences here have been far far far far more than worth it, even above and beyond what I had expected. When I signed up for this endeavor, I knew it would mean at least one more year (well, I thought it was 6 months at the time) of semipermanent residency, and I knew how I would feel (or come to feel) about that. I was initially unprepared to deal with it, thinking that a two-year minimum would be more palatable (so I could settle more into living here). But as I thought more about it, the opportunity I was being offered far outweighed the transient status I would yet again have to live with. So I came, and I don't regret it one bit.
Thank you all for coming along on this ride and reading this blog. Thanks for commenting and all the compliments. Thanks for showing interest, even if you never made a comment. Thanks for looking at my pictures on flickr. Thanks for talking to me, via phone and Skype and email and instant message and the occasional visit, either for yourself or as a proxy for someone who doesn't even know me. Thanks for being there waiting for me when I get back. Thanks for helping me process my thoughts about 2008.
I really really enjoyed writing this blog. My mind works best when in a conversation, and often when there's nobody around, writing this blog feels like having a conversation with myself, but because I can reasonably assume that people will read what I have to say, I don't feel like I'm talking to myself. It's great. I come up with ideas and free up space in the ol' noggin to boot.
The main purpose of this blog was to share my thoughts about a foreign country and culture with multiple people all at once, so when I returned and people were like "How was China?" I wouldn't get all tongue tied thinking of an answer. I could just say "Go read the blog!" Ha. (I mean, how can you really answer a question like that? I think it's impossible unless you take 5 hours to explain the answer. After working as a technical writer for 4+ years, I have lost the ability to answer generic questions in a meaningful way.)
I also started this blog so I wouldn't get to the end of this trip and feel like I hadn't done anything. There's no way everyone can remember everything that happens in a year, even when it stands out in vivid color because you're living in a foreign country. So 180+ blog posts, almost 3,000 pictures, and several videos later, I think it's safe to say I don't feel that way, so mission accomplished on that part!
In a way the blog (and photostream on flickr) morphed into its own thing. I grew to actively want to share China's experiences and places with you all (instead of just, say, capturing them for my own records). I would go places, have one experience or another, and immediately think about the wording I was going to use to capture it on my blog. Or I'd take a picture of something because it showcased some part of China, or just some interesting thing, I thought you all would want to see.
Several people have asked me what will become of this blog after I return to the US. It's very flattering to hear people so interested :-) I do imagine it will continue. After all, I have to re-integrate into American life again. I'm sure I will have some adventures along that road that are worth documenting here. Not to mention there's a lot of stuff I couldn't post here for one reason or another, like my thoughts on issue X or the time I had an in-depth discussion with my co-worker about issue Y. (These letter-based issues are all the rage over here.) So maybe I will talk a little about that after I return.
The bottom line is, if I feel something is worth writing about, I'll write it here (or somewhere else accessible - I've been thinking about combining all my blogs/web sites into one). Who knows what that'll be or when that'll be, but keep an eye out here if you're interested in what might come, and we'll see what happens.
One thing's for sure though: I'll keep posting photos of, well, whatever, at my flickr page. So keep that bookmarked.
In summation: so long Shanghai and so long 2008. It's been a blast. I'll see you again soon. For the time being though, I look forward to returning to Austin!