The timing of this post was tricky: I couldn’t do it right after I got back from Hong Kong because it was too soon and I wouldn’t have had time to digest it all. But I couldn’t put it off for too long, either, because by then it would be irrelevant. As it stands, it’s been almost two months since I’ve returned to America, and the weekend celebrating America’s birthday seems as good a weekend as any to pen some of my final thoughts about my nearly two years in Asia. So here we are: the very last post of this blog.
I like to ask people whether they associate nostalgia with a positive or negative feeling: I used to think it was just a happy feeling until I met Chase, who pointed out that it’s kind of sad in a way because you can never really go back to a time that once was. That’s basically how I feel now when I think about my life from September 2014 through May 2016: looking through my photos now, I’m hit with a bittersweet nostalgia that I both cherish and almost despise.
The first time Chase told me I seemed different in Asia, I froze: “I’m not different!” I began, ready to defend myself. But he cut me off, explaining, “You seem happier. It’s good, you just seem a lot happier and…I don’t know, more confident or something.” And he was right: after a college experience immersed in a Christian community that was new to me, followed by two gray years in a city I never grew to love (sorry, NYC), Shanghai was the place where I felt 100% me again.
I was in my element, finally. As a third-culture kid who had always identified strongly with Asian culture and never felt totally American, spending my mid-twenties in Shanghai and Hong Kong gave me a chance to gain confidence in my identity, to reclaim core parts of my personality that I’d lost sight of in the preceding years.
I could talk about F4 in a conversation without having to explain who they were. I could be respectful to my elders without feeling over-the-top polite, I could engage in the flirtatious banter of my peers with Chinese colloquialisms I picked up. I could speak Mandarin with the locals and English with the expats. I could carry a conversation about the NBA with my superficial knowledge that would never make it in the States. I could indulge in my inclination for Chinese and Japanese food every single day. I could recognize Teresa Teng oldies at karaoke in a way I couldn’t replicate with American classics like Queen or Prince. I could wear weirdly colorful clothes without feeling at all out of place. I could go to both a Jason Mraz and a JJ Lin concert in the same month. I could ask questions to my heart’s content without feeling rude or intrusive, and reciprocate by answering their questions about life in the US. I could go visit my grandparents and family every other month. I could happily socialize from the moment I stepped out my door, comfortable and engaged with a renewed sense of confidence in my identity.
Those days when I despise the nostalgia, it’s because it hurts so much to miss what was before: part of me is scared to be back, scared to lose that joy, scared to fade away from that confident girl – woman? – I became in these two years. While I’ve never felt particularly insecure, my confidence and security in my identity skyrocketed during my time in Asia. I was interested and interesting, learning and sharing, giving and taking to my heart’s content. Now that I’m back, I intend to hang onto that for as long as I can.
Asia, you have given me the most invaluable experience over the last two years. You’ve given me new friends I’ll forever cherish, you’ve given me tastes and flavors I’ll forever crave. You’ve shown me the serenity in traveling alone and the joy in traveling with company. You’ve shared with me your mountains, your seas; your cities, your villages; your technological advancements and your squat toilets (that will probably exist until the end of time). From tiny vibrant fish to gorgeous Asian elephants, you’ve granted me time with Earth’s marvelous creatures. Countless photographs. Endless memories. Ceaseless laughter. And the fullest heart.
This is the final post on this blog, the official close of one of the most incredible periods of my life. Thank you so much to my family and friends for following not only my literal but also my figurative journey of personal growth. I am so deeply grateful it all. It’s so hard to say goodbye, but with that, I bid my final farewell to Shiranigans in Asia!