Friday, June 6, 2014

Top 10 Reasons I’m Glad to Stay in China this Summer

Though we came to China nine years ago, this will actually be our first summer in China!  It seems crazy, but when I think about it I guess it makes sense.  The first four years we needed to return to the States for master’s classes.  When we were both teaching pre-children, the school paid for both of our tickets home, so why not go?  The year after Juliana was born we wanted to return because some family and friends still hadn’t gotten to meet her.  The following year in language school we originally planned to stay, but after many family members expressed interest in coming to visit, we decided it would be easier and cheaper all around for us to return instead.  Last summer we were starting our home leave, and that leaves this summer - our first in China!

While we just returned from the States not long ago, it is strange to hear friends and teammates counting down the days, talking about the things they will do (and eat, of course!) in America and realizing it will be another year until we are back.  There are some reasons I'm not excited about staying for the summer, lack of A/C being one of them.  Not only will all our students be gone, but many of our foreign friends are leaving too.  As friends prepare for their departure, however, I've been thinking about the reasons why it will be good to spend the summer in China.

1) Connecting with neighbors.  As the weather gets hotter and very few homes have A/C, people spend more and more time outside.  Particularly in the evenings, our neighbors come out to to walk, pick mulberries from the nearby trees, wash their cars, and watch their children play.  We are getting to see some of the kids Juliana's age who are usually in Kindergarten (starting at age 3) all day, as well as their parents who work during the day.  All the little babies are coming out of their winter hiding as well - although still well padded against the 90F weather.

While most of our friends and co-workers will be gone, we are happy that a few foreign friends will still be around.  We are looking forward to spending time with them and getting to know them better.  A few students have also said they will stay the summer and are excited we will be here as well.

2) No travel and no jet-lag!  Well, that's not quite true.  We are planning to do a little traveling within China.  I need to take Adalyn on a short trip to Beijing for a vaccination we can't get here.  We may go to a neighboring province with Kevin's past student Brian, and we may spend a little time in Xi'an to get away and see some past students there.  But no international travel, no 12 hr jet lag, no foreign germs, and no major sleep changes for children!  That will definitely make things easier. 

3) Greater health.  We can't ever seem to spend time in America without gaining weight (and not just including the times I've been growing a baby!).  There are so many good foods we have missed that we over-indulge.  Walking and biking to get places aren't practical where our families live, so we spend lots of time in the car and little time being active.  No matter how hot it is, we don't have much choice here - if we want to go anywhere we need to do at least some walking or biking plus our five flights of stairs.  We'll probably make a trip across town to Dairy Queen and eat pizza a little more often this summer, but I'm hopeful we can stay more on track with our health goals.

4) Saving money.  International tickets are expensive.  The school would pay for Kevin's ticket, but paying for mine and Juliana's still adds up quickly.  And I don't know if you've noticed, but America is expensive.  Flying from California to Georgia.  Filling up the car with gas (over and over) as we drive around visiting family and friends.  Eating out with friends, buying cereal...  When we first came to China we would always think, "How much would this be in dollars?"  Now when we return to America we mentally convert into RMB.  "Apples are HOW much a pound?  That's like 3x what we pay!"  Milk and cheese are undoubtedly more expensive here; just about everything else is cheaper.

5) Productivity.  We'll see how much actually happens, since heat can be a real energy-zapper.  I always have great plans for our breaks.  But even though we'll have more free time, there will still be laundry and cooking and taking care of children and all those normal things that can take up a whole day.  I'm trying to keep my list reasonable.  #1: Organize the entire house  ...that sort of thing.

6) Maintaining perspective.  It's amazing how fast my idea of "normal" can change.  When we are here, I think, "Wow, we have so much stuff.  We have so much more than even our middle class neighbors with similar size apartments."  But not long after I return to America I start thinking, "Our apartment is pretty small.  I wish we had a backyard.  Look at these fun toys Juliana would enjoy.  Maybe I should buy another shirt.  Well, you know, everyone drinks Starbucks."  While I still have to constantly fight against the urge to accumulate, it is so much easier to maintain a simple lifestyle here!

7) Seeing my parents.  What we will really miss is seeing our family and friends and In-n-Out.  We can't do much about In-n-Out, and we will still miss most of our loved ones, but happily my parents are coming here to visit!  My mom is going to be doing a Summer Teaching Program with ELIC, so she will be teaching in Harbin (northeast) for the summer.  Beforehand she is coming to spend about a week with us, and afterwards my dad will meet up with her and they will come for several weeks in August.

8) Consistency.  We love for our kids to experience normal American summers - swimming, libraries, corn-on-the-cob and all.  But the transitions back and forth between worlds is wearing.  It will be nice to just stay in our own home with our own routines and lifestyle. It will also be nice for Juliana to not be transitioning back to China just as she starts Chinese kindergarten in the fall.

9) Rain, apple trees, and an Expat 4th of July.  There are some things we miss by being gone during the summer.  Yinchuan gets very little rain: the average precipitation for Nov-April is 0.6 inches.  However, the average rainfall in July-August is 3.7 inches!  Living on the edge of the desert has really made us appreciate rain!  Right now we are yielding the wealth of mulberries, and we just heard that during the summer the apple trees on campus ripen.  Who doesn't love free apples?  And even though we will be in China, we will be able to have a 4th of July picnic with other American expats who will still be around.

10) [Relative] peace and quiet.  Our school is on the outer edge of town, so the area is pretty calm.  Our apartment is right next to the main thoroughfare between one of the campus gates and the campus stores and one dining hall.  All day long, but especially at nap-times, delivery trucks clang and bang and honk their way by, with extra rattling as they plow over the speed bump directly under our windows.  I will miss having the campus stores open, but I won't miss the noisy trucks. The campus will also be eerily empty as most of the 20,000 students will be gone.  Of course, the school may choose summertime to step up the nearby construction, so we'll just have to see how all the peace and quiet actually works out!

There are a lot of things I will miss about being in America this summer, but it will be a good opportunity to have some new summer experiences in China!

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