Expat Sat: I Need a Magic Wand

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

Some days I hate not being in China. I wake up and think:

“I want to boggle my brain by talking only in Chinese today.”

“I want to wear my bloody self out listening to those two old men in the lane and figure out–once and for all–what the hell they’re saying about the bicycle that leans in the corner.” (cause, you, they’re speaking Shanghainese, not Mandarin, which makes getting it a gazillion times harder for me)

“I want to go watch the guy tie frogs on Wulumuqi Road.”

“I want to see the Pearl Tower gleam in the night.”

“I want to follow the chicken man.”

“I want, I want, I want…”

Boiled down…

“I need my fix. My China fix.”

On these days, I long for a magic wand I can wave over my crazy, place-obsessed self and magically transport me & mine back to Shanghai.

(waves pen frantically)

Damn it…not a wand.



Q4U Expats / Travelers / Explorers: Longings like this? How do you deal?



Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

6 Responses to Expat Sat: I Need a Magic Wand

  1. Kristin – Oh yeah, i get this. *ALL* the time. We were in Mexico 1999-2005 and we moved back when i was three months pregnant. I had to go cold turkey. My pregnancy was difficult and of course once the baby came there was no possibility of travel. Now my kids are 3 and 5 and the thought of traveling to Mexico with them makes my head hurt. And the thought of traveling anywhere without them makes it hurt worse. Now six years after returning – i’ve been back as long as i was there – and my yearning for mexico comes and goes. The smallest thing will start it up again, though – the taste of Mexican beer, a beautiful beach scene, a beat up car (particularly an old Volkswagen, but there are precious few of those on the roads here now) … I stay in touch with my mexican friends, speak a bit of spanish to my kids, and listen to some latin music and eventually the feeling passes. Sometimes it’s tough, though, and i have to snap myself out of it by reminding myself of all the problems they’re having at the moment. I hope one day soon we can manage a trip. Hang in there, Kristin 🙂

    • Ah, PJ, that’s it…the smallest trigger. For me a dumpling, a Chinese woman knitting, my daughter saying “blue” in Mandarin, a young Chinese woman using a sunbrella, that kids show “Nihao, Kailan,” and on it goes.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. Six years & still yearning, huh? I suspect longing never goes away…which makes me glad & frustrated at the same time.

      • I’ve been home from the Philippines since 1986. 1986! No, the longing never goes away. I stil have pangs of longing at random, unexpected times. Music and smells most often trigger them. I hear Tears for Fears, Madonna, Mr. Mister, Depeche Mode and I well up. I smell a super stinky bus or burning trash. I well up. I hear a random word of Tagalog…you got it… I well up.

        When I travel, the longing can be even greater as my mind connects things in the country I’m visiting to the Philippines. I wrote a poem called ‘Quito meets Cebu’ about such an experience. I could write others- ‘Niamey meets Cebu’, ‘Marrakech meets Cebu’…the list goes on.

        My 9 year old son had a similar experience just last week. We had rented a cottage for vacation. When he opened the drawer to a dresser he said, “Mommy, this bureau smells just like the apartment in India.” He was 5 when he was in India but that sense was so strong for him. I stuck my nose in the drawer- he was right!

        • Thanks so much for sharing this, Michelle. You know, it’s so wonderful…and so terrible…that the longing never goes away.

          Love that your son had a similar experience. I guess our connections to place have no age boundaries.

  2. for me is the other way around. I live in London and I’m Romanian. So, sometimes I miss home, the screwed up world back there,…On many levels it is frustrating to live there, but I do miss the easiness to make friends in the park while taking your child to the slide, or meeting up for coffees at 9pm when the weather is still hot and the terraces are buzzing…I miss missing the rain in the summer. God knows, we have plenty of that over here. And I miss having snow for weeks and weeks in the winter. But missing this comes and goes and while I am there, I remember why I left. have a great Sunday!

    • Oh, geesh, it’s so true, isn’t it? That longing for home…the comfort of what is easy and familiar. I used to feel that about the U.S. when I was in China.

      How long have you been in London?