Expat Sat: Did It Really Happen?

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 grabbing the story in life to expat writers around the globe.


We’ve been back in the States a little over seven months now and almost every day, I’m still experiencing what I call the “Did it really happen?” syndrome. Here’s how it works:

I’ll be at the grocery store, in the bathroom at Macy’s, on the threshold of my daughter’s preschool classroom, in the middle of the playground, hunched over my computer, driving to wherever, drooling over my iPhone, stirring chocolate into milk, breading chicken…anything…when I think of a particular moment in my nearly 5-year life in Shanghai and I freeze.

“Did it really happen?” I think.

But it’s more like this:

DID

(clang!)

IT

(bang!)

REALLY

(crash!)

HAPPEN?

(insert any loud, annoying onomatopoetic sound!)

And honestly, in those moments, it feels as if China were a dream. And for the few moments following, I don’t really know.

To reassure myself that I’m not losing my mind and that, yes, indeed, I’ve recently returned from many years in Shanghai, I go to my photos.

This is me, I tell myself. Me and the surprisingly bristly panda in Chengdu who was clearly being plied with as much bamboo as necessary so that folks at the panda center could peel as many RMB notes as possible from the wallets of desperate I-want-to-touch-a-panda visitors like me AND so that the panda didn’t suddenly say “I’ve had enough” and then bite off my face.

Yes, I say as I study the photo, this is not photo-shopped. I was there.

I. WAS. THERE.

Q4U: Am I the only person experiencing “Did it really happen?” syndrome (please say no)? Do you have this? Talk to me.