It’s the holidays and with that comes a tender heart, the awareness of being a foreigner, and being far away from home. I find myself gravitating to the familiar behaviors and with things that make me feel warm and cozy. That translates to listening to Diana Krall’s, “Live in Paris” album interspersed with the old and new crooners lauding me with Christmas standards. Perhaps viewing ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, or ‘White Christmas’, or ‘Love Actually’, with a toddy and some popcorn… life, is still sweet and wonderful here, in my home-away-from-home city of Taizhou in Southeast China, some 6000 miles from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area!
I woke to the cooing sound of a pair of morning doves outside my window; I think they have taken up residence and are nesting outside my bedroom window, somehow around the air conditioner unit of the neighbor above me on the 6th floor! The winter sunrise broke to a lavender and gray sky, with a light mist in the air here in sleepy, and still slumbering Taizhou, Zhejiang, China. I hustled into the kitchen making a cuppa and hurriedly made my way back under covers to wake slowly, waiting for the sun to fully light the sky, and for the sounds of my neighborhood to come to life. My pup Penny and my cat MaoMao cuddled close as I sipped my morning bevvie and the warmth filled my belly and my being.
As I was riding my e-bike to school earlier this morning, I saw familiar sites of my neighbor enjoying her porridge and tea on her front stoop, the street cleaner (garbage man back home) emptying large trash bins, the neighborhood dog lounging and waking on the family driveway, mom’s hustling kids into cars. I realize that no matter where I am, home in the Bay Area, here in lovely Taizhou, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, the rhythm of life remains the uncannily the same. There is comfort in these familiar surroundings, happenings, sights and sounds, even several thousand miles from the truly familiar of my family home.
Far from my loved ones, in a country that decorates and markets the sights and sounds of Christmas without really knowing the how-to’s of this religious holiday or festival. These days pass interestingly as regular as any other days during the year. When you reside in a country that doesn’t, and shouldn’t for that matter, celebrate ‘your’ holidays, they begin to fall out of sight and reach in an odd and interesting way, as one begins to settle in to the life of where you may find yourself – at least it is this way for me.
In a healthy sort of way, it is learning to let go of attachments to the more automatic responses and activities and patterns that we all fall in to, in familiar surroundings during these special times of the year (or every day, for that matter). In this new home-away-from-home we, as expats, find ourselves coming together with others, some who are newly arrived in this country and others who are long-time ‘visitors’ in this place. We come together as strangers with a common reason for celebration, sharing prepared familiar dishes at the potluck Christmas Eve dinner, or drinks at the adhoc cocktail party where we forget our longings for home and family, and find comfort in the common and in this odd yet familiar setting of our new homes and cities.
There is a saying we have back home, ‘Home is where your heart is’. This has been, and is true for me this Christmas of 2018. I am finding happiness in sharing about the ‘festival’ of Christmas with my students… in sharing holiday baking in our schools Chef Station and with my VIP students… in the shopping for my Secret Santa… and in the planning and preparation of my prepared dish for the Christmas Eve potluck dinner. My heart and home are here in Southeast China, in Taizhou at EF with a lovely group of people from round the world. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!
Are you ready to experience Christmas abroad?
Teach, travel and train with EF English First
Susan is an American woman living a dream — a dream to live and work in community in different countries! Two years in to her journey, she is learning more about herself, more about the world, and building bridges through common language as an ESL teacher with EF Kids and Teens in Taizhou, Zheijiang, China.You can read more about Susan’s experiences as an ESL teacher and her life here in China at www.facebook.com/LilyVees/. #Livin’aDreamInChina!