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Published: October 16th 2010
What should I expect?
The accounts all differ. Some new American fellow-expat friends, who have lived and worked overseas for many years, tell me to expect to get bitten by the travel bug very soon after returning home. To find dating more difficult than before, because my perspective and lifestyle are very different from what they used to be. To discover that I have changed in ways I don't even suspect yet.
From my Chinese friends who live Stateside, however, I have heard that living abroad for several years is bittersweet, for the simple fact that home will always be home. One craves foods that are not to be found without some difficulty, one misses family; and these dear friends have been away from their families for years, while as for me, it has only been just over one year since I made the decision to seek adventure and my fortune in a land once inhabited by the kinsfolk of Khans.
I am packed up for a visit home; I have applied to graduate schools, all overseas, with one acceptance and another application pending. I am ready to be in a place where things are simpler and easier,
and I know that the desire for a challenge will return in a few months, which is good if I want to get an advanced degree. I am excited to be going home...but last night, I felt true sadness to be leaving Inner Mongolia.
These past few days, as I stressed over how to pack the clothes and treasures I have acquired into the two suitcases I arrived with, I took breaks to meet with friends. I sometimes feel regret that I wasn't more gregarious and social in my time here, but I still managed to make some friendships that have impacted me deeply. While I often feel weary of the staring and sometimes disdain from strangers here, who just see me as the Other, the Foreigner, these friends have cared for me, taken care of me, and given me faith in the basic goodness of people. They saw that I was alone in a strange land, and out of goodness and understanding became my friends and guides, my teachers, my windows onto another way of life.
The culture in this province in the north of China, bordering Mongolia, not far from the frigid reaches of the Northeast,
is truly unique. Inner Mongolia is a place where the influence of the Silk Road and the Mongolian Empire still reaches into everyday life, even as the Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Uighur, and Hui folk who live here seek upward mobility and modernity, embracing aspects of Western culture as they see fit and on their own terms. The music that most touches me here is in the form of the "grassland song": poignant, evocative, sometimes ancient, in many cases innovative and contemporary. The Mongolian people are a passionate people, who sing from a wisdom deep in their bones. Power rings out in their voices.
The difficulty of seeking, of moving forward, of looking for what lies over the horizon, is that there are no gaurantees that the road will wind back to revisit the ones we have come to love, the things we have come to see as beautiful, as familiar, as home. All one can do is hope, be grateful for the experience of newness and adventure and friends, which is nothing less than a gift, and keep on moving.
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