Several weeks ago, my husband accepted a job offer at an international school in Kunshan, China. I’m no stranger to China- I lived in a boat factory just outside of Tianjin in the mid-90’s as a little kid and spent some very weird high school years in Shenzhen. Each time I cross the border into the Middle Kingdom, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. I enjoy stumbling around in a place where I don’t quite fit in and yet fit in far better than next waiguo ren. So, why am I nervous about this particular move back to a place I hold so dear? Because this time, I’m bringing a husband that’s never set foot in Asia and a tiny little monkey of a baby. It’s a whole different ballgame. Like, this ballgame has square balls and the winner has to eat a scorpion.
My daughter just turned one. She’ll be 15 months by the time we are landing in Shanghai this summer with too many suitcases and no real place to call home. I’ve never flown with her before, but I am taking her on a quick trip to Korea (more on that in another post) this month as a warm-up. The trip to Korea will be without my husband, so I’m assuming I’ll figure out all the issues that flying with a pureed pea-crazed gremlin will yield before making the big family trip to China a month later. I’m nervous about flying with her because I myself loathe those long international flights, and that’s without a tiny creature who will effectively prevent me from doing anything that could possibly make such a long flight a bit more comfortable. That and the fact that I have never enjoyed being near someone else’s kid on a plane. Now the tables have turned. I curse my younger, childless self for not being understanding of what it means to have a kid. But, I do promise to try and raise a kid that does not kick the backs of airplane seats.
Why drag the baby to China anyway?
When my husband and I tell people we are moving to China, we get two basic reactions:
- “That’s amazing! Your daughter is going to be so worldly, and she’ll speak two languages!”
- “Why the hell would you do that?”
There are going to be a lot of benefits to raising our daughter overseas. She will grow up as person of the world. Little kids fit in wherever you put them. She’s so young that it won’t be some big transition for her. She’ll simply adapt and be her happy little self regardless of where we live. I know this because when I was in first grade, my father got a job managing a joint-venture yacht factory in Tianjin, China. My little brother and I packed up our Legos and off we went! It was 1994 and the factory was in a rural town outside of Tianjin. Foreign faces were a real rarity, but I never noticed that we stuck out. I was too busy being enchanted by the HUGE grasshoppers and swarms of dragonflies. Catching critters was my thing as a child so I didn’t really notice that we were even in a foreign country. There were bugs and geckos; I was all set. The boat factory had dormitories for workers who were too far from home to commute daily. That’s where we lived when we first arrived. The room was all grey cement. I remember the geckos, hundreds of geckos, that coated the walls of our room at night. It was in that room that I learned that M&Ms weren’t M&Ns (mind blown). My brother and I ate a lot of M&Ms, Skittles, and peanut butter crackers. During the day, my brother and I would run around on the factory floor between huge yachts smelling the fiberglass and scampering up and down the rickety bamboo scaffolding. To my little kid self, this was the dream life. The adult reality of this was that we were completely isolated from English speakers, we lived in a critter-infested cement box, we subsisted on whatever candy and crackers my mom had packed before the trip, and we had to breathe fiberglass fumes all day. But, six-year-old me loved it. So, I know our daughter will be completely fine. We are headed into a pretty cushy life compared to what my fearless parents had when they moved their two little kids to China.
I also know know our daughter would be fine if we stayed in Florida. Really, the move to China is not centered around her. She’s just along for the ride. Because my family moved so much when I was growing up, I get antsy staying in one place for too long. I’ve been in Florida for 13 years now. It’s time to move on. I want to show China to my husband. My experiences in China had a huge impact on me, and I want my husband to see this “other life” I’ve lived. It’s not really enough to just tell tales of living overseas.
I’m certain the move to China with our baby girl will hold a myriad of frustrating surprises, so tune in and I’ll tell you all about them as this adventure unravels.