My heart is heavy as I leave China this day.
And it’s not only because we’re attempting to pack two years of life here into two big duffle bags, or because of who we leave behind–people of love and faith who have reached out to us as strangers in a foreign land and welcomed us as their own.
My heart is also heavy because of the brokenness in this world.
A few days ago Evan and I had Hong Kong-style dimsum with some British friends who’ve spend almost ten years in China at a delicious restaurant in the heart of Nanning, China. We chatted the way only expats can about the joys of being sheltered from the burdens of our respective nations’ budget woes and political spats, and also about the challenges of life in a foreign place.
Evan and I admitted that going back into the political fray, especially during an election year, feels overwhelming and a bit nonsensical. When you’ve been living in a land where there is effectively no child welfare, people die of natural causes in their fifties, and birth defects and tainted milk are commonplace, it’s sometimes hard to take seriously what (especially from far away) sounds like senseless squabbling over the US Olympic team uniforms being made in none other than China, and the like.
Meanwhile, across China, people often have a healthy, if not exaggerated, admiration for America. When the cashier in the grocery store finds out I’m an American, or the old man smoking his cigarette in the park, I’m greeted with a thumbs up and cheers for this country from which I come. It’s just one reason, why, although being a foreigner in China can elicit all too many lengthy stares and smatterings of predictable, surface level questions (Do you like the NBA? Kobe Bryant? McDonald’s? Chinese food?), ultimately being strange in this strange land actually feels strangely warm.
And so over the years, I’ve tried to help my Chinese friends see that I love and respect China for real, sincere reasons. My Chinese friends are often surprised to hear that they have a more robust, reliable, affordable public transport system than America. They’re often shocked to hear that we struggle with the question of affordable health care, and dismayed to see that we don’t treat elderly people all that well. America may be great, but we’re not perfect, and so I’ve tried in my small ways to encourage a more nuanced dialogue between our two countries and cultures in my short time here.
But this week, as the brokenness of our nation reared its ugly head and the entire world remains stunned by the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, I realize how much despite its faults and seams that show perhaps only to its citizens, America has been and will always be my home. I’m not ready to talk about the shootings with my Chinese friends who adamantly argue that America has gun problems because we have so many guns (although I do see their point). I don’t want to talk about how the shootings in Colorado could have been prevented or what we can do to move on, but suddenly I have an urgency to get back to this place and to these people who are hurting, despite the fact that I can effectively do very little to ease anyone’s pain or suffering.
My heart is heavy today to behold that we’re still living in Eden lost, as a fellow Chinese expat-blogger put it, and that no manner of cultural understanding or growth can transcend the grief and pain people feel this day. I struggled with even writing this post, because I don’t want to appear as though I think my words (written from so far away) can either heal or provide real insight to such deep tragedy.
But I wanted to write to express that especially given the brokenness in my country at this moment, I am an American who is grateful for the things that do make America great. And I hope these will prove to be our ability to embrace one another during difficult times, our ability to stand in solidarity with one another, and our belief in a power greater than ourselves who suffers alongside those who weep this day.
It’s with a heavy heart that I bid you farewell China, and begin the journey home, America.