Re-entry = hell. No, living hell.
The first 3 weeks I was back from Shanghai, I had a ball. Nothing could have bothered me. I was home and was I ever home. I was home with a vengeance. Family, Mexican food, barbecues, wine, Whole Foods Market, sunshine, driving, radio, cats, our house, garden, friends, bocce ball, hiking, unlimited dance opportunities. I was having a ball. I was living the hell out of life, out of the life I used to know but it was even better. It tasted so delicious, the sky was so blue, the music was so good, I missed these people so much.
Until a time, then I was not happy anymore. Then it pained me to be here. In Lafayette, California, America. What was I doing here? I was struggling with staying motivated. I was fighting with not wanting to get out of bed. Why bother? Where is the Mahjong game? Where are my friends the Heart to Heart volunteers and the next bus trip? Where is the subway ride, the amusing trip to the vegetable market, the party, the cocktails, dinner? What is next for us?
I couldn’t find my place. I just couldn’t find myself. Most friends here don’t understand why I was unhappy. Why would I be? What could possibly be better about living in China? They take it personally: Why isn’t she happy to be back?
Regarding this re-entry shock, I once studied the subject at length after moving home from Argentina after living there for two years in 2001. I was also extremely maladjusted but perhaps even worse. I bought some books at Barnes & Noble as it turns out that repatriation blues is a recognized phenomenon and there are books and web sites about it. I recall reading Robin Pascoe’s book called Homeward Bound : A Spouse’s Guide to Repatriation. What I recall is that while it helped me know that other people feel this way as well when they moved home, there isn’t a whole lot to do about it and it just goes away eventually. I decided to order the book and take a look at what it was all about again.
What I also recall after 21 months in Argentina, is feeling like Americans were less hospitable. If I entered someone’s house, why hadn’t they offered me a coffee in less than 5 minutes? Why do people go out to dinner at 6pm? In Argentina we often ate at 10:00 or even later. So you might be thinking, that’s great but why is it better in China? What could possibly be better about living in China versus living in California? That is a lot more complicated to explain. It was probably the big-city vibe and wonderful friends. There was always a party or somewhere to go. There was someone new who had just arrived and to show around. There were our favorite restaurants, a card game and mahjong.
So I am lovingly giving myself the space to readjust. I am making myself as busy as possible so I can fill my day with meaningful classes and reconnections with old friends. I am spending time with my daughters and my mother. I am working on being present and being in the now. When I falter and you are wondering where Danielle is: She is back in Shanghai, wandering the lanes on her bike, buying some cheesy knickknacks, smelling something distasteful, bargaining for strawberries, frowning at the chicken feet, judging the small child peeing in a garbage can. She is laughing at her friends’ jokes. She is lit up and happy. She is dressing up to go to lunch with her friends. She is rushing not to miss the ferry on her bike. She is taking a long walk with her friends in a sculpture park. She is snuggling with Buster, her orange and white cat. She is looking out the window at her awesome view of Shanghai. She’s in China.