If I learned anything from my three-and-a-half-year stint in Shanghai, it's that the notions we once held dearest prior to living abroad are quickly being debunked before our very eyes. That, and the fact that no one will ever care about what happens in China as much as you think they should.
Having (finally?) just returned to America, I'm once again reminded that sharing is caring, so what I'd like to share with all of you is this: transitioning to a new career, a new lifestyle, or a new weight class is hard enough. Re-transitioning, especially when it's to the place you once called home, but now feel strangely estranged from, is much harder. Things will never be the same again, you realize, most of all because you don't want them to be. And because, despite your own inflated self-worth as a product of being a super-cool expat there, no one here likes you as much anymore, now that you've become one of those dreaded expats.
In fact, there's an entire sub-generation of hybridized Americans like me out there, and sooner or later, we all have to face the same predicament: defining what home is, and whether you can stomach spending any time there, outside of sleeping or watching reruns of CSI.
You see, for a whole myriad of reasons I'm about to spell out in resplendent detail, we live in an age of migration, our identities as fluid as where we keep our bank accounts, and the American dream is about creating new goals to replace all the ones we lost, bloodied and battered along the way. We measure success incrementally and by how much stupid shit we get away with in someone else's country. Whenever a new opportunity arises in some distant land, we don't hem and haw and talk about the stability in our home lives; instead, we hatch highfalutin real-estate schemes and extol the virtues of belonging to two places at once -- rather than simply owning up to the fact that you like one of the places exponentially more than the other. The five-year-plan is replaced by the six-month-plan, and owning multiple business ventures is a great excuse for not having a day job, or at least one that you go to during the day. Call it "the joy of more while having less to show for it" (sorry, Pico Iyer).
And yet, reinventing yourself is arguably easier than having to find new friends. A few weeks back, a buddy of mine remarked, half-casually and half-this-is-totally-what-my-dissertation-thesis-is-about-so-don't-you-dare-use-it, that the process of globalization was impersonalising everything, most of all our relationships. After taking a moment to consider what that meant about, ahem, our friendship, I realized that it was true, and that, come to think of it, most of my relationships in the past three-and-a-half years have suffered as a result of being abroad. What's worse is that I've become too preoccupied with my newfound hot damn! global perspective to bother fixing them.
And of course, with great mobility comes great sacrificing of tried and true communication rites, which might explain why I continue to wear my cloak of invisibility whenever I'm on gchat or Skype. I think it's because I'm afraid that being accessible and -- gasp -- actually present, for a change, will shatter that whole foreign mystique I've worked so hard cultivating over the last few years. Or maybe it's because I haven't gotten fully accustomed to the fact that nothing on the internet is blocked, making it that much easier to commit social media faux-pas.
But hey, things are only going to get worse before they get better, and by the time they get better, everyone will be living in China anyways. Soon enough, I'll be back there as well, if only to tell everyone that nobody outside of China cares about their well-being as much as I do. Oh, and to chill out, because Avatar is so not about them.
*Editor's note: In the event that one of my real friends stumbles onto this and mistakes it for a serious commentary on the state of my own existence, please disregard the parts where I throw everyone under the proverbial bus. For everyone else, this is a purely tongue-in-cheek exercise that I refuse to apologize for other than the italicized segment that you're reading now.