Posted by: Lotus Light | April 30, 2010

Expecting the unexpected

The day after I returned from Guangzhou, where the temperature has been in the low to mid-20s and humid, here in Xi’an it snowed.  Before we left Xi’an the temps were climbing up into the 20s, so this sudden drop surprised everyone. Including the trees who clearly thought it was safe to let the buds unfurl and leaf up.  This is China all over.  As soon as you think you have it figured out, and are planning things – like putting away your winter clothes -something surprising happens and you are back to asking yourself "What next?".

To enjoy life in China requires a big dose of flexibility in your make up. Plans change quickly, favourite restaurants disappear overnight, lovely little lanes and alleys turn into broad streets with tall walls hiding more construction,  strangers ring you to ask for help with finding foreigners to be in movies, or to create recipes for a new western themed restaurant.  Being able to respond quickly, without stress is important here. Creating alternatives when the ideas you had no longer work is important.

This weekend is a long week-end – the May Day holiday.  I had a full weekend planned, with an international muso playing in a concert, a visit to a village, coaching students.  And  within 20 minutes all the plans changed. The concert suddenly became out of my price range, the friends taking me to the village had to postpone because a big-wig is coming to visit Xi’an, and they have been told to work over-time, the students have class activities they need to attend. So quite suddenly – I have a 3 day weekend of peace and quiet.  Am I sad or disappointed?  Not really.  I would have had a ball fulfilling the plans.  But, now I will read, work on some writing projects, sleep-in.  I can regenerate my batteries, ready for the next two weeks of busyness. 

Flexibility is important in living in a foreign country.  Things are NOT the same as they are at home.  Living in another country requires that you be prepared to embrace difference.  The excitement of being in a new place sustains us for a short period, but then language barriers suddenly seem insurmountable, differences in living conditions begin to grate, acceptance of things we see as terrible worries us, rejection of things we see as normal seem peculiar to us.  Without flexibility and the preparedness to adapt yourself to these changes, then being in a different country can become a chore and slowly the dislike of the country, the system, the people will creep into our world.

If we left our home country expecting a new country to make our problems disappear, then we will be badly let down.  After the first few months, these problems will re-appear, and this time with no solid support networks around us.  Expatriates meeting overseas make friends quickly, and leave them behind just as quickly, when they move onto the next country, the next city.  We cannot count on our new ‘best friends’ to be there when we really need them.  We will carry our problems with us, at the bottom of our bags, and when the normal stressors of living in a strange world start to impact, they too will crowd out, demanding to be taken care of.  It is so easy then for many expatriates to take the easy way to solve problems: hit the ex-pat bars, drink, use mood altering drugs, alleviate loneliness with bar girls.  This becomes a vicious cycle.

We cannot leave ourselves behind, so we need to be sure that when we decide to move to a new country, that we move for the right reasons.We need to bring the right ‘baggage’ with us – emotional healthiness, flexibility, adaptability, a desire to fit into the new country.  An ability to expect the unexpected and embrace it.



  1. 很有意思

  2. Deb,i am missing you now…and thinking of the pizzas we made in your place…

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