Surreal…that’s how it felt about a year ago, when I stepped off the plane and entered the brave new world of the Middle Kingdom…a hundred thoughts racing through my mind, grasping desperately at any way to make it feel more like the home that I knew and resorting instead to ignorant jokes and gross generalizations about the country and its people…Now, one year later, I find myself in the same place…Feeling like it's all a dream…feeling…hoping…wishing I will wake up and find myself stepping into Dalian Airport rather than a terminal at Newark Liberty International…Once again, I’m desperately grasping for what I know… except this time it’s Dalian, China that I’ve known for the past year…And my mind is once again racing with a hundred thoughts…or rather a hundred faces…
The wide-eyed and not yet jaded faces of the bundles of preciousness at the Dalian Children’s Orphanage…The angelic smile of my quirky little six-year-old student as she reached up to kiss the pendant on my necklace and then my cheek when I said goodbye…The beautiful, brown face of my first Chinese teacher—a sharp, silly, straight-to-the-point, genuine friend…The thoughtful, dreamy look on the face of a coworker and confidante I’ve often referred to as the Fresh Princess of Jayland due to her funky-fresh brand of style…The bright China doll eyes and mouth of a more recent coworker who fast became one of my very close friends…and the toothy grin of her inquisitive and incredibly sweet boyfriend—an oddly perfect combination of confidence and sheepishness—whom I dubbed with an English name after my own brother…The exquisite, fair features and style of one of the very first Chinese teachers I ever co-taught with—a mix of wit, frankness and poise along with an incredibly extensive English vocabulary that probably surpasses most educated Americans…The peaceful and charming smile of a coworker and friend whose profound wisdom was initially kept hidden behind the wall of limited language but is now finally being realized by her American peers…The “sunshine smile” and sincerity of my second Chinese teacher and her refreshingly innocent, yet unintentionally humorous comments…The smart, perky yet no-nonsense countenance of a teacher I consider to be one of the very best at Jayland and who continually comes in each day and displays an unshakable resilience in the face of overwork, underpay and even less appreciation…The pensive expression of my coworker, officemate and fellow writer as he furrows his eyebrows while huddled over his computer…The calm blue eyes of my first roommate and fellow Christian who introduced me to a whole community of friendly and inviting Christian faces…The childlike glee that strikes without warning across the face of my surprisingly down-to-earth, incredibly smart doctorate-holding coworker when someone else in the office cracks a quirky joke…The gut-busting expression that my otherwise peaceful and admirably socially-conscious coworker displays nearly every time I make a quip about one of the absurdities of our school…The “so handsome” baby-face mug of the laid-back, wise-cracking, potty-mouthed, gold-hearted, hip-hop headed coworker I’ve come to call brother and am going to miss in ways I cannot even express in words…And then, there’s the face of one of the sweetest, kindest, adventurous and all-around beautiful souls I have ever had the immense blessing to know with a life story that seriously belongs in a novel (we’ve actually already devised a title for it :o)), and a persevering, positive attitude that has inspired me nearly every day. Hers is the face of constant compassion and care, even in the face of her own adversaries. It’s a face that readily invites new friendships. It’s the face of the woman I’ve come to call my very best friend here. And it’s the face among all faces that I will miss the absolute most.
There are so many more faces…So many more. I was being quite literal when I said hundreds…Hundreds of beautiful faces…that have given me hundreds of beautiful memories about this beautiful country.
I’m sorry if this post has a little too much sap for your taste and not enough of the usual snark, but at this point in time, I am far too overwhelmed to come up with anything witty to say. Even as I write this, I am literally, sitting on an American-bound plane, trying frantically in my head to figure out, how it is that I’ve gotten to this point. How is it that it is really all over? Didn’t I just arrive yesterday? Wasn’t I just reasoning through my outrageous decision to go to China in the first place…to leave my home and everyone I know for the great unknown? And now…as I sit on the other side of this journey, I realize that Dalian has become my home…and China has been one of the greatest experiences I have ever known.
I really don’t know quite how to end this, except to implore anyone reading this to explore—whether that means exploring new places, new cultures, new career paths or just new ideas. If God puts it inside you, it was meant to pursue. Don’t let your fear keep you from what might possibly be the greatest blessing of your life. You really just don’t know what lies on the other side. I didn’t. And honestly, I still don’t. But I’m okay with that. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds my future. And He hasn’t let me down yet. And with that being said (or written), I guess all that’s left to say is zaijian (which literally means “again see”)…until the next journey. :o)