The Old Must Go for the New to Come

In January 2010, I crammed 25 years of my life into two little 50 lbs bags and headed out on a China-bound plane to educate the young and inquisitive minds of Dalian on all things American. But why? Why leave a coveted associate producer position at CBS (and six years of journalism training to boot) and head off to a lowly English teaching position in China? Why? Because, frankly, I've learned getting what you think you want out of life isn't always what it's cracked up to be. What follows are the tales of my trials and triumphs (like overcoming my fear of the dreaded squatty potty) and the lessons I've learned along the way...

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Happens to a Dream Revived?

From the moment six months ago when I signed the teaching contract that would set my life on course to a brave new world, I silently resolved that my family would someday join me. A fraction of this resolution was due to guilt--that is, the guilt in knowing that by signing a one-year contract, I would be missing two very monumental moments in their lives: my brother’s graduation from the University of New Haven and my mother’s graduation from her master’s program at Johnson & Wales University. Yes, guilt played a minor role BUT a much bigger factor behind my mission was my mother—the adventurous, would-be traveler, who for decades had put her ambitions of seeing the world to the side in the name of marriage, family, and one obligation after another…My mother, who instead of using travel as a means of getting away from her kids, always saw it as a way to show her children any little piece of the world she could afford…or even as a way for us to see a piece of the world she couldn’t afford to actually see herself—like my 9th grade trip to Europe…all the while tucking away her own global aspirations for 51 years until they gradually gave way to a fear of leaving the familiar. She instead eventually contented herself with listening intently to the faraway traveling tales of her friends, her sister, her (ex)husband and eventually, her eldest daughter…

But when it comes to family, I am a woman after my mom’s own heart and I could never be fully satisfied with simply sharing a few stories about my unforgettable experience in China with those closest to me. I knew my life here just wouldn’t be complete until I had at least some of my family members here to share in the experience. So like I said, the day I accepted my position in Dalian, I immediately started to strategize how I could afford to fly my mother and brother out to see me. After all, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that had my mom been given the same opportunity, she would have done anything and everything in her power to make sure my brother, my sister and I were by her side…and as a matter of fact, despite my inability to afford a third plane ticket, she did do everything in her power to make sure that my 14-year-old sister came along for the ride. And thus, after months of planning, praying and anticipating, last week my family boarded a 26-hour flight (bless their hearts) and stepped out of the world they knew and into the world I’ve now come to know so well.

So what happens when a family who's never been off the continent of North America spends five days in the world’s largest country? Well, first, they learn about five of the most essential Chinese phrases: “Ni hao” (Hi) “xie xie”(Thank you) “bu ke qi” (You’re welcome) “wo shi mei guo ren” (I’m American) and “tai gui le!” (that’s too freakin' expensive!) Then, they learn how to pronounce at least one of these phrases coherently. They discover that when it comes to karaoke (or KTV as they call it here) the Chinese do not play (I’m talking 3-plus hours of completely sober renditions of sad, syrupy sweet, love songs.) They go sight-seeing, of course. While sight-seeing, they stop every five steps to take pictures of rocks, trees, buildings and Chinese people, slowdown every ten steps to film a commentary on the rocks, trees, buildings and Chinese people; and get stopped every 20 steps to get their pictures taken near rocks, trees and buildings with random Chinese people. They also learn very quickly to always carry a bunch of tissue paper and hand sanitizer when entering bathrooms. But of course, I kid. 

There is so much more to the story of my family’s visit last week that runs so much deeper than I have room to type about.  But from my perspective, some of the most meaningful moments were watching as my beautiful, sweet, amazing co-workers welcomed my family with open arms and a gorgeous scroll painting complete with the characters for their newly-dubbed Chinese names inscribed along the sides (“tang lei lei” for my mom Melodie; “tang ming kai” for my brother Micah; and “tang yue yue” for my sister Shemaiah) and then explained the meanings of each. For a family well aware of the significance in names (“Rhema” means “the Lord speaks”; “Shemaiah” means “the Lord hears”; and “Micah” means “like unto Jehovah”) it had particular resonance.  

In addition to meeting my awesome co-workers, I also determined that my mother, brother, and sister couldn’t possibly come all the way to China without seeing the Great Wall (I mean, I think it’s kinda like a tourist’s rite of passage) so later that week we took a two-day trip north of Dalian to the China-North Korean border in Dandong to see a lesser-known area of the Great Wall (equally as beautiful as the section of the Wall in Beijing but with just a small fraction of the tourists.) It was a trek. The weather was sweltering and the climb was crazy steep…but once we did make it to the top (which took a little over an hour) and surveyed the mountainous terrain of China and North Korea that lay below, I think that’s when it really hit us all that we were really here…altogether…as a family. A dream come true…compliments of a gracious God.

Now, Micah, Shemaiah and my mom, are back in Rhode Island safe and sound, and I suppose, attempting to get back into the groove of daily life while recovering from the double-jet-lag of two 20+ hour flights in one week. And while I suffered about a 24-hour bout of homesickness and depression after they left, it has since, subsided and given way to a sense of peace and contentedness that I have not felt in a very long time…A joy in knowing that God allowed me the privilege of sharing an experience with my family that no story—no matter how colorful or vivid—could ever truly recreate. My mother always says that when it comes to blessings, God doesn’t use a spotlight. He uses a fluorescent. In other words, my big move to China wasn't just for my benefit alone…it was to give the people I love most an opportunity that they may have otherwise never taken… and perhaps, it was to save a deferred dream from dying. I think my mother put it best in a message she sent to me upon returning home:

I feel like something about me is a little different now.... Something that had lain dormant in me for about 30 years has been re-awakened...

Dreams never really die, they just need the inspiration to be revived. Here's to you and all your dreams, Mommy :o)

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