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The grass IS green, even here in Beijing...
April 17, 2010 1:27 AM   Subscribe

The grass isn't greener on the other side. How can I be happy with what I have?

I've been living abroad for the last few years now, with the last two+ years in Beijing. I'm committed to another year and a half here because of a scholarship program.

Despite all of the good things that I do have in my life, it's hard for me to let go of the feeling that I'm finished with living abroad and ready to start the next part of my life.

Classes do not particularly motivate me, and Chinese-style education, with its general format of teachers talking for two hours and students listening for as long as they can before their eyes glaze over, is not inspiring either. Learning Mandarin, which was my main reason for me to be here, has rather lost its charm as well; my language skills have pretty much hit a plateau.

About two weeks ago, one of our teachers mentioned that we would be leaving as early as September (next term) to do trial teaching, and this was the best news that I had heard in ages. It turned out to be a complete mistake, but since then I've felt rather down, almost cheated of my chance to go home.

One thing that I realize is that perhaps this is a pattern in my life. I used to live in New York, and although it was great and I miss it a lot now, the call of going abroad was strong and it made me unhappy with living in New York as well. At some point in my life, I need to understand that this is what I have and to appreciate it when I have it, not when I'm not there any more. Might as well start this process now.

Things that I have tried (and still do) besides class: swing dancing, gospel choir, taking a photo every day project, trying out new recipes to cook, learning more about Beijing and Chinese history, writing a blog on quirky things in Beijing, etc.

I want to be happier with what I have, and especially, I want to stop complaining. I've seen what this is like in friends who are unhappy with being in China and it's a hard process to watch; I don't want to repeat that!

How can I come to terms with this instead of longing for being somewhere else?

(For further background, this was a question that I asked previously.)
posted by so much modern time to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I sympathise - this sounds familiar and I still haven't worked it out yet! After a lifetime of moving around every few years, buying a flat made me feel more grounded, although I still hanker after moving again.

My twopence worth would just be that, from an outside perspective, if you're not enjoying your course now, and you have no intention of using it in the future, there is no conceivable reason for being there except inertia. Given your previous post, It could genuinely be that you want to move on because your current situation isn't right for you, not because you're an ungrateful swine who should knuckle down and stop complaining.

I'll be watching the rest of the thread with interest for sage advice!
posted by penguin pie at 3:33 AM on April 17, 2010


I like to move around too. I've now accepted that's how it will be; settling down is much over-rated. I *am* happy with what I have (family, work, friends, etc) but I still want to travel, see other countries, meet people. What's wrong with that? Sounds like you have few reasons to be where you are so why force yourself to put up with it?

Interesting piece of advice I was given about making a difficult decision: flip a coin to decide, then ask yourself how you feel about the answer.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 4:32 AM on April 17, 2010


I've heard the same thing as Broken English, but with a twist. If you flip the coin, and realize you aren't happy with the result, you've found what you wanted to do.

I spent a year in China (in Wuhan, to be precise), and I've been in Japan for almost ten. I've accepted the fact that I'm probably going to be staying here for quite a long time, if not permanently, but there are still days where I go through what you're feeling. Just so you know, that feeling that you wish you'd gone somewhere else, or that you would be happier elsewhere? It comes and goes. I still get that feeling occasionally.

As penguin pie mentioned, buying something solid is a fantastic way to feel more grounded in(or chained to) a place, but I don't think that's a step you're ready for. What worked for me in China (and still, to some extent, here in Japan, even now) is doing things that you can't do elsewhere. Going to a festival, for example, or checking out something you've always meant to, but never gotten around to doing. I don't know as much about Beijing, but one of the things that I loved about Wuhan was how easy it was to get out of town for a weekend. I'm pretty sure in one year I saw more of China than I saw of America in the 23 years I lived at home.

At the risk of not really answering your question, I'd propose a laundry list of things to do before you leave: Luoyang, with the Buddhist cave carvings, Wudangshan, the home of Wushu, seen in Crouching Tiger (and stunningly beautiful, maybe best thing I did in China), Suzhou (more than a weekend) and the summer palace, north of the Wall (Chengde?). Or even the town where the communists had their base during the war, in the north, can't remember the name, amazing scenery, wonderfully quiet.

And while I imagine Beijing is a touch more cosmopolitan than Wuhan, if you need a 'get out of town' recharge, I recommend a weekend in Hong Kong. It's a chance to get away from things, it won't be absurdly expensive, and it can give you a little space to think.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:50 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe you just haven't found the right place yet. My dad was in the military, and so was my ex husband, so we always moved a lot. After I divorced, I kept on moving. And moving. And moving. The only place I was ever happy to live indefinitely was Manchester, New Hampshire, and I didn't figure that out until I was 48. Hopefully, your mileage will vary....
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:41 AM on April 17, 2010


How to come to terms with it? Make the absolute best of the time you have there. When it's over, you'll feel better knowing you gave it a good run.

I notice that most of the things you mention trying are rather productive/creative. Maybe you're making too much work for yourself.

If you have time, try getting out of Beijing and doing some travelling. There's so much to see (and eat!) in China, but you have to move around to do it! Trains are not expensive, and you can see quite a bit just on weekend trips from Beijing by taking night trains.

Also, it's not so much that the grass is green in Beijing, it's that it's not as much greener elsewhere as you might think. Just wait for reverse culture shock.
posted by benign at 7:04 AM on April 17, 2010


IMO, the idea of there being a 'right place' for everyone isn't true. Some people like to settle, some people settle because they're supposed to, and are miserable for it. The trick is to figure out whether you like to move around because you love the stimulation of change, or because you're running from something. If it's the latter, you'll need to deal with that, but if it's the former, why not accept it and find a career or life path that allows or even encourages this. It doesn't even mean that you're doomed to be single - you just need to find someone else with the same pattern.

Coming from a habitual re-locator.
posted by scrute at 7:05 AM on April 17, 2010


You can be more appreciative of what you have by cultivating an attitude of gratitude. But that said, maybe you've already had most or all of the benefit of your current situation. The grass isn't necessarily greener elsewhere just because it's elsewhere, but but some specific elsewhere might be, if you're truly done with your current situation. A question for yourself may be, "Am I done here or am I just doing too much looking over the horizon to appreciate where I am?"
posted by TruncatedTiller at 8:18 AM on April 17, 2010


You are not committed to staying in China for another year and a half because of a scholarship program. You are free to do whenever you want.

From your previous post and the language in this one, it seems to me that you're doing this because you think it's the sensible thing to do. You don't seem attached to your degree or to China anymore so maybe you're not happy because you're not doing what you want to do.

So my two pennies' worth: either say "fuck it" and relocate back home because that's really what you want to do or choose to suck it up because there are reasons keeping you in Beijing. If you choose to suck it up you have to -- absolutely must -- affirm this as your own choice and go about it full force. If you opt for either horn of the dilemma in a half-hearted way then you might end up regretting your choice. Perhaps you haven't got round to affirming your choice and this is what's making you unhappy now...
posted by mkdirusername at 8:33 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I lived in Egypt for two years, and was so ready to come back home when we repatriated last fall. We found a job in a great US city, and now we are happily settled here. And I really see us being here for at least the next decade--and this is the first time I've ever been able to make such a long term plan.

It was great being overseas (full time housekeeper ftw!), but I totally understand not loving it too. I suggest making a list of all the things you want to do, and places you want to visit, before you leave China. And then start doing them.

We weren't exactly sure when we would leave, so we didn't get a couple of places we would have otherwise. I won't say I regret it--because I'm so glad to be back in the US--but we would have planned our time differently if we knew exactly how long we'd be there.

So, take some time and jot down all the stuff you do want to do, and then start doing those things.

Another thing: it sounds like you are homesick, and that's okay. I found that going someplace western helped alleviate my homesickness, even when I couldn't get back to the US. So, for example, when I lived in Egypt, London felt like home--sidewalks! signs I could read!--even though I had hardly before spent much time there. Is there someplace like that, that makes you feel at home even though you are not? It can be as simply and striking up a friendship with some US State Department families and getting invited over to their house for dinner with Ben & Jerry's ice cream for dessert.

My advice is that when you come back, don't settle for any city, but find a place you really think you'll love. And then I suspect you'll be happy there for a while. Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:09 AM on April 17, 2010


Here's the two step process thhat did the trick for me. First, get older and less able to change things at all (by necessity, whim, opportunity, etc.). Second, get a sense of how blindingly, undeservedly lucky I am to have the life I have (not innocently in prison, not a slave, not mutilated by acid and knife attacks, not in a war zone, oh how the list goes on). It is luck alone that lets me be me and not someone else. This two steps together make my worst days, my most dull days, seem like the nothing they are. Did I wake up this morning? Off to a good start. Plenty of people more deserving of just one nice day (how about 'enough water and not beaten' as a 'nice day') than I am didn't wake up today.
posted by eccnineten at 11:10 AM on April 17, 2010


I very strongly recommend you get and read the book Mastery, by George Leonard. When you read through it (it is both short and easy to digest) you will recognize the pattern you have in your life. We all hit plateaus, and we all react differently to them. There is nothing wrong with making changes when you are unhappy, but it sounds like in this case you aren't certain whether you are choosing the change or just moving into wanting one out of habit. That is a perfect time to step back and examine your bigger picture.

No one can tell you the right choices to make for yourself, but good luck on the journey!
posted by meinvt at 1:22 PM on April 17, 2010


Start the "next part of your life" there. What can you do there, that is different that what you have been doing? I don't doubt you've been working really hard - but is there anyway you could get even more involved? Do you have short term goals that you are working on? Not just hobbies, but goals. Are you tracking your progress on those goals?

I agree with what a lot of posters said - you can just leave, and you´ll probably be happier. But I also think that learning how to be happy in spite of your challenging situation is an invaluable skill to have, so it's worth trying to figure it out.

Once you learn how to do that, you can be anywhere, and come or go, or stay, and you're happy, regardless. I believe that you can change the way you feel about a certain thing or situation, but it requires making internal changes, how you talk to yourself, what things you choose to focus on.

I'm not sure if I've done much besides be supportive - but I just keep thinking: get in deeper.
posted by Locochona at 3:09 PM on April 17, 2010


Two things. First, I left a study-abroad program for sort of similar reasons once. I loved the country I was in, loved the subject and many of the classes, but I couldn't help feeling that I was just sitting around studying, and I should be back home, moving on, doing something important. So I went home, and...didn't really do anything more important (or productive or meaningful) than I would have done if I'd stayed a few more months. Your situation might be different, but I think it would have been really helpful if someone had reminded me that what you think might happen elsewhere won't neccesarily happen. What you think will happen where you are now won't neccesarily happen either. You simply can't know.

Second, about this:

I want to be happier with what I have, and especially, I want to stop complaining.

How can I come to terms with this instead of longing for being somewhere else?

I think the first part is relatively easy. Just stop complaining. You don't want to sound like the people who do it, so stop it. Everytime you start to complain about something, stop yourself and think of something good about your situation instead. The second part, that's hard. Maybe impossible. The older I get (and the more frequently I move around) the more I'm starting to think that you can't stop the longing thing. I really believe it's just an ingrained personality trait that some people have. Just accepting that part of you is always going to want to be somewhere else, and it's not that something is wrong with you, might help you make the decision about whether to stay in China, or in this program, or not.

Good luck!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:33 PM on April 17, 2010


Part of the curse of being human/having consciousness is that we can postulate different outcomes for our life. I mean, yeah, it helps us plan, but it can also drive us crazy, thinking about all of the things we will not know...would that job/relocation have made me happy? What if I had taken that one class in college? etc. And we will never know. And if we're not happy where we are at the moment, it's impossible not to wonder if we didn't make a bad choice somewhere.

No advice, but just telling you that such feelings are perfectly normal. There is no resolution. Life is mostly flailing about and hoping for the best. So flail as best you can, and try not to let regrets make you crazy.
posted by emjaybee at 7:58 PM on April 17, 2010


One thing that I realize is that perhaps this is a pattern in my life. I used to live in New York, and although it was great and I miss it a lot now, the call of going abroad was strong and it made me unhappy with living in New York as well. At some point in my life, I need to understand that this is what I have and to appreciate it when I have it, not when I'm not there any more. Might as well start this process now.

I am not sure deciding to decide to appreciate makes you appreciate things. I have lived in three countries for fairly long stretches of time and whenever I am in this mode, where you can't seem to like what you have and the grass appears greener on the other side, I think about the past. I think about the times when it was initially difficult to adjust/appreciate the place and then the times I had to leave the country and I was almost heartbroken. Heartbroken at leaving the same place I once found annoying for a million reasons. I can vividly remember both good and bad times and then I try to see the present in that light. I know I won't be here forever and that just makes me look at things a little differently.

Things that I have tried (and still do) besides class: swing dancing, gospel choir, taking a photo every day project, trying out new recipes to cook, learning more about Beijing and Chinese history, writing a blog on quirky things in Beijing, etc.

Things you enjoy doing, which you mentioned, aren't strictly possible only in China. Its not about what you do. It's more about where you are. I am not sure you can deceive your mind into thinking that if you enjoy what you do, or distract it by engaging in these activities, you will start liking the place.

I want to be happier with what I have, and especially, I want to stop complaining. I've seen what this is like in friends who are unhappy with being in China and it's a hard process to watch; I don't want to repeat that!


Complaining about a new place is part of the adjustment process, called culture shock. The latter doesn't have to be a huge cultural difference that you have to overcome, it can be trivial day-to-day things. I would strongly recommend not comparing yourself to your friends, no matter how similar in cultural backgrounds/upbringing you may be. The way you feel is how things are for you- feelings are highly individual specific, rather than community/culture specific (recall how some of us can never fit into our own respective cultures!) Bottomline- Allow yourself to feel however you feel. Don't fight it or avoid it or try to distract yourself from feeling the feeling.

How can I come to terms with this instead of longing for being somewhere else?

Like others have said, its okay to not want to settle. For some the default is to ground down at one place, but some others get really bored in the same place for long periods of time, especially if your upbringing has been that way. You probably need some introspection on why you are feeling how you are feeling, irrespective of what others are going through. It's hard for someone over the internet to tell you whether this is indeed a need to travel far and beyond or just a perspective on what you *should* be doing because of what others are doing. Whatever you do, don't ignore the former, if that is the case. As long as you are true to yourself in this process and let yourself go with what you feel and want, you'll be just fine. Unfortunately there is no magic advice or pill for coming to terms with anything in life.
posted by xm at 1:43 PM on April 19, 2010


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