It’s been a few weeks since we got back to China, and I admit I’ve be avoiding sitting down to write about our time in the U.S. for a few reasons. One, I’ve had lot to process and take in; two, writing about it seems like saying it’s over, and I’ve wanted to hold on to it a little longer; three, how did I get so busy? Usually, when A and I have gone on our travels, I’ve always been happy to return to Guangzhou. I love our life here and, after almost a year, it does feel like home. This time, I would’ve been happy to stay in the U.S. just a little longer though; have just a little more time with our families; play with our nephews for a few more days; catch up with our best friends over a few more get-togethers. The sweet time with our loved ones and our wedding filled my heart with so much joy- of course it was hard to say goodbye.

At the same time, I returned to Guangzhou feeling refreshed. When I said that, a friend here joked that brides rarely say they feel “refreshed” after their wedding. It’s true that it was a lot of work to pull together, but ultimately I got what I most wanted- time with the people I love- which majorly recharged me. I didn’t realize it fully until we were there, but we ended up with a relatively small wedding (mainly due the distance and the cost of the venue). There were so many good parts, but a main one was being able to have a quality moment with every person who came.

Since A and I had already been married for a year and a half before the full wedding, there were several moments in the planning when we wondered if we were doing the right thing. Wedding’s are expensive and time consuming. Having done it though, I am so glad we did. It feels like we have truly started our marriage off right. There are so many beautiful moments I will remember and cherish forever.

We also had a chance to enjoy being back in the U.S. (I may have mentioned my highly successful Target trip) including seeing Aladdin on Broadway, eating fresh seafood, getting out in nature, and taking long, lingering deep breaths of unpolluted, fresh air.Our first week back here, we quickly jumped back into our schedules- rushing to work, meetings, rehearsals, social events, appointments, etc. Living overseas is always a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Interestingly, I’m about to pass a milestone soon: the longest period I’ve lived overseas since I moved to the U.S. 19 years ago. Though I may have settled into life in China, I’m sure year two will bring a lot of new experiences, joys, and challenges. I think I’m somewhere at the bottom of the rollercoaster right now- readjusting to life here after the sweetness of family and friends back home. Being down doesn’t necessarily mean being sad; it means rebalancing.Coming back to Guangzhou has also reminded us of how much more we have to explore here. We plan to do a lot of stay-cation weekends over the summer, because there are so many interesting places in and around Guangzhou.

This weekend I went on a bike tour of Dongshankou 东山口 with a local group called Cycle Canton. Dongshankou is just a short metro ride away from where we live in Tianhe and has a long, complex, and vibrant history in Guangzhou.As far back as the 1800’s, Dongshankou was an educational center of Guangzhou and still has some of the top schools in the city in old buildings dating back to that time. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Dongshankou was a center of both Republican and Communist political activity. Actually, we visited a house that Mao Zedong himself lived in for about a year in the 1930’s, which has subsequently been turned into a children’s art school where the young’uns can draw inspiration from Mao’s aura (our tour guide’s description, not mine). Of course we had to take a picture in front of a carefully cross-stitched portrait of Mao, perched in a place of honor above children’s toys, a set of Alvin and the Chipmunks stuffed animals, and various masterpieces by young artists.

Later, in the 1970’s Dongshankou became both a popular residential area for wealthy people and also for factory workers living in gray, multi-story public housing. Today there’s a sense of competing time periods- old Western-style buildings popular in the Republican era are slowly falling into disrepair next to those gray buildings; museums on Communist Party history co-exist next long-established schools with traditional Chinese-style roofs; people wander down market streets selling anything and everything but especially fragrant fish and Durian fruit (I’ll never acquire that particular taste); and, throughout the neighborhood, small art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and themed speak-easys are growing into the old buildings, bringing in locals and tourists alike. Live music, modern art, craft coffees, and micro-brews are tucked away in tree-lined streets and share their existence mainly through word of mouth.

Inside a historic building turned coffee shop

I have frequently heard that Chinese business struggles from lack of creativity and innovation largely due to a schooling system that emphasizes rote memorization and copying of long-held standards. Maybe that’s true. But China is big, and South China is booming with entrepreneurs who are taking over the quiet spaces. Ideas, like the ever-present green vegetation, prosper in the humidity and forgotten alleys.

Typical Dongshankou street

I loved our relaxed bike ride through the narrow streets and our forays into the small galleries. We rang our bells at meandering pedestrians, exchanged cheerful hellos and waves with people, and were as much an attraction ourselves for locals as we were tourists. I’m sure many people we passed wondered why on earth all these foreigners were biking around their neighborhood and stopping to point quizzically at various buildings. One particularly social old man accosted us and tried to give us his own tour in a mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin that also involved a lot of leering at the “xi guo nu ren” (Western ladies). Later, a lady ran out of her apartment to order us not to park in front of her flowers lined up evenly in ceramic pots; she then helped us move our bikes along the side of her building amid much confusion and laughter and swatting at hovering mosquitos.

This week is busy with language classes, work, clubs, planning, projects, people. A’s annual review is due soon, so we’ve been spending a lot of time mulling over the past year yet again. Next week he has a four day weekend over the Chinese Dragon Boat festival, so in a sudden burst of spontaneity we took a look at the cheapest place we could fly to last minute. We’ll be heading off to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on Friday for sightseeing, pho, fun, and hopefully catch-up time with foreign service friends there.

Get ready for detailed accounts and pictures of all the Vietnamese coffee I’m going to drink.

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