Being ok with not being ok

Guangzhou has also been particularly hot, humid, dusty, and polluted lately. It’s unlike me to want to spend most of my day inside at home, but since resetting my system in the UK, I’ve been feeling protective of my health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, walking around in Guangzhou at the moment is quite painful. On a beautiful, clear day, I feel so thankful to live in this amazing city; on muggy, hazy, hot days, I feel like it’s an enemy out to get me. I can tell it’s too hot to be outside when there are hardly any people walking along the major boulevard that runs past our building and through this city of 12 million. Those who are, have umbrellas open to ward against the hot sun.

Thankfully, it’s now October, and judging from last year, the weather will start to turn slightly cooler and turn Guangzhou into a lukewarm paradise during the winter months when Beijing and other cities are encased in ice, snow, and sooty smog. Actually, today was pretty gorgeous outside, and I had a lovely walk through the park.

View from Huacheng Park

I wish I could say I had a lovely two weeks here between my UK trip and leaving for Kuala Lumpur, but truthfully, I found myself battling a deep homesickness and well of anxiety. Remember the rollercoaster? Despite living here for well over a year, the ex-pat blues still come to roost sometimes. Though, I will admit that the funk I was in had less to do with being in Guangzhou and more to do with the uncertainty of the upcoming years. Ever the external optimist, I say that everything will work out, I’ll find a way to work full-time, or I won’t and that’s ok too, and I’ll ultimately figure out what I want for the future, and my plans A, B, C, D, E, and F.

Internally, I usually feel the same positivity, but now and then I sink into a deep gloom bordering on panic that only those closest to me see. Poor A got the brunt of it this time, but being the man I married, he pulled me out of it and rescued me. This time my blues were a sign of some pretty deep and healthy processing of my true feelings, and I came out the other side feeling more grounded, clear-headed, motivated, and resilient.

Ah, resilience. The byword that springs up ever eternal in the life of ex-pat families and particularly spouses. There are specific classes, workshops, and articles on how to build it, how to cultivate it in children, how to hold onto it when all around is foreign, scary, and threatening. It is what all of us, ex-pat life or not, have to have- resilience. It is the ability to have the dark moments, to acknowledge that having them is part of the process, and then to say, “I’m ok.” Unfortunately, far too many people right now are having to draw on deep wells of it in the wake of hurricanes, fires, and terror, which keeps my own fears in perspective and reminds me to love outwardly as well as inwardly.

Interestingly, when I did an image search for resilience, most of the pictures were of plants growing out of the cracked earth. So here you go, resilience:

Along with my bouts of existential crisis, I also dived back into my Guangzhou routine and community. Following the quiet summer, everything has started back up- choirs, events, book club, Chinese classes, teaching French – and delving back into all those enriching activities pulled me away from my funk and into productivity.

I recently attended some workshops with a career counselor who focuses on helping ex-pats realize their career goals. So I ended up having a couple days of focused professional development, which couldn’t have come at a better time since I was feeling particularly in need of some motivation. Truthfully, my meetings with the advisor were mainly an affirmation that I’m doing all the things I should be doing and I’m on the right track, but it was sorely needed all the same. And more positive things are on the horizon because a group of spouses is starting a group to continue the conversation about career development.

And then, after a couple weeks back, it seemed like the entire community and city itself, packed its bags for a week-long holiday. This year’s Golden Week, or National Days celebration, happened to fall during Zhong Xiu Jie (Mid-Autumn Festival), making all of Guangzhou feel particularly festive. Every year, it is one of the largest mass migrations in the world as Chinese families take advantage of a full week off work to visit family, see cultural sites in China, and travel. It’s estimated that over 700 million people traveled for Golden Week this year.

A bus station in China during Golden Week 

And as China’s wealth has grown, so has the range of places Chinese families go. Bali’s Depensar Airport had large signs wishing travelers a “Happy Golden Week” and Balinese tour guides were as likely to speak some Chinese as some English. In our friend group, people traveled all over the place including throughout Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and even part-way up Mount Everest.

A and I took the opportunity of the full week off to go on our honeymoon to Kuala Kumpur and Bali. That trip significantly brought me out of my funk. But for now, I’ll leave this post as it is, a reflection on being down, being ok with not being ok, and building oneself back up.

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