Every summer when I was growing up my family and I would relocate from our house in Guilderland, a suburb of Albany, to a small cabin that my Dad built on Brant Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. As a child I came to the personal conclusion that we spent equal amounts of time between these two houses. Maybe it was the predictable schedule that made the school year pass by so fast. Or perhaps the longer daylight of summer combined with the nature-inspired creativity making it the most perfect playground for a child’s imagination and therefore unlimited in time and space. Sometime around first grade at a kids daytime summer camp we were given an art project of coloring in calendars. As I looked at the months that made up summer vacation I was shocked that it was only two months of the year. How was that possible? How could that be? After that point I cherished those two precious sun-soaked months of summer even more as I filled them with raising Monarch Butterflies, catching toads and frogs, doing craft projects with my Mother, dancing barefoot in warm summer rainstorms, and spending hours playing in the water, on the boat, and amongst the trees that surrounded our house. The time had become limited and therefore more valuable.
After eight months living abroad in Hong Kong my husband and I made our first trip back to the states and those eight months have felt a little like those timeless summers of my early childhood. Swapping Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer for the seasons of Dry, Monsoon, and Hot these new cycles of the year have also managed to leave me feeling a little lost in the passing of time. Has it been eight months already? I feel oddly comfortable living and working in a foreign country even though the business of being a yoga teacher is a whole different game in Asia. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate Hong Kong and it’s eccentricities from its wet markets and night markets to it’s malls with their never ended supply of high-end luxury brands. My footing has gotten used to this mountainous city and it’s narrow uneven sidewalks. My palate has experienced sea cucumber, chicken feet, jellyfish, abalone, congee, dragon fruit, red bean buns and my favorite, wonton noodle soup. I have found a yoga studio and a teacher that has reignited my excitement to practice and teach Yoga. Our home with our two furry children is settled in and I feel relatively at ease here. We have traveled to Thailand, The Philippines, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Wow! That time flew by and it’s no wonder! Yet at the same time, has it only been eight months? I want to go shopping for clothes that are not made for a teeny-tiny Asia frame. I want a bagel – a real New York bagel – not just bread shaped into a circle and I want a tall deli sandwich with a good pickle from 2nd Ave Deli. I want to curl up amongst stacks of old, loved books at The Strand and dream. I want to go to all my favorite new aged shops and eavesdrop on people’s esoteric conversations. I want to see my amazing friends and family who are absolutely irreplaceable. I want theater, dance, art, and to be amongst artists. I want the majestic Adirondack Mountains, the frightful ocean on Fire Island, and the grid of New York streets. I want to go home!
So the time finally comes to return stateside for a visit at the perfect crossroads of loving and hating living abroad as an expat. Eric leaves about a week ahead of me for work meetings in New York as I finish up some teaching commitments in Hong Kong. The furchildren head off to “camp” for boarding. I pack for a variety of climates and occasions and tuck my MetroCard back into it’s rightful position in my wallet. The next thing I know I am sitting next to tattooed New Yorkers talking about art, baseball, and Dim Sum while waiting to board the plane already feeling more common and therefore more comfortable. The sixteen hour direct flight is really not so bad. I try to get myself on east coast time as soon as possible: working on class plans during the “daytime”, sleeping during the “nighttime”, and getting myself moving with some in-seat yoga in the “morning”. I arrive in JFK, gather my bags, and find myself a taxi. A welcome cool breeze moves through the cab as I snap a picture of NYU Medical’s new billboard ad; Made for New York thinking with a slightly puffed chest, “Yeah, that’s right”.
The following week flew by as we logging over a thousand miles in a rental car. Eric’s son Sam graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College in Vermont in addition to received a Fulbright Scholarship which will bring him to Russia next year. We spend three days with that big Vermont sky above us celebrating Sam and his achievements. From there we crossed Lake Champlain via ferry to New York and spend two nights with my parents in the Adirondacks; enjoying the fresh mountain air, the lake, and home cooked meals lovingly prepared by my mother- the essence of soul food. Lastly a night in Patterson, NY with Eric’s sister Emily and her family before returning to New York City.
Like a favorite pair of jeans that always fit you perfectly and hug you in all the right places I slide into New York with ease and cool confidence. Okay, I’ll admit it. I looked the wrong way a few times when walking across the street but other than that it is just me and New York. Reunited and it feels so good. I go to the Strand, Stick Stone and Bone, and Namaste Bookshop. I take class at the Iyengar Institute and YogaMaya. I stop by my old nail place, hair place, and apartment building where my former roommates still live. I catch myself with a tourist rubber neck- staring up at the Empire State Building. I sob watching Idina Menzel pour her heart out in the new musical If/Then. I teach two classes filled with my wonderful New York yoga students. I drink with friends at Olde Town Bar, have dinner at PJ Clarks, and eat bagels as often as possible. Having secretly gotten married back in July before we moved to Asia, we have a party which gathers the entirety of my family and Eric’s together to celebrate our marriage. It is overwhelming and beautiful and sad to have everyone together after months of being on the other side of the globe. We spend a few nights relaxing on Fire Island, eating seafood, and laying out with barely another soul for miles along the ocean beach. Our last night in New York City we attend a party for Eric’s mother who was celebrating her 80th birthday. And in a flash our time in the States is over.
What happens to perpetual travelers? The backpackers, diplomates, or foreign correspondents who go bamboo and just don’t ever come home? What lures expats away and why do they stay?… During World War Two British soldiers were sent to tropical Asia. Places like Indonesia to train hill tribes how to fight the Japanese. But something happened to some of them. Somewhere in the jungle or along the China Straights or among the 18,000 sun-drenched islands that make up this archipelago they changed. When the war end they had difficulty returning if they ever returned at all. They were said to have “Gone Bamboo”. In my own travels I have come across them many times. Expats, once frequent travelers – whether for business or pleasure – who finally just never went home. But why? Maybe everyone is looking for that special place that makes them say “How can you look at this and go back anywhere? How can you continue with life as before?”
I posted this quote from Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations on Facebook a week before flying home anticipating a certain amount of reverse culture shock- which struck me hard after coming back from only six weeks traveling in India. My yoga teacher in Hong Kong commented (in real life, not on Facebook) about how this resonated with him. Originally from Sydney he now considers Hong Kong his home after many years living here. The pull to return to the nostalgic places in Australia for him gets weaker and weaker with time. He said he thinks he may have “Gone Bamboo”. I am still not sure how bamboo I’ve gone. I know I have gathered together some decent travel chops in the last year. I certainly feel like I understand Asian culture to some degree and how to place myself amongst it but do I eventually want to end up back in the US? Yes, for sure.
hmm… ask me later. 😉