Home Away From Home – A Decade in China
As we step into the new year, Community Center Shanghai (CCS) is delighted to bring you a heartfelt article from one of our community members.
Hailing from India, Deepa shares a decade-long journey in China, unfolding the challenges and joys she experienced in Beijing and Shanghai. From navigating the complexities of a new culture to facing low moments during lockdown, she candidly explores the highs and lows. Ultimately, the piece concludes with a truly heartwarming family reunion after three years.
CCS invites you to read her story, hoping that you find resonance and inspiration in the experiences of others as we embark on this new year together.
Home Away from Our Home
A Decade in China!
Ten years ago, when my husband got an opportunity to work in China, little did we know that we would spend a decade of our lives in this amazing country.
Towards, the end of 2012, when we were just about to complete two years of our married life, my husband gave me a big surprise when he told me that he was considering to move out of India. I was excited, but at the same time, I had a heavy heart, since I had never stayed away from Bangalore right from my childhood.
Nevertheless, I was curious to know where we would be relocating. When my husband told me that he was considering to take up a job offer in China, I was a bit confused and I asked him, “Did I hear that correctly? China? ” It was not surprising to receive similar reactions from both sides of the family and many of our close friends.
Now that I knew where the place was, I got in touch with my go to buddy “Google,” where I always got my instant answers easily. I was nervous, curious, and excited about our life ahead in a new country. I say nervous because, all my life, I was brought up in a very protected environment and I did not have to be bothered about doing anything on my own – I always had someone to support me physically and emotionally. In January 2013, my husband went on a delegation to Beijing. He liked the place and winter was at its peak that time. Every evening, like an inquisitive child, I would eagerly wait for his call to know about how he was settling down in the new place, since it was soon going to be my home too.
After a month, my husband told me that I could come over to Beijing for a short holiday. I was super excited, but the thought of traveling alone scared me. With a lot of motivation from my husband and parents, I convinced myself that I was capable to travel alone. I got my leave approved and applied for the visa. During my short stay in Beijing, I fell in love with the place. We had many amazing experiences which encouraged us to make Beijing our new home.
I am reminded about the initial struggle we had, to communicate our food preferences in restaurants, where we ended up showing actions as though we were playing Dum charades with the waiter. This experience, forced us to learn the pronunciations of some basic Chinese words for our survival.
We were very fortunate to meet some wonderful friends, who gave us an incredible introduction to China and they helped us connect with the Indian community in Beijing. I felt very comforted that we had family in the form of these friends, when we relocated to Beijing.
When I look back, I am thankful for all the things we were blessed with after moving to China – both, the good and challenging experiences. God was in control and He had already planned things beautifully for us when He gave us this opportunity. To list a few, I got a job within two months of settling down in Beijing, in the same company that I was working in Bangalore, with a promotion as Project Manager.
It was a tough challenge for me to work with colleagues who spoke only Chinese with a bare minimum of English. Since I was the only one who was non-Chinese, my team insisted that I must perform for the Annual day. I sang a Chinese song for the event. The audience were surprised and excited to hear me sing in Chinese. I am not exaggerating here, but the whole auditorium was vibrating with claps and cheers. I will cherish this memory forever.
Buying a home is a dream come true for many. For me, this was extra special because, when I resigned my job in India, I felt very sad that I cannot be financially independent or continue with my career. My disappointment was short lived because I could work, in China. My husband and I saved each penny from our salary so that we could invest it in a home. Our happiness knew no bounds when our hard work finally paid off. The very next year of buying the house, our little bundle of joy, Daniel came into our lives. This home was truly a blessing for us.
Life has not been only a bed of roses for us in this journey. We did have an equal share of painful and challenging situations as well. But we are thankful for them because they have kept us grounded and helped us become better and stronger versions of ourselves.
In 2018, my husband was transferred to Shanghai. Bidding farewell to Beijing was heartbreaking and starting afresh in Shanghai was not easy. Fortunately, within a short period of time, we were blessed with good friends and we could settle down well.I wanted to recharge, reflect, and explore things with my son, so I did not take up a job in Shanghai.
Just like everyone else faced, the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, brought in fear and anxiety in us as well. Staying back in China during lock down taught us that adaptability is the secret to life. We successfully survived the first lockdown and were immensely grateful to God and everyone around us for keeping us safe.
The second lockdown in March 2022, came in as a big shock for us since we were not prepared for it. It literally paralyzed us mentally, emotionally, and physically. Though I tried very hard to keep myself motivated and hopeful,I constantly failed. It was a real nightmare, since there was no clarity on when the lockdown would be lifted and I was struggling to make peace with myself.
During these low moments, I was reminded of the healthcare workers and volunteers who tirelessly risked their life to make things work as expected. A couple of my Chinese friends who lived in our compound went out of their way to ensure we had enough food and other commodities for our day-to-day life. The members in our Indian community, constantly checked on us to find out how we were doing and if we had enough Indian groceries. All these kind gestures, slowly helped me to realize that I must shift my focus on being thankful rather than constantly worrying about the uncertainty that was lying ahead of me.It was not easy for me to come out of that mode.I consciously started practicing gratitude, one day at a time by focusing on being consistent rather than being perfect and survived the lockdown.
I am sure the year 2023 is super special for many of us who have been living in China since the borders were finally open after the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, we stayed connected with our loved ones virtually, but I was yearning to hold, hug and just be with my folks physically.
While my husband and I were counting the days to go back home, our son Daniel was not so excited. Having spent his entire life in China, he liked to be identified as Chinese since most of his school mates were Chinese. Though we tried to explain to him about our home land, he always justified, “I am Chinese because I’m born in China”.
The pandemic with the enforced lockdown measures and isolation had affected his well-being in a greater degree than it had affected us. The last time when we travelled to India, he was just three and we barely stayed there for fifteen days. At that time, though he had so much of fun with his grandparents and extended family, he could barely remember or connect with any of those memories even though we showed him videos and pictures of the great time he had.
With travel being a distant dream, Daniel did not get an opportunity to experience the physical presence of being around with grandparents and experiencing their love and warmth in person. Slowly the days and months went by and it was June 2023! Our bags were packed and we were ready to fly and everyone back home was eagerly waiting for our arrival.
The moment the flight landed in Bangalore; I had mixed emotions. Our whole journey from Shanghai to Bangalore was so perfect, I felt as though the universe was able to empathize with me to make this reunion a reality. My family was waiting for us at the airport.
My happiness knew no bounds when I could finally live that precious moment that I was longing for years together. We exchanged tears of happiness and hugged each other tightly, refusing to let go. It was a very special moment for all of us and Daniel silently observed our emotional interaction with each other.
During the rest of our vacation, we spent quality time with our near and dear ones. While we explored Bangalore together, we looked back on our childhood with fond memories of family gatherings and holiday traditions. Storytelling was a great way to share our experiences and it paved a beautiful path for us to pass those cultural traditions down to Daniel.
On 19th August, Daniel celebrated his 7th birthday in Bangalore. It was the first time he was celebrating his birthday in India. Daniel realized he has a large family with grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins. This birthday was truly very special for him and us.
We had the best vacation ever and it was soon time for us to head back to Shanghai. Daniel was excited to start the new academic year as a grade 2 student and we felt recharged to get back to our daily routine.
As I journey in my eleventh year in China, I’m thankful for the opportunities which shaped me to become a better, stronger, independent and a humbler version of myself. I am grateful for both the good and challenging situations that helped me to take those risks and come out of my shell, for all the people I have met in my journey this far and for all the experiences that have taught me that “You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.”
A decade in China, has truly been an enriching experience for me and my family. The new experiences we gained has positively changed our mindset, values, and ways to look at the world. Thank you, China, for giving us a safe place to work and live.
– End –
Deepa George lives with her family in Pudong, Shanghai. She has a Master’s degree in Microbiology. In her free time, she learns piano, does sketching, painting, baking and gardening. She also helps her young Chinese friends learn English.
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