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Forever Foriegn


"A fish can love a bird, but where will they live?" The phrase always seemed silly to me until I faced the idea of being a life-long foreigner. The current political climate of USA and China have often brought this question up for my husband and I, especially now that we have a daughter who will be forced to choose which citizenship she will claim and which she will renounce. My husband recently said, "If China goes to war we can always move to Pakistan, they are good friends with China!" I laughed out loud that that would be the last place I would be accepted as an American. I joked back, "Japan is friends with America. Do you want to live there?"
When we first decided to get married I asked a couple from our church here in China to give us some advice in lieu of the premarital counselling required for church weddings in the West. Instead of the standard church advice, they focused on dealing with cultural differences. The husband was American and the wife was from England, now both living in China.  The couple shared that living in China was the best thing to happen for their marriage because this was the first place to feel like home for them. Living in the US, the wife was constantly mocked for her English accent and then when they went back to England people said she sounded like a Yankee! China became their middle ground, where they were both foreigners!  I had never imaged that two foreigners both from English speaking, western countries would still have culture clash. I guess that statement shows how China has skewed my categories for western Vs Eastern.
The division between nationalities is very clear in China. The word for foreigners in Chinese literally translates as outsider, Waiguoren. The word is also in keeping with the general attitudes of the people; Us vs them. The problem I run into 7 years, and husband and daughter into my stay in China is that the term doesn't change for my situation. My first trip to China as a tourist or even my first job where I expected to stay for one year the title of “outsider” didn't bother me. Calling a tourist an outsider seems fitting, but as a self-proclaimed "lifer" when can I level up? In my first year I learned only basic Chinese and my interest in the culture and locals was purely selfish, I wanted to get the most out of my one in a life time experience. China had so much to give and I took in all I could.
But since then, I fell in love with China , the excitement and the challenge. I extended my work contract another year and then another. I became close friends with locals and even married one of my Chinese friends. I immersed myself in the culture, got a Chinese tutor, celebrated holidays in the countryside with my in laws (read about it here).  I found that after working to connect with China, I no longer connected to tourists or other foreigners living in the foreign sections of the city. After having my daughter I felt even more separated from the expat community. I always stood out in the mom playgroups with my "Chinese" baby. This is when I began to reject the label as, "outsider."
I quit my job not long after my daughter was born and faced another challenge of how to legally stay in China. I had been married 4 year yet the process to receive and spousal visa was a nightmare. Now that I am on the spousal visa I found I am only allowed to live in my husband's hometown providence and I am not eligible to work. The typical advice I received was to get a tourist visa and cross into Hong Kong every 30 days, but don't miscount because if you overstay you could get deported and blacklisted from Chinese visas in the future! I have worked here for 7 years! My life is here now, my family is here. I have been trusted to teach English to over 6,000 students on the topics of my choice, but I am not welcome to stay in the country for more than 30 days? It doesn't seem right. I have created my own term for myself as a lifer or another friend suggested survivor but neither have caught on. To China I am an outsider, forever foreign.
My father in law came to live with us and help take care of the baby, as part of Chinese tradition. Yeye is wonderful and will take the baby around the neighborhood with a group of other grandparents and babies. On my way home I often light up when I see my little girl unexpectedly and cannot help but run up and kiss her. Of course everyway stares and Yeye always gets a lot of questions, but she is my baby and I don’t care. However, the other day I heard someone say to Yeye, "Oh, your baby is a foreigner!? She is not Chinese!" Yeye laughed polite and explained the baby's dad is Chinese and I am the mother. I don't know exactly how to explain how I felt hearing those words, but it hurt. She is only 8 months old, wherever we go and whatever we do she will always be foreign.Your "Inbox" folder is empty

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