This is a guest feature by Steven Ayy from The Culture Bum
I’ll be heading back to the United States in December. Seeing family, visiting friends, and recharging my batteries is the goal, but deep down, I’m dreading it. I’ve grown quite accustomed to spending pitiful amounts of money on everything from food and office supplies to shoes and haircuts. The subway ride from O’hare Airport to Union Station in Chicago will be more than the six-hour train ride from Hohhot to Beijing. The trip to Europe was a reminder of the cost of living difference between the West and the nations in Asia, South and Central America, Africa and so on. But, that trip to the land of the Euro was a present to my wife, fulfilling a lifelong goal she had since she was a teenager. It was my absolute last choice for travel destinations.
It will have been about fifteen months since seeing my family by the time I arrive. I’ve never been overly attached to my family. That’s not to say I don’t love them with all my heart and miss them, but they are all economically stable and there are enough of us (brother and sister who are happily married, two grandchildren, aunt, etc.) to support each other that there’s never really a “someone has to take care of dad!” moment. (Truth be told I was the one most often in need of worrying, after all, you don’t usually move to China with notions of “never coming back” when things are going great.)
My sister was a bit flabbergasted when I kicked around the notion of waiting another year to “come home” and instead “goof off around Asia for a few months.” It is hard for most people in the United States to fathom not wanting to live in the comfort of a Western country and not worrying about money. I know I had the same hesitations years ago when I met people who had just done years around the world. You bathed in a big bucket? No phone? What’s the pizza situation like?
The first thing I learned to deal without was my phone. I mean, I still have a phone and it can still get the weather and play Angry Birds. But outside of public Wifi, I am very disconnected. Sometimes I go a whole day without any connectivity, without knowing what political blow hard said what or who this reality star is sleeping with this week. Movies and television were never the center of my life, but I have really given up little novelty viewings like reruns of The Office to lull me to sleep, new blockbuster movie trailers that creep their way onto my Youtube videos and commercials for the newest incarnation of a taco stuffed inside of a pretzel that you can pick up at Walmart.
The real hurdle was getting over sports. I was (and I like to say still am) a massive Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I would catch three or four NFL games throughout the week, I paid some attention to the NBA playoffs, even Red Sox/Yankees got some love in the Summer. Since moving here. I have seen all of three Steelers games and I really wonder aloud if I’ll bother with this season at all. It’s shocking how meaningless these grid-iron battles become when you just stop watching. The Steelers can have a terrible year, yet, the sky doesn’t fill with winged monkeys signaling the end times.
Living abroad opens you up to new ways of life. A shower doesn’t need walls, crossing the street can be a full contact sport and I can’t even remember the last time I used a fork. I have turned my living allowance from $2,000+ just for the basic necessities to $700 for a lavish existence eating out and drinking almost every day.
Tim Ferris’ famous how-to guide “The 4 Hour Work Week” is filled with anecdotes of the “new rich,” individuals who found a way to hack their jobs and place of living to fulfill dreams of the mind and not kill themselves for another BMW in the garage. I really am speechless listening to my friends still chasing $48,000 a year putting in 60+ hour weeks while I struggle to figure out how little work I can really do and dump more and more belongings into the ocean.
Going home for a month will be a blast. My niece and nephew are a year older and so are my parents. As many friends as I make abroad, very few will ever compare to the people who can quote embarrassing stuff you did in Junior High. I look forward to not remembering a lot of nights sharing my pictures and stories from the first year of my life abroad. but I will never shake that feeling that I will never call Toledo my home ever again. And that’s not a bad thing.
My name is Steven, I am 29, and I am a Culture Bum. I moved to China in 2014 to be an ESL Teacher and I absolutely love it. I think ESL Teaching is one of the best ways to travel the world. My website is mostly about my travels in pictures, articles and videos but I also record podcasts with other world travelers and provide tips and advice on ESL teaching, how to find a good job and my experiences that hopefully you can learn from and not repeat the mistakes I made.