Ask anyone who has spent some time as a foreigner and returned to their home country what they miss and virtually zero of them will say “stinky toilets.” That made my list but only the ironic one (The 8 Most Ironic Things I Miss About China).
I’m the exception. It’s not the first time.
What they WILL say – almost universally – is that they miss Community. There is something indescribably sweet about living in close proximity to people who are as bumbling and incompetent as you are in a world where none of you can order food without a picture menu or describe how you would like your hair cut with any level of confidence that you will not be walking away bald . . . or half bald . . . or Amish.
In community we depend on each other. We help each other. We stand in the gap for each other and the gaps are not insignificant. When one of us learns to read the Chinese character for, “BEEF” he becomes the official food orderer until he surrenders his role to the man who can read both “BEEF” and “CHICKEN.” Absolute job security is available for anyone who can read obscure dishes like “COW STOMACH” or “FROG OVARIES.”
When one of the women finds a stylist who speaks English (or at least understands the miming equivalent for “please NO bangs” or “I said BELOW the shoulders!”) the word spreads like wildfire. Our particular community experienced a hair revolution when a British stylist moved to town. In a matter of months every single expat woman in the city had made an appointment to see “the Hair Doctor” and the collective foreign female community could have posed for the cover of Expat Vogue.
For my family, community is what we have loved the most about our China experience. We grew to love and rely on an incredible group of bumbling, incompetent people (no offense if you are one of them) because we were equally (and often more) bumbling and incompetent ourselves.
Tell me this true story is not awesome . . .
If we EVER needed eggs or onions or taco seasoning this was our process for attaining it:
- Send a text “Got eggs?”
- Wait 30 seconds for a reply “Yep”
- Step out the front door
- Elevator dings, door opens and BOOM – eggs are waiting on the elevator floor
I kid you not – we developed a back up system with our dear friends on the first floor that was flawless. If they were in their back yard (opposite side of the apartment from the elevator) we would attach a bag to a giant rubber band and drop it from the back window on the fourth floor SO THAT neither of us would have to walk all the way to the other side of our apartment.
Out of bumbling and incompetence (maybe a touch of laziness) brilliance is born.
We have enjoyed community so much that we have willfully planned the next phase of our lives (right here in America) around intentionally living in very close proximity to people who fully intend to lean on us as much as we lean on them. This presents two problems. One, in our home culture none of us needs the same level of support that we did when we were foreigners. Therefore we actually need to create an environment of bumbling and incompetence (easier for some than others) so we can need each other more. And B, when you try to explain community to people who have never lived it, they look at you like you smell funny.
Hence my next post: “No We’re Not Starting a Nudist Colony: Explaining Community to People Who Have Never Experienced It”