The Long Way Home | Via Chicago

M. James Thompson

One Fine Adventure: Long Way Home

Return Timeline

October   6 | Shanghai to Istanbul via Moscow

October 14 | Istanbul to Athens

October 15 | Athens to Rome

October 22 | Rome to Chicago visa Istanbul

Little in this world fractures my concentration quite like a project approaching finality. My friends will know this, but you might not; my intentions are often grand, but follow-through is not my strongest attribute.

My first expat experience has reached the twilight of my adventure. Reconciling feelings and creating an emotional packing list is taking a bit longer than I had expected. Concluding my time in Wuxi will require a great many goodbyes. I am terrible at goodbyes.

I hold nostalgia closely and in the highest echelon of guarded emotions. Memories, specifically those belonging to the people and places closest to me, have become a comfortable retreat while I am so far from home. I plan to return to each place from the past, but I think that goodbyes are necessary in order to put an end-cap on my nostalgic endeavors. Creating a promise to return and following through on those promises is a joy like no other joy I have had the pleasure of encountering. The elation that I felt when I landed in Dublin the first time was only bested when I landed the second and third time. Clearly my priorities are set on the return trip rather than the final goodbye.

Leaving the people and places that I love is rarely an issue when I have a preconceived a return tour planned. Before I can begin brainstorming my return plans one last handshake, hug, or kiss until the next hello arrives is essential. These embraces create a foundation for the kindling of new memories when I return. Having someone to acknowledge the goodbye, to hug me back, is an incredible feeling and helps to place a footnote on that chapter of my life.

Unfortunately my need to say goodbye to the people and places in Wuxi that have touched me will not be met by my need for acknowledgment. Much as I cannot hear the skyline of Wuxi return a heartfelt goodbye I am incapable of eliciting a response from a family that works at my favorite Lanzhou lamian shop. They have fed me a great many meals during my stay in Wuxi. Their kindness, or lack of awkward encounters and a picture menu, was a welcome change of pace in a foreign city. Waving goodbye to  Blue Cap or the grandma in Building 33 will feel, to them, like every parting wave we have shared. Closing the door to my wonderful apartment will be a difficult moment. That moment will be a final wrap on this most recent part of my life. I doubt that a return trip is in the cards for this place and my traveling soul hurts just a bit when I think of, “Goodbye forever.”  I will never know if memories of these shared experiences have carved out even a minimal portion thought in the people that I encountered. China is a crazy place and I have learned to hope for the best and move on.

My greatest fear is being forgotten. I am not well acquainted with the grey matter portion of my brain that is tasked with deciding which experiences to remember and which to forget. If I am being honest I will admit to living on the forgetful side of life. Birthdays and anniversaries must go into my calendar or else they will be forgotten and for that I am sorry. While those most basic of dates pass freely through my mind I will never forget you if we meet on the Red Line at 3am and share a beer. Capturing the most random flashes in my life and have helped to color my personality is a fantastic trait of my mind, but I must have traded that for being able to remember why I drove to the store or walked into the kitchen.

All of that to say that I do not want to forget my experiences in China. Much more than my own want to remember I am troubled that I will not be remembered. One-in-a-billion sounds lovely as a compliment, but the reality of being a minuscule slice of the most populated country in the world, and a bit of an oddball in the group, means that I was frequently pondered over by local people and then I immediately faded into the background. The flash of colors between waking up for and falling asleep at night is filled with incredible moments of clarity, joy, adventure, and comradery. Finding the empathy to be concerned with the day-to-day lives of the people close to me can be challenging, but looking a stranger in the eye and remembering the experiences of humanity is simple. I hope that I was able to enter into the long-term memory of a few of the people I met while I lived in China.

A big thank you to everyone who has continued to support me and stay in touch while I have been gone. Our conversations mean so much and they helped to keep me from talking to myself more than I should. I will see you all very soon.

M. James Thompson


One response to “The Long Way Home | Via Chicago

  1. First.
    Be sure to say hi to all our friends at the Vatican while in Rome. And have a safe trek back to the windy city. Sorry to say no more baseball, but there’s always football , and pumpkin flavored everything.

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