“I’m doing my best to get back! I hope that my visa goes through and I can be there in the next month or so.”
The past 18 months have been hard, but one of the hardest things I experienced was so many of my friends moving back home. While there was initial fear when the pandemic started, now the tides have turned and almost all of my friends who left China are on a mission to get back in.
As my friends and I sat outside at a farm in Shunyi in northern Beijing chilling out and enjoying drinks in the sun, we talked about how lucky we were to be in a country where we have been basically Covid-free for more than a year. We talked about how in the beginning we had all thought of going home, but ultimately realized we were probably in the safest place we could be, and as time has told, we were right.
I remember last June when travel opened back up, I headed straight to Sanya in Hainan Province and stayed there for two months. The hotels were dirt cheap as tourism had been shut down for a while. I was renting a queen, ocean-view room for 89 yuan (US$14) a night. It was amazing. This was right around the time everything was starting to get worse and worse outside of China, including my home country the US. I remember my friends commenting on my posts and asking how we were able to travel. I tried to explain how strict China was in the beginning, from shutting down schools and making working from home mandatory to needing specific cards to get onto each hutong. The efforts paid off and we were back to a semi-normal lifestyle pretty quickly. I couldn’t have been happier, and I did feel bad for my friends back home who then (and now) still don’t have much of a light at the end of the tunnel.
However, there are beams of light shining in for some of my friends who left China or got stuck outside during the pandemic. The expat groups are now seeing posts trickling in asking about quarantine upon return to China and where to get apartments. In my “Murrica” WeChat group, a fellow expat had finally made it back into China from Thailand after being “stuck out for a year and a half.” One group member said, “Wow, you made it! Congrats!” But another group member wasn’t as welcoming and didn’t appreciate the “stuck out” comment. They wrote, “Many, many people in this group were outside the country when the pandemic started and made moves to get back to their jobs and lives in China. We have been stuck inside China for 1.5+ years and counting. For many of us that’s the longest we have gone without being home, seeing family, or simply getting a little break from China – and that is not easy. It’s very hard for me to have sympathy for people talking about how much of a burden it is getting back now.”
While feelings are mixed, and the process of getting in and out is slow and tedious, things are starting to change for the better. It is exciting to see people coming back in, and I have many friends still in the process.
However, now, I am about to start my own journey into taking a trip home. While I am still working out the logistics, my employer has approved me to leave for two months to visit home and return. So far, with a resident permit, there shouldn’t be a problem. But things can change at any moment, not to mention the price of tickets and quarantining on both sides.
I cannot wait to get back to the US for a short stay and to catch up with friends, family and most of all my 8-year-old nephew, Sebastian. But China is now my home and after two months in the US, I will be ready to get back to my life here. I hope everyone can get the chance to visit home and those who want to return can get back soon. The expat bubble is smaller than you think, so we are ready for some newbies to touch down here in China.