I’ve been back home for just over a week.
The skies have been all sparkly and bright blue and the sun shines so brightly that, well, I have to wear sunglasses a lot more often than I’ve ever had to in Shanghai. Have I ever mentioned how grim Shanghai can be? Maybe once or twice? Sometimes I even go all Corey Hart here and wear them at night.
So yeah, everything sparkles like a cheesy chaste vampire and the air is fresh and alarmingly sweet and there’s a lot of really pretty waterfront to walk around, all lined with lots of green, fragrant trees and a lot big, fat, stinky roses. The streets are quiet. Cars stop for me at cross-walks, even without traffic lights. My mother thinks it’s hilarious how I am still reluctant to step out into the street without looking 4 ways (are there scooters coming up behind me at 60km/h? Is there a car about to do a U-turn using the sidewalk?).
Here in the mythological land they call Western Canadia, you can breathe without triggering too much asthma; you can drink the water without adding to the heavy metal content of your blood stream; you can buy milk that isn’t made from plastic derivatives; you can walk side by side by side on a sidewalk without disturbing anyone.
It’s awful! Just intolerable. Agony!
Or not. Actually, it’s REALLY nice. Alarmingly nice. Disconcertingly nice.
I know I left (and kept on leaving) home for a reason. Or maybe a number of reasons: restlessness, crappy job options, high cost of living, realistic fear of complacency, curiosity about the rest of the big old world out there, reluctance to stay in one place, stuck, forever. All very valid reasons. Hell, in the week and a bit that I’ve been back, I’ve been reminded of all of those caveats and they still mostly apply, nearly twenty years later.
However, now that I’ve hit my mid to late 30s and have been living a very uprooted lifestyle since just before my 20th birthday, I have had a few second thoughts about a possibly endless expatty life style.
Here are a few things that I would like to somehow incorporate into my life at some point: friends stretching back to childhood who know me like family and whose children will know me and whose dogs will know my dogs (if I ever have dogs); big, goofy dogs and marvelous cunning cats and maybe chickens or ducks or goats; a big ol’ kitchen with access to a big ol’ garden where I grow my own non toxic veggies and herbs and whatnot; a job other than teaching or internetty writing stuff- something more artisanal, more hands-on, like a goat farmer who makes awesome cheeses and weaves tapestries from the goats’ awesome hair (because goats can have awesome hair) or carpenter or midnight-shift small town baker; a house not an apartment, with land around it to allow for said goats and a reasonable amount of silence aside from howling dogs and night frogs and whatnot; a library! A library either of my own lovely books that didn’t have to be given away every time I moved from country to country or a town library where I could borrow English language books of any sort any time I had a hankering for words that weren’t on a screen (which is increasingly frequent).
Sometimes I think my secret life wishes (and these have been fairly consistent over the past few decades) run totally in opposition to the other half of my non-secret, fully-active life wishes. I like travel! I like living abroad! I like being the prodigal daughter who suddenly pops up at home every few years! I like being able to pick up and move and change on a whim! I like our flat, smack dab in the middle of Shanghai, 16 floors above the crowded lane ways of the French Concession!
Could I really handle a stable lifestyle, with the same friends, the same goats, the same rooms, the same land, year after year, with no casual jaunts to Burma or Cambodia for a month or so at regular intervals? No regular bouts of culture shock to keep me mentally on my toes? Could I bear the butt-widening desk job that I’d probably have to take when my goat cheese business totally fails to make any money and my dreams are dashed? Could I handle needing a car to do anything or go anywhere?
Probably not. And Doug would probably be bored out of his mind.
So, in lieu of giving up my crazy, madcap expat lifestyle to dedicate myself to perfecting a perfectly herbed chèvre, I’ve decided to bring the more manageable bits to my urban life. Like, say, making goat milk paneer. Not using my own goats. That would be just impractical. The goat milk was from the super market and I got the lemons from Fisgard Market in Victoria’s China Town, just for a little cultural confusion. Once my batch is drained and pressed in a few hours, I’m going to marinate them and sautee them and make something awesome. Because I don’t necessarily need my own goats to have goaty goodness in my life.
ETA: There is now a follow-up post with a recipe for spicy pan fried paneer. It’s very, very good.