Expats back in their country

I am back in Belgium now for a couple of weeks and it is hard to be back. First of all, and the biggest problem, is that I have to live with my parents.

People here in my home country don’t know anything about the life I am living abroad. They haven’t changed that much, but I have changed and I am not used to the Belgian life anymore.

I have been living more than 9 years in China now and China is my home. Already for years I have a reversed culture shock. I don’t know much about life in my home country anymore. I don’t know the recent developments and what the popular trends are.

It has been harder and harder to come back. But, it is also due to the fact that I have to live with my parents and that they live in a small village with no public transportation. The contrast between the village and Shenzhen couldn’t be bigger for sure.

My husband came with me this time, so it was a good excuse to sometimes take my parents’ car and drive to another city to visit.

Village life is, I guess, in most places all over the world the same. People don’t like change; they want to keep the traditional way of living. So, we have been eating traditional meals with a lot of fries, Belgian waffles and of course a lot of chocolate. But, it’s not all about food. I feel that I have evolved into a life that my family knows nothing or very little about. They talk about Belgian things and assume I still know, but I have no idea about it.

All this makes me go into a little identity crisis sometimes: am I still Belgian or am I becoming more and more Chinese? This is the most difficult question and I don’t think I can answer: I consider myself still as Western, but not as much as pure Belgian.

Even though, I know it is also because of this village that I feel this way. I have a friend who lives in a big city here in Belgium and I still feel more connected with her. It is difficult to stay nice to my parents, though. I want to have a great time with them while I am here but I am getting annoyed with their close-mindedness and they still treat me as the little girl they knew.

All in all, it is always good to be back in my home country, because it makes me realize how much I have grown over the years. I am glad I got out of the village and took responsibility to live the life that I want and not one that society wants me to have.

 

 

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Western habits

I am teaching at a Chinese company now for a couple of months. They asked me to help them to practice their English, because they will have to go to a conference in London in November to try to attract new business partners.
I love to teach them as they are very eager to learn and they are curious about the Western life and mentality. I realize that I have much experience now about Chinese habits too and am able to tell them that not all foreigners are used to China, its culture and habits.So, we should always bear in mind that when we are abroad people are not familiar with our way of living.When they asked if they could invite potential business partners to dinner, I also realized that I will have to teach them about the Western style of dining and the table etiquette. I know this is now also big business in China! I love it that we can learn so much from each other’s culture.
At home, we are a bit in the same situation. Our tickets are booked to go to Belgium in October. It’s going to be the second time for my husband, but I can see he is already getting nervous and wants to eat more Western food and want to eat with fork and knife again just to get used to it again.
I, on the other hand, love to eat with chopsticks. Even when I was in Belgium I would sometimes eat the food with chopsticks, because I am so used to it and I love the feel of it. I am amazed to see on how it opened my mind to live in another country and in a totally different culture. I appreciate things from Belgium much more when I am there, but on the other hand, I miss things from China a lot as well when I am there.


I feel that I have one foot in Belgium and one foot in China. My husband thinks of moving to Belgium in the future, but I am not so sure. Although, I do miss the European life, because it is more relaxed and quiet, but I also miss China when I am in Europe. I think once you are familiar with 2 cultures, it is hard to choose which one you like more: you learn to love and hate certain things of each culture. I do think it would be good to move to Belgium for a certain period, so my husband can experience what it is to live in another culture and also so he knows my culture more. But only the future will tell where we will live permanently.

Boating on the sea during a typhoon

Again an item I can check off my bucket list, although this one was definitely not on it in the first place. But, being married to Eric, I could have known this would end up on my list…

So, what happened? Eric got an inflatable boat and knew about an island 4km off the coast of Shenzhen. His plan was to row to the island and camp there for 1 night. We had a lot of stuff with us: tent, water and snacks, fishing net,…

After 1 hour on the sea, the weather changed and it started to rain. Not much, just a shower and so we continued, even though for the half hour it rained, we couldn’t see any land anymore. The second rain shower lasted a bit longer and we had to scoop water out of the boat. The waves got a bit higher. But again, we continued, as we were halfway and we thought we could reach it in just one more hour.

After that, 1 paddle broke and the waves started to get higher. All of a sudden, the heavens broke and it started pouring rain. The waves became scary high and it rained a lot. We had to keep on scooping more water out of the boat. The rain didn’t stop for 2 to 3 hours. We saw a container ship and started waving our paddles. Eric’s phone didn’t work because of water damage and I didn’t bring mine, just because I thought it might be damaged.

The ship was not far from us, but didn’t pick us up. After what seemed like a lifetime, the rain started to pour down less and we started to see the contours of mountains. After a while, we could see land clearly again. I started to get courage again and started paddling like crazy towards land, afraid that another shower would come and we wouldn’t see it again.

After 2 more hours, we were closer to land and it started to rain heavily again. The waves started to build up in strength and we were again at the mercy of the sea. We were being put closer and closer to land. At that point, we had to make sure that our boat wouldn’t be thrown onto rocks. We started to keep the paddle in our hand to use if a rock would be too close to us, but it was useless. We were going up and down on the waves and had no control over the direction.

In the end, we went closer and closer to land. Eric got out of the boat to try to steer it a bit, but the sea was too wild. A few minutes later, a big wave swept under the boat and I flew out of it and was thrown on the rocks. The last I saw was Eric being caught between a big rock and the boat. I started shouting as I didn’t see him the first minute. He came out of the water and I could feel my own body: my knees and hand were hurt, but not too bad.

We got all of our stuff by wonder, because the waves were smacking on the rocks. We packed everything and we had to walk another 3 km over rocks, through water, mud and a small forest back to our car.

Eric’s comment: we wanted to eat free fish, but we almost got eaten by fish!

Yeah, I guess that is going to be my life story with him. He already thinks of trying to do it by kayak next time.

Day 6: Thokla to Gorak Shep

I set off again at 6am. I didn’t have breakfast in Thokla, because I wanted to stop at Lobuche for a severest_trekking_map 5th dayhort break and thought of having breakfast there. Lobuche is at 4920m. I arrived there after 2 hours of trekking and didn’t feel good. I had a headache, felt tired and my stomach was upset. I still forced myself to eat breakfast, because I wanted to keep on trekking to Gorak Shep, at 5164m. I had a nice breakfast: Tibethan bread with honey! Really enjoyed it. I stayed there 1 hour and continued to Gorak Shep. It turned out to be a big mistake!

The trekking was much longer than I thought, also probably partly caused of feeling really tired. I was just shuffling my feet along. Every step felt heavy. I could feel every kilo of my backpack more… Luckily, halfway the trekking I met a Moldovan guy, Andre. He was staying Gorak Shep, but felt bad too, and was on his way to Lobuche to recuperate. When you have AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), the only thing you can do is go back down, let your body get used to the altitude and try to climb up again. We talked for a while and he said he was feeling better and wanted to climb up together with me again.
It was meant I would meet him, because talking to him, made me feel better as well. We talked all the way. He was a very interesting guy: he lives in Norway and is a guide for the Northern Light.

When I finally arrived in Gorak Shep, 3 hours later, I felt bad again and just collapsed on my bed. I was so tired that I thought I would never be able to move again. I rested for 3 hours and went downstairs. I drank some soup and bought some cookies of which I ate a few in my room while lying down and reading my book. I really didn’t feel well.
The whole night I felt uncomfortable in my back, I had a major headache and I was vomiting bile. That was definitely not good! In the morning, I forced myself to get up with, what felt, the last strength I had and went downstairs to get a mint tea. I thought this would help with my stomach.

I really didn’t know what to do: in this state, I couldn’t possibly trek any further, but I had to go to Base Camp, because Eric would come back in a couple of days. I didn’t have time to go back down and climb back up again.
When I was in the dining room, trying to ease my stomach with tea, Joe walked in, a Canadian I met briefly in Thokla. I told him about my condition and he told me he had mountain sickness pills, which he didn’t have to use. He gave me 8 pills, enough for 4 days. I immediately took 1 and went back to my room to rest. A true miracle happened! After 1 hour, I felt much better and felt something like hunger again. Amazing!

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Sometimes the trail could be really steep. 

Day 5: From Pangboche to Thokla

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I started trekking again at 6am. I started from Pangboche, where I stayed another night after my trek to Ama Dablam Basecamp. I stayed in another lodge, which was popular. Yesterday afternoon, I sat in the dining room with my book. Around 5pm, an Australian couple came in. They were in their early 40s, I guessed. We started talking and we talked for the whole evening (well, until 7.30pm, which is the time we retreated to our room to sleep). The woman was really exhausted. At one point she was even crying, because she felt so tired. The guy told me that his heart monitor indicated that he was burning 3000cals a day, without heavy backpack, because they had a porter. So, he told me that I must burn more, which shocked me a bit. That’s a lot of calories!

I started trekking today without breakfast, because I didn’t feel hungry (I ate more than I wanted to yesterday). I arrived in Periche (altitude: 4240m) around 8.30am and had breakfast there. I almost immediately continued the rest of my trek to Thokla (4670m). It was a bit of a tough climb, especially because I went a bit off track. The route was not that clear and I didn’t know where to go. So, I started to climb up, but all of a sudden I saw porters down and knew the trail must be there. Even with this little hiccup, I still arrived around 10.30am. So, again, quite early.

It seemed there was only 1 lodge in Thokla. It’s really just a couple of houses, not much of a town. I met a nice American couple in the dining room: Mary and Justin. They had already ordered food and the dish Justin ordered looked so delicious I immediately ordered the same. It was a big plate of mixed noodles with egg, tuna, veggies,… I devoured it and enjoyed every bite!
The rest of the day, was again waiting to go trekking again the next day.

The view during each trek is amazing. I am thankful every day, every minute that I have this experience and am surrounded by such a beautiful environment. At moments, it feels surreal, like I entered another world.

I will also mention here that it is aIMG_20160516_115518lmost necessary to have purification tablets with you, so you can take water from any source and purify it with a tablet. I take water from little pools, small streams,… put a tablet in it and wait one hour to drink. Although, I don’t drink as much as I should. I know, I should drink IMG_20160516_115428enough to not get sick, but every time I want to drink, it feels like choking as my body just wants to breathe. I am quite out of breath all the time from walking and I don’t think to drink.

Day 4: To Ama Dablam Base Camp

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Yesterday afternoon, I again had nothing to do, so I was reading and went to bed around 8pm again. I woke up around 12am and dozed on and off till 6am. I had breakfast and immediately set off to Ama Dablam Base Camp. It was a relief not to trek with my big backpack! I felt so much lighter… Just outside of Pangboche , I had to choose between 2 trails: one was a big wider than the other. I asked a Nepalese and he pointed at the wider one. I walked and walked and met many others. Ama Dablam was constantly at my right side, but there was no trail leading down. I had to go down and cross a river to go to Ama Dablam. After more than 1 hour, I came to a sign in stone to point to Periche and Dingboche, no Ama Dablam. At that moment, some porters passed by with yaks and I asked them. They told me I had to go all the way back to Pangboche. So, I thought it was the smaller trail that I had to follow, not the wider one. Fortunately, the trail was not that hard and I went back. I took a rest at a bakery in Pangboche. I thought of having a nice snack there, but the cinnamon roll I had was at least 1 week old! I asked the manager the way to Base Camp and my feeling was right: I had to take the s20160517_125411maller one.

I went down to the river, crossed it and the hike was amazing. It was quite steep all the way up, but I didn’t find it that hard (again, the smaller backpack helped a lot!). I think my body is getting trained. I can definitely feel that my clothes are starting to be baggy, even after only 4 days! The view up there was amazing, but the wind was really strong. It was much colder. Ama Dablam Base Camp is at 4600m, so I climbed more than 600m in altitude. I could definitely feel it in my breathing: every step, I was out of breath and my heart was pounding in my chest. I had my lunch up there: a chapati, with yak cheese and… chocolate! I love it that I can eat, and even have to eat chocolate, because it gives you instant energy. So, when you are trekking and you feel tired, you have an energy dip, chocolate is the best snack. I stacked up on Bounty, Twix, Mars, Kitkat,… You can buy these things in every village.

I loved being there all by myself, surrounded on all sides by mountains. I was in awe to be closer to Ama Dablam, 6812m. I will definitely try to summit this mountain! The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew I would climb this one. Every time I looked at the summit, I could picture myself climbing it. It was really calling me. I had a strange feeling the whole time I was there. I knew I will come back here. This is my next goal!