We had made the mistake of expecting things to work, and that’s all China needs to throw you a curveball. We assumed we’d find a working ATM in the city of Hangzhou, and China responded with a city-wide bank network outage. Ask for predictability, and China gives you a cigarette-stained Buddha grin, then hands you adventure instead. Helene and I appraised our situation: Chinese yuans for $8 USD, a train ticket home, and ten kilometers of sweaty, polluted streets between us and the train station. In other words, a fortune.
I’m thinking back to our day of adventure in Hangzhou six years ago today in a way of making sense of my time in Edmonton. China goes around throwing wrenches in cakes with the subtlety of a cartoon spy, but Edmonton, it turns out, is no stranger to mischief.
When I came to Edmonton fifteen months ago, I also made a mistake.
I expected a great job in a great company, and I got that. But I was foolish and thought that’s what I needed to be happy. My mistake was to trust that my career ambitions would dull my wanderlust, at least for a few years.
Six years ago in Hangzhou, Helene and I took a cab to the train station, then set about exploring the station’s surroundings. What followed constitutes one of my fondest memories of China. We had lunch in a restaurant inside the station, with a side-order of construction workers who sat and stared at us as long as one noodle remained unslurped. Then, we sat in a nearby park, causing drivers to nearly rear-end each other from the shock of seeing white faces for the first time. A couple of kids whistled at us, and when we whistled back, they chuckled like they would if a cow mooed back.
For the same reason, I don’t think of Edmonton with regret. I came here expecting a job, and I found friends and a sense of community on top of it. I’m going to miss the farmer’s market so much, I wish I could send it Christmas cards. I can’t say I fell in love with Edmonton, but I think we respect each other. We even look away with a smile when the other is looking. I like the blue of Edmonton’s sky, a startling sight even three years after Shanghai’s yellow haze. I like how so many Edmontonians are proud to be from around here, but a bit embarrassed at the same time. I love how multicultural the city really is, behind its facade of whiteness and pick-up trucks.
For these reasons, I’m not ashamed to call Edmonton a mistake, because I don’t mean it in a bad way. I see my time in Edmonton as straying from the path, and finding a shiny dollar in the grass. You walk in the field for a while, and remember that not everything is about a destination; but seeing the path from afar fills your heart with a longing for home.
Helene and I made it in time for our train back to Shanghai, on that day in Hangzhou. And we’re about to get back home again, come this September. Home is where the heart is: and my heart is somewhere out there, wandering the world at large.