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Higgins: A penultimate goodbye

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | JULY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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HARBIN, China — My wallet is going to weep once I leave China. Hard.

As a temporary expat/foldable currency case, my wallet tends to romanticize the benefits it receives as a foreigner in China: unlimited drinks for $16 and only available to foreign wallets (as I learned after the fact), Seven-course meals for $6, $15 cell-phone-data plans, the 50-cent subway rides, and the 20-cent steamed dumplings.

Literal champagne showers with Redfoo from LMFAO (remember them?) for, um, free.

But, tears and raining alcohol aside, my wallet is beginning to realize that the life of a temporary expat can’t last forever. So am I. Internships end, which is, of course, the point. Friends, and responsibilities, and family are waiting (im?)patiently back home. Maybe I’m a little homesick, after all.

Those 20-cent dumplings, though. They will always be worth the slight conspiratorial ribbing the staff gives the other interns and me when we waltz in, even if they’re not necessarily what we ordered.

Various people have asked me what I’ve enjoyed most about China, and my answer is invariably the food. My latest obsession is cantaloupe on a stick — apparently ubiquitous in Xi’an. Upon raving about it to those back home, I’ve also come to learn that cantaloupe isn’t as popular and universally loved as I assumed it was.

Regardless, I do hope that the magic of food on a stick will spread to Iowa City. It doesn’t even have to be underrated fruits. It could also be underrate tubers, such as the sweet potato, which China does right.

Chinese 7/11 has a gluttonous fast-food version of “chuan,” or meat on a stick. Unidentified spicy objects on a stick are vaguely exhilarating, while beef on a stick is best eaten with Gotye (remember him?) playing in the background. My latest goal in life is to enlighten everyone about food on a stick in any way possible.

The summer of Gotye and “Call Me Maybe” feels about as long ago as my flight to Beijing just under two months ago. Now, there’s just over a week until the return trip to Chicago.

An hour ago, sitting in this Harbin hostel, I texted my friend “I think I’m just about ready to come home.” I’ll never quite be at that point. I might shed a few tears upon leaving the food, and the perfect environment to practice and learn Chinese, and the Beijing subway system, the traveling, the readily available fruit juice, all of it. I’ll miss all of it.

But I do miss the Central Time Zone and a hearty breakfast at Hamburg Inn. I’m looking forward to my classes and to share with my Chinese teachers everything I’ve learned here. I even kind of miss my hectic schedule.

But, there will still be a discernible tearing sound once I leave the country. I was offered a taste of China (for real, not at a takeout restaurant), and I made another check off my list of dreams. My wallet and I hope to be back some day, as the honeymoon’s not quite over.


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