Christina Zastrow

The Long Way Home


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Back in the land of blue

A little while ago, I wrote a post that quoted a metaphor from another blog about what’s like to be an expat (or a missionary). The metaphor is that you start out as a man of blue in a land of blue people and when you move to the land of yellow people you slowly turn green and don’t fit in with either group because you are neither blue nor yellow.

Well, this week I am back in America doing paperwork and I am discovering just how green I’ve become. Nothing here quite fits. My friends are just as fun as I’ve always found them to be, but I feel the distance between us as if I was still in China. My family is just as remote and uninterested in my life as always, but now I feel a barrier protecting me from that, as if the Great Wall of China has taken up residence in my heart.

I know my way around here in ways I don’t in Beijing. I can give the taxi driver directions in my native language and that’s also his language. I can get a hair cut without relying on pictures and translators and hope.

But none of that makes it feel like I belong here. The things that are easier here show me the specks of pure blue that remain in my life, but rather than making me more comfortable, it makes me long to returnĀ home, to return to China and savor the difficulties of language and cultural differences, the fun of planning travel and adventure, and the joy of being with my rainbow of friends there.

I guess it’s a lesson learned for me. I’m a tourist in my hometown and I’m at home in my adopted place. Home isn’t about where you come from, it’s about where you’re going.


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When did I decide that happiness is unattainable?

I’ve had a hard time lately deciding what to say here. The longer I search, the more I look for home, or for my own heart, the further away it all feels.

I am divided.

Beijing calls to me in many ways. When I am well and focused, I love the rush of people and knowing that history is just a subway ride away. But too often I am not well. My heart hurts and I’m left to clutch my pillow and ache to not be alone, even for a moment. And in those moments the rush of people, all strangers, is overwhelming and the history is too much. I crave the comfort of familiarity and people I know, who speak *my* language – not English, but the language my heart speaks when it’s bared to another.

I crave both Beijing and Chicago.

Perhaps there is a compromise somewhere to be found, but for now, I can’t see it. It’s all just desperately knowing that something isn’t right, that it may never be right, that I can’t have everything.

I used to be that girl, the one who believed she could have all her dreams, that she had the world on a string and that all she had to do to have anything she really wanted was to decide upon it and make it happen.

Where did she go? When did I decide that I’m not allowed to have anything I want, much less everything I want? When did I decide that happiness is unattainable?

More importantly, how do I get that girl’s excitement back? How do I decide again, that there’s nothing holding me back and that I can be as strong as the storm? The hunting down what I want is as easy as deciding what that is and then setting off in search of it?


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A Moment’s Peace

Months ago everything inside me ran rampant. My emotions had become unfettered from my soul and depression dragged at me. I hadn’t known peace in months, crushed by the slow dissolution of a relationship I thought would end only in death.

I struggled to find the joy in any given moment and had forgotten how to embrace my zen.

And then, hours after a complete meltdown, I found my center again in a place considered home by many of my newest friends. These are people who had known me only a few days, and who had accepted me shaking, scared, panicked, and unable to think, and who helped me settle. They helped me look inside myself and find my center again. It was, at the time, the smallest point of light within me, not the rock solid sense of self I hoped to find again, but it was enough of me to assure me of the path I was on.

As we watched the sun rise over the lake I felt myself soak in the cold morning air, and I felt the sunshine spark inside me. It was that morning that helped set me on this path, that helped me realize what I was looking for in my trip to Beijing. I wasn’t running away from the pain caused by my ex. I am searching, actively searching, to find myself again because I’d lost sight of who I am.

So, now I sit in a hotel in Beijing, ready to go out and seize every moment, every chance, every adventure, anything that will help me embrace my soul and find a way to never let it go again, even if I let someone else inside me again. And I look back on that morning, and I smile thinking of those people who helped set me on this path.

Evanston Sunrise


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A Tourist In My Hometown

In an effort to better define home for myself, I’ve been wandering around taking tourist pictures of my hometown. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is that appeals to me about the pictures I take and if there’s something about them that gives me the feeling of home. So far I don’t know that I could define “home” based on these pictures, but they are pictures that feel familiar and perhaps that’s a part of home.