Vilas is lying next to me on the couch as I write this post.  Her back feet are pressing into my hip and she’s breathing deeply because she’s exhausted.  I took her for a run this morning, and yesterday she got a trip to the dog park, a run with Matt, and a visit with our friends in the evening- including her new favorite person, my friend Anna’s baby, Finley.  Tonight we’ll be at Target Field, and on Sunday we’re fishing.  Things are good.
I’ve been home for exactly 3 weeks today.  It seems strange to think that not even 5 weeks ago, I left my apartment in Hangzhou for the last time.  I stared at the door for a really long time, finally forcing myself to just take a picture of it and go.  The city was lonely for me by that time- Sabrina was back home, Trisha was traveling with her sister, and Ian was en route to Canada- so I was lucky to fit in visits with my friend, Amanda and my sister, Becca during my last 2 weeks in China.  Seeing people from home felt like planting one foot firmly back in the States.
I wish I could say that this was the foot I planted back home, but it’s just the funny right shoe of a woman on the bullet train to Shanghai.
Becca, as I’ve mentioned before, is currently studying in Tianjin, a city near Beijing.  After spending 2 days at the bad-weather-beleaguered Hongqiao airport in Shanghai and several weeks planning my trip to Tianjin, I cried when I saw her in the lobby of my hotel.  She cried a little, too.  It felt really special to have someone from my family in China.  To glimpse into her experience in the country was pretty interesting too, as she actually speaks some Chinese.  She fascinated me when she’d strike up conversations with taxi drivers or shop clerks or random passersby; what had been, for months, just white noise to me was suddenly coming out of her mouth, AND it was making sense to the Chinese people we encountered.  
Tianjin is a bit bigger than Hangzhou, but the cities reminded me of one another often.  Though it’s not the popular travel destination for the Chinese that Hangzhou is, it has a lot of charm with plenty of history, universities, gardens, and great restaurants.  Becca took me to an old market street, the bell and drum tower, the pedestrian mall, a nightclub, a hotpot restaurant, and her favorite snack street.  I had a blast overlapping China experiences with my sister.  Unforgettable week.

The Nankai campus.  Near to Becca’s living quarters, it’s the university through which she is getting credit for her language classes.

Lotus gardens in Tianjin.  I can’t believe how much taller Becca is than I am!

For you Seinfeld fans, take a peek at this woman’s name tag.

Baby turtles for sale.  Mini heroes in their half-shells.

Old market street.

The guardian lions that Matt wants for our house.

I really should have bought the underwear chicken.

Becca’s tutor, Wufei, gave me a Chinese name to match Becca’s (Li Bei): Li Lei.  This man is carving my name in characters onto a stamp.

You can’t tell in this picture, but Becca and the man next to her both have gigantic back tattoos.  They bonded over this, and these people kept calling us their new friends in Chinese.  Very sweet.

Bell and drum tower.  This bell was used to keep a common time in Tianjin before clocks.

I found the sandals of my dreams at this mall and gave Becca the honor of throwing away my old beat-up flips.

Leaving Becca in Tianjin, I felt fortified and rested and ready to stop living out of my suitcase.  I had one night left in Shanghai, and I splurged on a great hotel, 2-hour massage, and gigantic, Western, room-serviced breakfast.  I’d never ordered room service before.  I felt like a pretty big deal.

I left China on June 30th and spent one night in Seoul before boarding the Asiana flight that would take me back to the States.
I was greeted at the airport by Matt and his parents, Deb and Steve, and even though I was a little tired, I remember exactly what those hugs felt like.  Matt made me dinner that night, and the transition from traveling in China to sitting in our kitchen, dog underfoot, fiance at the grill, was seamless.  The next day we spent with good friends, river-boating and swimming and swapping stories; the next-next day, our very good friends Ryan and Michelle hosted a party to celebrate my homecoming and our engagement; the next-next-next day was the Fourth of July, and this too we celebrated with friends.  I felt happily smothered in love and so easily remembered what makes living in the Twin Cities so special.
Matt and I at the Twins game on 7/5.

Our first CSA meal: a Chinesey stir fry with homemade plum sauce.
And finally finally, I made my way up to see my family at my parents’ cabin on Lake Superior.  I sometimes feel anxious about reunions or meetings that I know will be emotional, but there was nothing in me that felt anxious about seeing my family.  It was all I could do to keep from speeding the entire way.  Also, Matt was in Canada on a fly-in fishing trip, so I had only Vilas to talk to.  Pretty boring when she’d rather keep her nose poked out the window.
I can’t really describe the feeling of seeing my mom, my dad, my sister Alisa, and my grandparents as I turned onto the gravel driveway, except that it felt all at once like I’d never left but also that I’d been away forever and also that I was really whole.  It was like how I felt when I saw Matt at MSP.  Missing puzzle pieces finding their ways home.
I got to spend 6 perfect days in the UP and in Wausau with my family.  We wore ourselves out at the beach, captured a sunset, saw HP7.2, drank homemade wine, made dinner together.  I am a lucky Ginger.
Vilas making herself comfortable between me and Alisa.

Vilas making herself comfortable by Grandpa Nelson.

My dad, the captain of Serenity Now, and Oliver, the skipper.

My beautiful mother.

A Lake Superior sunset.

So my time abroad has come to an end, but rather than slaking my thirst for travel, it’s only made the desire stronger.  I feel a little bit like Vilas here, watching the waves for something or somewhere new.
In that vein, I get to travel with Matt to his work site in Argentina this August, so watch for posts about Rosario early next month.  I bought a CD of Argentine guitar music today at Half-Price Books and my passport is wide open, so I’m ready for another adventure.

And even though I’ve said goodbye to China, I know that it’s only goodbye for now, not forever.


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