That thought was still in my mind as I struggled to re-adjust to life in Hawaii. Sometimes I would also think “That’s it? Only six months?” Either way I still believed God wanted me to be back in Japan, if not as a missionary then as a layperson.
Since I knew there was another BSUer from Hawaii taking my place, I could not re-apply as a semester missionary. I could have re-applied as a journeyman but that idea did not cross my mind until recently. I also did not think to go to seminary to become a career missionary until just a few weeks ago. But that was not to be. I had no one to guide me. No one from my church or the BSU held a debriefing. No one said, “I’ve lived overseas. If you need me I’m here for you.”
For the first few months of 1994 I endured internal turmoil that consumed me. I would pray in Japanese before going to bed as a way of keeping my connection to that country alive. I also want back to the library looking up other opportunities in Japan. While I was still in Nagasaki, I received a letter from an old classmate of mine who was also in Japan in Kumamoto Prefecture, the prefecture east of Nagasaki. This classmate had gotten a teaching job through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which is how I heard of this organization.
When I went to my local library I found a booklet on how to get teaching jobs in east Asia. It focused primarily three countries. The first country was Japan since it was Asia’s biggest economy at that time. It listed several schools and teaching organizations along with their addresses, but JET was the most well known and the only one I was familiar with; so I applied for a position with JET.
The country with the least amount of information was China.
Unfortunately I was not smart enough to ask for information about the other schools or teaching organizations even though their addresses were listed in the booklet. I had not heard of them. I stuck with the JET Programme because I knew something about it and I had a friend in the program.
I had put all my eggs in a single basket. Big mistake.
In the meantime I worked part-time at KWYI and took care of my grandmother who suffered from a stroke. But I always kept my search for a job in Japan very active.
Eventually I did land a job interview with the JET Programme. I had to fly to Honolulu because the interview was to be conducted at the Japanese Consulate.
A few days later I got a letter in the mail from the consulate. I do not remember the exact words it used but it basically said that they have decided to give the job to another candidate.
I was crushed. I remember sitting on the bottom set of stairs of our two storied house just staring at this letter not knowing what to do next.
The next day a Christian friend of mine had invited several church members to attend a beach revival at Anaeho’omalu Bay. Locals call it A-Bay for short. I drove myself to the bay thinking I would feel better.
It didn’t work. I broke down in tears in the scorching parking lot. I was very angry at God.
“Why God?” I asked. “Why?”
I was so angry that I was pounding the steering wheel with my fists and screaming in protest.
At a church revival.
There were others in the parking lot unloading their beach gear. But they were too focused on what they were doing. No one asked me what was wrong. No one even stopped to say “hello”. No one cared.
Finally I composed myself, dried my face, and got out of my car to attend the revival. The music calmed me down physically. But I was still furious with God.
There was only one person that sensed the turmoil going on in my life. That person was my Dad.
Dad was not the type of person who would openly share his overseas experience with people. He and my sisters spent one year living in Hong Kong. I would have loved living in the territory if I didn’t have any university commitments to attend to.
But I do remember Dad telling me how he wished he could take the three of us to live in another country. He would have taken us as children so that we could pick up the language quickly and perhaps become bilingual.
There was just one problem.
Dad felt Mom just did not have a sense of adventure. Nor did she share his dream of living overseas.
So when I told Dad about my failure to secure a job through the JET Programme, he heard me.
After the JET fiasco I hatched a plan of desperation. My plan was to withdraw all of my savings, buy a one way ticket to Japan, and start pounding the streets of Tokyo by looking at the schools listed using the addresses I had on hand.
“Are you crazy?” my Dad asked. “You put all of your eggs in this JET Programme. Now that they gave the job to another person you are willing to us all your money to go back to Japan. What about rent? What if you get there and can’t find a job? Then what?”
I stopped crying and listened.
My Dad went on. “You’re Chinese. You should learn something about your ancestral country!”
That statement changed my life forever.
“I would be willing to pay for you and your sister to go to China and study Chinese for one year.”
What have I got to lose? I thought. Right there I decided and agreed. A few months later I was on a plane bound for Hong Kong.
I have lived in China for fourteen years. But I have also been in and out of my home country for fourteen years. All were difficult but some re-entries were more difficult than others. From 1996-2005 I would return to Hawaii just for the summer months. Most of the schools I worked at were regular schools meaning students had a winter and a summer break. I would travel within China during the winter and during the summer I would return home for the long break. I’d come home in June but in August I would be back in China. Re-entry wasn’t as difficult back then.
By then my belief that God wanted me to be in Japan had changed. I still believed that the Lord wanted me to serve Him overseas. My destiny however, was not in Japan. It was in China.
While I was in Japan I met a fellow missionary by the name of Mike. Like the Davises, Mike was from Alabama. He was just concluding his one year of service when I arrived and he was preparing to return to the States. Mike was planning to return to Japan as a career missionary.
But that was not his original plan.
In his final sermon, Mike shared his story. He felt that God was calling him to China. So he prepared for a life in the People’s Republic of China much like I prepared for a life in Japan.
When he applied for a position with the FMB however, they said, “We don’t have a position open in China. Would you be willing to go to Japan?”
Mike agreed. The minute he set foot in Japan he knew there was something right about this decision. This was where the Lord wanted him to be.
Just before my year of Chinese study concluded I landed a teaching job in Nanjing Institute of Meteorology (NIM). I went home in June and returned to Nanjing in August.
The moment I stepped on that campus as a teacher I knew there was something right about this. This was where God wanted me to be.
The first time I returned home for an extended period of time was in May of 2005. I tried to find a job while assisting my Dad sell his bamboo products online. I remember going to a job fair at the Hilton with a friend. I dressed appropriately but I saw other applicants dressed in shorts and slippers.
They’ll never get a job dressed like that I thought. I should be able to land a job with my China experience. After all, aren’t all the hotels trying to corner the China market?
One job I applied for required the applicant to speak Japanese. By this time my Japanese was nearly non-existent. After not speaking Japanese for fourteen years I could not utter a word other than sushi and arigato. Whenever I tried speaking Japanese, Chinese would come out.
Never mind I thought. Just apply. You don’t know until you try. Think outside the box.
When I submitted my paperwork to the interviewer the first question she asked was, “Do you speak Japanese?”
“A little. But I do speak Chinese.”
“Sorry. We really need someone who can speak Japanese.” And with that she just got up and left.
Wow I thought. So much for thinking outside the box.
I was so mad I fired off a letter the editor in the West Hawaii Today and on my Facebook page. I basically stated that if the hotels such as the Hilton really wanted to attract Chinese guests they should have someone on staff who speaks Chinese at their international desk.
I don’t know if the newspaper published my letter. As a result I never got a job at any of the hotels.
I also learned to be choosy when it comes to sharing my overseas experiences. My first trip home after my six month stint in Japan and after my year of language study in China, people would come up to me and ask me about my experiences. I misunderstood their intentions. I took their initial interest as a cue to share my entire overseas experience from beginning to end. If someone talked about a murder I would say, “this would never happen in Japan.” If someone started talking about local Chinese food I’d say, “I wish I had yang rou gai jiao fan (lamb on a bed of rice).” And although none of my friends openly said, “Jada, stop talking about your life overseas,” I could sense it in their body language that they weren’t really interested in my stories. They’d say things like, “What did you do in Japan?” But then five seconds later they would be discussing about what they are planning to have for dinner.
Therefore I’d only share my experiences with those who have lived abroad.
One thing that made a difference between my re-entry from Japan and my re-entry from China was the availability of information about overseas travel. There was no Internet in 1993 when I went to Japan. I had to go to the library for most of my information about that country. By 2005, however, the Internet was no longer a novelty.
Another thing that made a difference was that I had a friend who was in Russia while I was in China. We share our experiences. I told her what it was like meeting with other Christians both Chinese and foreigners. She share her Russian experiences with me. I had someone outside of my family who understood me who knows what it’s like to live in a foreign country and then return home.
But I still had trouble re-adjusting. When I came back in 2005, my hometown had changed. When I left, Parker Ranch Center was a mere skeleton but it still had the Deli, a place to get great plate lunches. I remember shopping at Ben Franklin and Sure Save as a kid. When I returned in 2005, it was under major renovation.
Disillusioned and confused I needed something to do. My Dad suggested I return to university and study business. I took his advice but I had a different reason.
I figured there would be a lot of international students. I had read somewhere that one way to get over the re-entry syndrome was to meet up with people from other countries. After all, these students are in my shoes. They know what it’s like living in a foreign country. Therefore we would share a common experience.
There was a program I was most definitely interested in. UH-Hilo had a masters program called the China-US program or CHUS for short.
I really wasn’t interested in taking any business courses. I was much more interested in international relations than anything else.
But the CHUS program was for master students who have graduated and passed the GRE. I am an alumnus of UH-Hilo. Getting a transcript was not a problem.
But I hate exams. Studying for the GRE was no easy feat for me. For one thing the prep classes were offered and inconvenient times. They weren’t offered every semester so I opted to buy a GRE book for dummies and prep myself.
It had also been years since I had taken an exam of any kind.
Math has always been my Achilles heel. I’ve always hated math ever since I was a kid. Dad was a good man and we shared a passion for a life overseas. But I hated it when Dad would open a textbook and force me to solve the problems on that page.
I enlisted the help of a fellow tutor from the math department who was willing to help me work out potential math problems on the GRE.
But it was those word analogies and word associations that really stumped me. Words like mealy mouth, cacophony, and bombastic were on the preparation exams.
I have never seen these words before. I will probably never use these words and therefore I will probably never use these words again after taking the GRE. I thought what is the point of learning these words that no one really uses anymore? They are good party tricks but after that they are useless.
I took the GRE twice. I needed a score of 1000. The second time I got a score of 830.
I now loathe the GRE.
I was, however, allowed to take three Master classes even without passing the GRE. This allowed me to meet some of the Chinese students in the Master program and take part in their off campus events. But because I had not passed the GRE I could not enroll as a full time Masters student.
Frustrated at not being able to land a job or get into the UH-Hilo CHUS program I decided to return to China in August 2007 as – you guessed it – an English teacher.
Why is it easier to find a teaching job in China? Why is it so difficult finding a job in my hometown?
I returned to China in August of 2007 and remained in that country until June of 2009. I returned home that summer and once again, tried to find a job. Once again I could not find a suitable job and in February of 2010 I went back to China.
This time I remained in China until September 2010. By then my Dad was terminally ill with a muscle degenerative disease that is difficult for me to pronounce and things were not going well for me personally. I decided to return home for good. I figured that my Dad’s days were numbered and it was time to return home.
I also had a manuscript that I wanted to get published. I had started this manuscript in September of 2009 and finished it in November of 2010 in China.
I’ve always wanted to be a published author. I’ve always had two major life goals. One was to live and work overseas. Mission accomplished. It was now time to tackle my second goal; getting a book published under my name.
I chose to write a memoir about one of my numerous experiences in China. But it’s very difficult to write something about China when you are living in it. I was afraid that if I were to e-mail my manuscript to a potential publisher, someone could interfere with my transmissions and that the Public Security Bureau, the police, would be knocking at my door.
My Dad’s illness came at an opportune time. I packed up and returned home.
I was not mentally prepared for what awaited me. My family would video Skype with me and Dad would say “hello”. His health was declining. He was in a wheelchair and he was constantly drooling. When I last saw him he was able to walk so the decline was very clear during our Skype calls.
But I was not prepared for the amount of care giving he required. Here was once a proud and independent man now helpless and depending on others for help. When I arrived home Dad was in bed getting ready for the night. Mom was changing his clothes and showing me how to put on a catheter.
A what? I thought. I had never heard of the word before much less even seen one.
Life back in the USA this time with a sick parent was quite stressful. Mom hired a day time caregiver who was very good. But she always left at 3 pm. Dad needed constant 24 hour care. Nights were always scary because Dad, stubborn as he is, would pull out the cath—whatever, and go to the toilet like a normal person. In the process, he would fall and awaken Mom who shared the room with him. Sometimes I would hear all the commotion downstairs. I would run downstairs to check if my parents were ok.
I would try and find ways to just de-stress while resuming my never-ending search for employment in my home country. I auditioned for a part in Waimea Community Theater’s production of Four Weddings and an Elvis in which I got the part of Fiona, an ex-con.
While the play was in production I had several family emergencies. At one point both parents ended up in the ER at the same time. I was so grateful to the cast and crew for understanding my predicament. While waiting in the ER for my sisters I learned my lines as best I could. But the ER was an icebox, chilling to the bone.
My sisters did arrive along with two family friends from my church. Both parents were discharged later that evening and were sent home.
I was also not prepared for the psychological drama that comes with caring for two elderly parents. Tempers flared. Egos inflated and deflated with every family crisis. At one point the police were called to settle a domestic dispute between my Mom and Dad.
Eventually Dad was moved to a private care home allowing Mom to take better care of herself and to do things she could never do as a full time caregiver.
In the meantime I finally did break the decade long curse of American unemployment. I found a job as a full time security guard at my alma mater. The job was very demanding and I had never worked a night job before. Nor could I ever get used to working under an army style chain of command.
And, yes, I finally did get around to having my book published. I dedicated it my Dad since he was the one who suggested I go to China in the first place. Unfortunately he never lived to see it published.
Dad passed on his 80th birthday just as I was sending away the first draft of my book to my publisher. My family was planning to have a bar-b-que. But our plans changed when Mom got word from our caregiver in Kona that Dad was in the Kona ER. Apparently he fell while trying to pick up a bowl off the floor. The family immediately rushed him to the ER where Dad languished for several days without any food, a bath, or exercise. If it weren’t for our caregiver who also works at the hospital as a housekeeper, Dad may not have survived his stay there.
Our caregiver reported her findings to Mom who was hopping mad. Literally. I had never seen her so angry.
“Dad has not been…!” I heard her scream to my sister as she jumped in frustration.
Dad was moved to Life Care in Kona. But by then his condition had gotten worse and Mom decided to bring him home. He passed away three days later on his 80th birthday.
It is fitting that I end my re-entry saga here. After all, it was Dad who blazed a trail to Asia for me. It was Dad who saw my struggle to return to that continent. It was Dad who inspired me.
May his soul rest in peace.