What I Miss
Food: From unidentifiable groceries to inexpensive dumplings, I ate like an emperor in China. Real Chinese food will always be elusive now that I'm living in New York. Sure, it's OK here, but I have yet to find the little black sesame cakes I loved so much.
Exoticism: Everything in China was exotic to me, from the architecture to the behaviors. A lot of people might not relish living in such a mystifying environment, but my personality type craves it. I thrive in trying to figure out what's going on, and I did just that every day in China.
Affordability: Rents weren't incredibly cheap, but living in Brooklyn now, I definitely appreciate how little I spent in China. Food, basic home goods, and transportation were all extremely affordable. Coffee, however, was about on par with what I pay in New York...
Travel: Taking a train to Shanghai or a bus to the Great Wall, I was in my element. I love the chase of new places and experiences, and China was my biggest hunting ground to date. In New York, I can jet off to plenty of places, but, back to exoticism, it just doesn't present the same type of easy escape.
Friends: It's cheesy, but I met plenty of amazing people in Beijing. Leaving them was the hardest part. Staying in contact is possible, but it's obviously not the same as going out for some baiju and Peking duck with them on a cool Beijing night. I miss them, but look forward to (maybe) being in the same city as some of them again.
What I Don't Miss
Pollution: As an avid runner, the air pollution was my biggest Everest. I couldn't get over it. It beat me into submission, forcing me to jog on a treadmill, making me fear every outdoor excursion, leaving me to wonder what the particles were doing to my inside. No thank you.
Spitting: The chorus of locals hocking up mucus from the depths of their throat and leaving them on the pavement like tiny lily pads of spit was one of my biggest pet peeves. I do not miss it and cherish every day I can go outside without the need to dance around a mucus-coated stairwell or sidewalk.
Uncertainty: While I do miss the exoticism, the uncertainty of never really being sure what is going on can also wear on me, and it did. Not really being sure if I'd get my passport back from the authorities was scary. Feeling pressured to take an objectively disgusting apartment had me cringing. Not knowing what my job would ask me to do felt inefficient. All of this weight on me, and the general comfort of being in my own culture is as much of a blessing as it is a curse.
Loneliness: Call me a sap, but I like being around people in general, or at least having the option. Beijing was so big and meeting up with people wasn't always so easy. I didn't spend enough time to forge too many lasting relationships, but I imagined it would have gotten harder. By not speaking Mandarin, I was limited, and I spent a lot of time at home or wandering the streets alone.
Pending Coronavirus epidemic: No one could have foreseen this, though a few quick experiences with Chinese medical services leave me unsurprised. The spread of this virus probably wouldn't have affected me personally, but the thought of being forced to stay in the country and not knowing what would happen next (see Uncertainty) would have ruined me. Epidemics are bad, but I'm happier not knowing it up-close.
The verdict? I'm happy I went, and equally happy I left, though all things considered, New York and Beijing both leave me wanting more. I guess that's on me to deal with on my own. No amount of dumplings or pizza slices will fix it all.