"When you come back home, you'll be different," my father said a week before my move to China. "How could you not be?"

Would I? Aside from knowing some Chinese, I couldn't imagine how.

But now, even looking in the mirror, I can see it.

Shopping for new glasses last week, I knew what I wanted: a pair of chunky black prescription frames that took up half my face. The kind I'd scoffed at girls for wearing, while secretly wishing I had a pair.

But, as with other fashion trends, I worried I couldn't pull it off. Though I never had in the past, I wanted to wear army lace-up combat boots and black tights under denim shorts. I always loved the look of high-waisted jeans with a baggy sweater over a tucked-in tank top, or an oversized scarf draped over a leather jacket.*


"So you want to be a hipster?" my buddy asked when I confessed my dream appearance, mid-subway ride. "Yep," I said with a grin. And as I stared at folks wearing trucker hats with cat ears, fur-lined vests and jeans lined with pompoms, I realized now was the time. Why the hell not?

I'd dress however I damn-well pleased. For hundreds of miles, not a soul cared what I wore or if I had a cool haircut. Through my newly purchased, oversized glasses, I watch as folks stare — and it's not because of my eyewear, but because I'm an absurdly tall white girl. From the moment we haggled our way to ¥90 ($13) frames, I thought they were swell.

More than that, I think I'm swell.


Wardrobe-evolution aside, I've noticed I've changed. I have a few extra pounds tucked away — a diet of rice and noodles will do that — but I don't wonder what others think. It's all evidence of a girl enthusiastically eating her way across Beijing.

Thanks to a solo excursion to South Korea, I don't worry about losing my way. I wander aimlessly through hutongs, sure I'll find the subway eventually. I'll hop into a cab confident that my Chinese is good enough to get me home.

Alex is rocking her new glasses in her new life.
Alex is rocking her new glasses in her new life. (Alexandra Sieh / Courtesy photo)

I book trips to locations I'd never dreamed I'd visit — to Vietnam and Japan — eager for an adventure, shoving aside fear that would've stopped me before

Better yet, when folks ask what I do, I say I'm a writer because, dammit, I am. I'd never believed it, despite bylines and columns, but I always wanted to be. So now I would be, and to hell with whether others agreed if I was or not.

As we strolled out of a Confucian temple, Jim confessed he wasn't sure how I'd handle living here. But as I had laughed through a doctor stitching up my knee months ago, he said he knew I'd be fine. While I was still a workaholic and a sarcastic nerd, I didn't seem so timid, submissive or scared.

"You're definitely not the girl I knew back in that newsroom," Jim said.

Smiling, I took that how he meant it: as a compliment. I wasn't, and that was fine by me.

*I've now worn all of those outfits. Hell yes.

Read about more of former nightlife columnist Alexandra Sieh's adventures overseas: coloradodaily.com/columnists. Stalk her: Twitter.com/ansieh.