Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

As we left the cafe we'd been working at, my man-friend and I skirted through traffic (as you do in Beijing — pedestrians are afforded little to no consideration by bike, car or bus) and chatted about our evening plans. We decided we'd order in so we could plan a bit for our April trip to South Korea.

"Can we stop in here?" he'd ask, pointing to the convenience store.

"Wèishénme? (Why?)" I asked.

"Yinwèi ... (Because ...)" he'd respond, listing what he'd need to pick up.

We often spoke like this, from one language to another, often without realizing it. Most days, it felt more natural to say, "Hao de" than "OK," even to my foreign friends.

Back home, as I waited for our food to arrive, I chatted with a friend via Messenger, mentioning, among other things, my upcoming travel plans.

"Do you even hear yourself right now?" my pal wrote back.

I stopped, confused.


"Geez, Sieh, you just threw in a trip to Korea as if it's a plan to go to the mall." I could practically hear his faux-aggravated tone.

And he was right. How many times had I apologized for a slow message response because I'd only just returned from a quick trip to Seoul or the likes? How often had I, during a call home, slipped into Chinese, only to have my friend interrupt me with a justified, "Huh?"

Had I really lost touch with how magical this lifestyle was?


Prior to The Big Move, my life was pretty monotonous. Beautiful, and full of love and laughter, but not all that adventurous. Each week blended together in a great mass of hours in the office, interspersed with nights out with my best mates or quick trots up some trail or another.

I was in love with it — Colorado, my friends, life — and reminded myself of that whenever I started to get too jaded. I'd stand on some hilltop and really force myself to take stock of how lucky I was. But even with that, I felt there was more to it than that.

When I made the choice to move, I imagined how it would be. I spent time wondering about the grand adventures I'd have, what brilliant things I'd see.

A year and a half later, it's been everything I could have hoped for and more. I've traveled and struggled and changed immeasurably. The risk had paid off in ways I never expected it to.

Yet here I was, settled as anyone can be in Beijing, thinking this was all just business as usual. I used centuries-old temples as directions for how to get somewhere. A trip to Hong Kong felt as standard as my trips to the mountains did. I griped about grumpy Beijing cab drivers the way I grumbled about idiots on I-25.

I was losing perspective, as we all do I suppose, of the magic in my life. But I couldn't believe it was happening amid a lifestyle I wouldn't have dreamed of having three years ago.

As I sent my February column to Kick-Ass Editor back home, I led with a big, fat apology. I'd discussed something that was commonplace for me now — potentially too boring to print.

After the following morning's Chinese class, I logged on to find Kick-Ass Editor's response.

In sum, she told me to STFU, in a loving sort of editorly way, and realize that even everyday things are interesting when they're colored by an expat's experience.

Fair point well made, and certainly the reality check I needed.

Follow Alexandra's adventures overseas: Stalk her: