Responsum ad Comment: The Finger on the Pulse

A reader asks, in relation to my no longer living in China full time:

do you feel like you are out of touch with the zeitgeist?


Great question.

My mentor and former employer Jeanne-Marie Claydon Gescher once said to me that she believed the shelf-life of a China hand away from China to be somewhere between about 45 and 90 days. In my experience, this is pretty close to the mark.

Since moving my family to the US and moving myself into a frequent flyer program, I have made I make sure that my periods away never get as long as three months, and I am usually “in-country” about 1/3 of my time. When I am not physically in China, I am mentally there. My work is all China-focused, and I spend half of my workday in China time, talking to people in China, going through WeChat, and operating as though I were there virtually. It makes for a bloody long workday, and I still feel culture shock when I step out of my office and into California, but there you are.

What has changed is my perspective, my lens. When I was living in China, I was walking through life with a massive 500mm telephoto lens that was able to see everything in detail, albeit with a focus that just saw China. Today, I’ve lost that massive telephoto lens, but what I swapped it for is a 10mm-300mm lens that allows me a reasonable degree of detail, but a much wider perspective that permits me to see China in the context of the wider world, and vice-versa. I have swapped a level of detail for context, and that’s worked out pretty well.