For a first-time visitor to China, those initial few weeks are jam-packed with bold new sights, tastes, smells and sounds. The senses are working overtime to keep up and it's wonderful.
Here are a few of my favorites: watching five lanes of traffic fit into three; actually enjoying the taste of smelly tofu despite its powerful stench; throwing back a shot of baijiu and wanting more, and looking forward to a weekend of karaoke where I will sing John Denver's Country Roads. Again.
But after a few years, many cute curiosities lose their odd appeal. The Convenient Hotel's title doesn't register as a strange name for a hotel and the Pierre Earl clothing brand flies completely under the radar.
Frustration creeps in, and many say zai jian (bye) and return to their homeland raving to anybody who could be bothered to listen that they were moving on and would never set foot in China again.
I left China last year vowing never to come back, but here I am, back in the arms of a country I love. China to me is like a lover who is too dramatic and drives me nuts, but after breaking up I miss her to bits and want her back.
I'd lived and worked in China for more than three years and my senses had become exhausted, my patience had been strained to breaking point and my white-knuckle frustration had become an unwanted, yet daily companion.
My problem was that I had stopped accepting China for who she is, and had the daft notion that little old me could change her. Ha!
Many expats understand the "I don't like China anymore" syndrome. The cup is half empty, not half full, because they stop going with the flow.
So last May, I moved back to Australia, reunited with my friends, got a good-paying job, went home after work to watch television shows I could understand and moved on.
At first it was great but after six months Sydney had become very small, even though more than 4 million people live there.
It is blessed with beautiful beaches and waterways, sunshine, cool cafes and the locals all speak in a silly Aussie accent like me but it just lacked the excitement and drama of China. My old friends had moved on too.
An expat in China collects many stories, and when we go back to our homelands, we discover our family and friends have their fair share as well. We could have walked 1,000 km of the Great Wall and fought off scorpions, wolves and deadly snakes and then after we tell of our adventures, our friends tell theirs.
There is a time limit for all our yarns, and it's 22 minutes, the same time a half-hour sitcom takes, minus the ads. I know because I've timed it.
One friend used up all his 22 minutes on his holiday to Fiji, which was nice, but another disregarded the 22-minute rule, and spent nearly two hours showing pictures of his holiday to Brooklyn, New York.
Why my Sydney buddy went on a vacation to Brookyln is anybody's guess, but Marcus must have taken 1,000 photographs and he insisted I look at them all.
He had many duplicates, many out of focus, and many that were just plain boring, but my Aussie mate helped me realize how boring I must have sounded, when I insisted on sharing my China experiences.
I then decided it was time to stop talking about past adventures and start having new ones. So faster than a Shenzhen bricklayer, I've boomeranged back to Beijing and have returned for the next chapter of my China story, whatever it may be.
Take me home, China roads
To the place, I belong
West of Great Wall, Mountain Momma
Take me home, China roads
(China Daily 01/19/2011 page20)