The following is an email I sent to a family member who is teacher in Las Vegas. He asked for my thoughts about celebrating The Fourth of July overseas.
So this will be my third Independence Day overseas in a row. In 2010, I was in Incheon, South Korea. In 2011, I was where I still find myself, Shanghai.
In a way, July 4 is celebrated by expats (of all nationalities) not unlike Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Americans at home.
At home, Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day are excuses to go out drinking and often have very loose connections to their actual origins. People go crazy and have too much to drink because, well, they can. Much like a Mexican-American could celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without an eyebrow being raised, national day’s are treated similarly.
Every few months I find myself in a bar on some country’s national day celebrating as if I were that nation’s honorary expatriate. I’ve celebrated Bastille Day dancing to 1960’s French pop, listened to mariachi bands on September 16th and listend to the deafening sounds of fireworks to honor New China in the first week of October.
There’s no real way to replicate the feeling of having The Fourth at home. So, instead of trying to replicate it, you make it something of your own. It becomes something to share with all your brethren who call the same foreign land as “home.”
On June 30 this year, I took part in a local brewery’s Independence Day bash. It included free flow of craft beer and unlimited BBQ (I’m pretty sure the unlimited meat added to the event’s American-ness). Seeing “Top Gun” on the bar’s TV (selected by its Canadian owner) and listening to a blues band (fronted by an Australian guy), the whole affair didn’t necessarily put me in a patriotic spirit.
There were large groups of teenage expat kids who had just finished their year at international schools showing they were completely unable to moderate their drinking and made spectacular messes of themselves. While underage drinking is a rite of passage for most people in the United States, they were certainly taking full advantage of living in a country with no discernable drinking age on the books.
Of course, their t-shirts were emblazoned with American flags. However, the slogan, “Back To Back World War Champs” left a bad taste in not only my mouth, but also the British and Irish friends I was with that day.
But on July 4 proper, there’s not too much to report. It’s a day like any other for most people in China. There might be a few errant fireworks and I might even hear the national anthem at some point in the bar, but it’s just another day for me as it is for everyone else.
My patriotic spirit to me more times in a year than on federally-designated holidays. I’m thankful that my passport can grant me access to most places in the world without a hitch. And if there is a problem, the consulate is just a short ride on my scooter, just to name one.
There are common and often daily inconveniences I experience while living in China. A censored media, dirty tap water, convoluted bureaucracy, arbitrary application of the law and dangerous streets are just to name a few. It can be maddening at times, but I know whenever it is I decide to go back to the US, none of those things will be waiting for me and it will make me all the more thankful to be an American. But until that day comes, I’ll make sure to enjoy my international lifestyle.
John is a Technical Success Manager at WP Engine. Before moving to Austin, John lived in South Korea and China for the better part of four years. His life as an amateur Chinese web censorship expert, traveler, map nerd and beer geek can be found on this site.