Celebrating 2000 Days of Travel — and One Big Announcement!

Celebrating 2000 Days by ExpatEdna.com

Yesterday, I celebrated a huge milestone: 2000 days since I left home to see the world!

On June 8, 2010, two weeks after my graduation and 21st birthday, I flew out of Pennsylvania with a one-way ticket — and, in retrospect, disturbingly little planned about my future.

The Great Plan was: one week in San Francisco, five weeks in Shanghai, and then a whimsical move to Singapore — a country I knew nothing about! — just to ‘see what would happen’.

It’s only with age that I can appreciate how much my (very Asian) parents must have trusted me, that they didn’t argue or complain once about this harebrained idea.

“How long are you going to be gone?” they’d ask every time I told them of my post-grad plans.

“I’m not sure,” I’d reply, while silently thinking, Forever.

Carmel Beach by ExpatEdna.com

I didn’t think to take a photo on the day I left, so this is the next best thing: Carmel, California on Day 2 of the Great Adventure.

Well here I am, 2000 days later. Still going.

Babies who were born on the day I left are today sitting in kindergarten, learning basic math skills. And just like their mothers I’m sitting here thinking, “Well THAT flew by fast.”

Of course, it hasn’t been full-time travel. The past 2000 days have been largely spent working in Singapore, Paris, and Shanghai (plus a few unfortunate months outside Milan). I ran social media for a reality television show, covered two Olympics and FIFA U-17s, and marketed Mustangs in Asia Pacific.

Of course, long-time readers know this story well. If you’re new around here, welcome! And you can catch up on the rest here: Five years on: How I moved abroad after college and built a career through travel.


I’m not going to make a massive deal about 2000 days because I actually have two important milestones in my expat history — and this is the newer one. This one doesn’t include the year and a half I spent in China from 2008-09, which was the first step that changed everything. (Meaning, expect a huge post on that in 2018.)

Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge that the past 2000 days have been extraordinary. They’ve opened my eyes to the world, to history and culture, to human nature — and to where all of those things intersect, and affect our life today.

Which is why I’ve decided to take this next step for 2016:

I’m going to write a book.

…But not the book you’re thinking of.

I’m going to write my dad’s memoir.

Growing up, my dad and I were always at odds. He was the severe Tiger Dad, I was the independent American daughter who didn’t understand filial piety and what the hell was so awful about scoring 98 on a test (aka, an Asian F).

Our fights almost always included him telling me how lucky I was to be in the USA, to not have the childhood he did.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and traveling the world — getting distance, gaining perspective, making sense of his stories in a historical context — that I finally started to understand what he meant.

My dad grew up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution, a period in the 1960s and 70s where millions of people died, many of them just for being educated or owning property. (This is obviously greatly simplifying a very complex period of Chinese political history.)

As a result of Mao’s policies, my dad lost his father when he was 11, leaving his mom with five children (my grandmother never remarried). He only received a fifth grade education, and often went hungry, eating just scraps to survive.

At the age of 18, my dad was sent to the Communist labor farms, where he stayed until he was 24. Think about that: 18 to 24  — six of the best years of youth. And he spent his on a labor farm.

He still has a deep scar on his left foot from one day where he was so sick, he couldn’t work anymore — but they wouldn’t let him leave the fields. So he cut into his own foot with a scythe so that the authorities wouldn’t punish him for not completing the day’s rice-cutting quota.

The awful stories go on and on, and while I grew up listening to them, it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized: what my dad went through was not normal, it definitely was not right, and there are few Westerners who know anything about this period of history.

Which is why I want to help him write this book. It’s a story that needs to be told. There are a handful of Cultural Revolution memoirs already out there, but when it comes to exposing the crimes of that era, I don’t think you can ever have enough people stepping forward and bringing truth to light.

My dad eventually went on to attend university and began learning English at age 24.He now speaks and writes more eloquently than any native speaker I know. (Not an exaggeration; his emails regularly make me cry.)

He then moved to the United States in 1987, earned two masters degrees, became an American citizen in 1999, and received his PhD four years ago. He’s basically the American Dream, personified.

For years there was always talk of my dad writing a memoir, which escalated around the time he was finishing his dissertation (which was also on the Cultural Revolution). But ever since he’s been focused on turning that dissertation into a book, and I grow increasingly worried the memoir will never come to be.

So it’s now my project.

This is my only goal for 2016 (well, besides getting into Rio!): to research, to write, to do whatever it takes to bring another Cultural Revolution story out from the shadows. I find it especially fitting as 2016 is the 50th anniversary since the Cultural Revolution began.

I don’t know where this is going to lead me, geographically, but wherever I end up, I’m pretty excited about the next 2000 days ahead.

Serious question, guys: do you enjoy reading memoirs? If you do, which ones? If not, please let me know why in the comments, or what could make you more interested in the genre. (Also, if you’ve written a book, tips and pointers would be appreciated!)

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  1. Congrats on writing your dad’s memoir. I like reading historical memoirs that immerse me in the time and place so I can feel like what it was to be there. Including little details that add to my understanding of the person and where they came from.

    I read the novel “The Headmaster’s Wager” by Vincent Lam which is really an edited memoir of his father which really brought the experience of Chinese in Vietnam before 1975 fall of Saigon to light. Plus a great story too.

    * blog sections from it to get feedback (on a separate book website?).
    * Do audio interviews and get them transcribed with rev.com
    * Get a great editor.

    My friend Taylor Pearson just wrote a best-selling book and blogged in detail about his experience writing and marketing it http://taylorpearson.me/jesusmarketing/

    Have fun writing!

  2. Edna! I am so excited to read your BOOK! What big news! Let me know if you need a test-reader: while I am nice in real life, my constructive criticism is merciless ;)

    My favorite memoirs avoid easy answers and address the author’s relationship with the subject.

  3. I got chills reading about your dad’s life just now, so I can only imagine you’ll do an amazing job with this! I love reading memoirs, especially when they function as a more engaging way to learn about history.

    Also, we both left home around the same time – I left in July 2010 woohoo!

  4. Oh my goodness! Amazing news. It’s such a horrifying yet fascinating period in history and I agree- your dad’s story really needs to be told. I first started learning about the cultural revolution a while back when I read a book- I think it’s called Wild Swans. And then I read a lot more about it before I moved to Beijing. But when I lived there I was horrified to find that a lot of westerners living there don’t know anything about the cultural revolution. Of course plenty do and know more than me- but plenty don’t. I think its just not really taught in schools (at least not in the UK) and goes under the radar for some reason. I guess it doesn’t help that you are not really allowed to talk about this stuff in China and most Chinese people themselves won’t talk about it- the younger generations don’t even seem to know about it because it is so hush hush. I mean- Mao is on the money which I find insane. I guess that’s just my opinion though. Anyway- I would definitely love to read your dad’s story. It sounds awful but it just makes it even more amazing that he has achieved so much. Get writing, girl! :)

  5. Writing your dad’s memoir is such an exciting undertaking. I’m starting to create an outline for a book on my own travel stories, including my time in Poland exploring my grandmother’s life before WWII. Telling stories about our families are so crucial to remember where we came from. Looking forward to reading your book!

  6. Amelie88 says:

    It depends on the memoir. Some are great, some can be too much like the one I’m reading. Right now I’m reading the book A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian’s woman account as a hostage in Somalia for almost a year and a half before she was rescued. Unsurprisingly, it is not a happy book and I had to set it aside after the Paris attacks since the hostage takers were Muslim extremists. She is raped, she is beaten, she is chained and she is horribly treated compared to the Australian man who was captured with her (an ex-boyfriend) simply because she is a Western woman. It is a dark story and unfortunately it was Amanda’s love of travel (she covers it extensively in the book before she gets to her kidnapping) and desire to tell stories that got her captured in the first place. Not easy bed time reading, probably one of the hardest books I’ve had to get through. My book club picked it which is why I’m reading it, not sure I would have picked it out on my own.

    • Amelie88 says:

      But your dad’s account sounds like something I’d read. It sounds like it would be emotionally difficult but not as difficult as the book I’m reading. Good luck writing it!

  7. Damn Edna! I love memoirs and I would definitely 100%read this one! I too have long been wanting to write a memoir about my family. My great-grandparents left Russia during the Bolshevik revolution and raised their kids as a tight-knit bunch in Los Angeles in the 1930s and 40s. A few days ago, my grandmother died, so it seems time to get that going before all of these stories fade away into memory! So excited for you!

  8. Congratulations! I really enjoy memoirs and this sounds like it will be one amazing book what a life your father has had!

  9. This is exciting news! I remember reading that one article from his local newspaper about him some months (years? idk) ago and thinking what a remarkable story it was… I love memoirs and biographies about incredible people so I’m thinkin’ it sounds like an excellent idea to capture his legacy. And wow, yes… absolute American dream personified!

  10. Firstly, congratulations on 2,000 days! What an adventure you’ve been on! May it continue for thousands more. Secondly, I love the idea of writing your father’s memoir. Surely this will bond you more closely and in doing so you’ll even more deeply appreciate the life you were blessed with.

  11. Based on the summary you’ve given, I would definitely read this memoir! Your dad’s story, as you say, is one that needs to be told.

    Also on a separate note I love that jumping pic. BEST BACKGROUND EVER.

  12. Edna! Congrats and what exciting news. I look forward to reading this book so much. I love reading memoirs (much more than writing them hah!) and anything to do with Asia is even more interesting since it is a side of the world filled with so many beautiful cultures that are harder to experience first-hand. Best of luck and will be waiting to read it when it is out!

  13. Congrats on reaching 2000 days! I recently read Life and Death in Shanghai, and it immediately became one of my favorites. I would definitely read another book on the Cultural Revolution.

    I’ve also written a memoir. The best advice I can give for getting started on a book like this is to write a chapter or two (or maybe shoot for 5000 words), join a writing group and show them. Hopefully you’ll get some good constructive feedback and you’ll have a better understanding of how much work you’ll need to put in to finish it. (Hint: it probably will take longer than you think)

    Good luck!

  14. Sounds like exciting times ahead! What a wonderful thing, I’m sure writing this book will be a real journey in every sense of the word. I LOVE memoirs – all types, especially historical ones. Personal stories really make them magical for me (not so much the factual side of things, somehow making the story tell the details is always better I think). Good luck and I cannot wait to see where it takes you!

  15. Sarah Yarger says:

    Omg Edna, I am so excited for this news! This is a brilliant idea. I wrote a memoir/oral history for a friend of my mother who survived he Korean War, and it was one of the most powerful learning experiences I have ever had with the extra bonus of documenting the “stories” her family had grown up hearing her tell. This will be a priceless gift for your family and all who read it; I would love to buy a copy!

  16. That sounds like a fantastic project – you’re so right that these stories need to be told, and your dad sounds like an amazing guy.

  17. Edna,

    What a wonderful milestone (2000 days!!) and an inspiring project for 2016.

    I love memoir. I actually put off traveling to get my MFA in creative non-fiction because of how much I love it. There is so much that can be said in a memoir. Some of my favorite memoir writers are (some friends, some I’ve never met) Sheryl St. Germain, Sheila Squillante, Jennifer Brice, Kathryn Miles, and Jesmyn Ward. This is such a good reminder for me that I haven’t been taking enough time to read memoirs.

    Congratulations on your new project. I’m looking forward to reading the book when it’s done!


  18. What a powerful story! I will happily read it if you ever need to bounce ideas off someone.

  19. Congratulations on your 2000 day milestone, and best of luck with this new project! I love memoirs, and – just from the few snippets you shared in this post – it sounds like your dad’s story would be something I’d definitely be interested in reading.

  20. I really like memoirs and biographies. The ones I like most are the ones that are not entirely personal but also show historical facts which may have influenced the subject. My favourite biographies are “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken”, both by Laura Hillenbrand because she has this gift to pull you into a story by providing you enough historical fact without going overboard and keeping it interesting! Good luck, I’d be interested to read the book when it comes out!

  21. Incredible mission you are setting out on!

  22. Congratulations on your milestone Edna and good luck with the book writing. It sounds a truly fascinating story and one I hope I’ll get the chance to read.

  23. Congratulations on hitting 2000 days, Edna, and wow – that book sounds amazing. What a venture to undertake. Your dad sounds like he’s led such a fascinating life.

  24. Having spent two years in China and read some of the memoirs you speak of, it pains me to imagine what you dad endured. Good on you for wanting to bring his story (and the millions who suffered alongside him) to light. You will have an eager reader in me. Best of luck!

  25. Congrats on 2000 days! I must say, I have some goals and plans for 2016, but they don’t come close to the importance of writing a memoir of a parent. The story is incredible and can’t wait to see how the book develops. Very impressed.

  26. gregorylent says:

    i hope that branches out into doing video interviews with aging chinese, how they reflect upon their youthful times . there is so much unhealed emotional pain in china, still, and it has been bottled up .. i suspect many older people would love to let it out before they pass on

  27. Just reading the short description of your dad’s life in this post is really powerful, and I can imagine his story would be even more compelling in long form. Good luck as you embark on writing his memoir this upcoming year — I bet that you (and your dad) will be so glad you did it.

  28. Congrats on 2000 days! I think your memoir sounds great.

  29. What a wonderful gift to your father, and you’ll discover so much about your heritage along the way. I would definitely read this memoir, and I’m sure a lot of my family would be interested in reading it too. China’s turbulent history is something that has drastically shaped my family history as well.

  30. You’ve got me tearing up over here already! Eloquence must be a family trait. This is going to be so amazing Edna! I’m so excited for you and to see where this project takes you. And wow, congrats on such an incredible travel journey. And thanks for putting 2000 days into perspective, it’s hard to convert that to years in my head! (Math is not my strong suit, as you can see…) :)

  31. The memoir sounds like it would be a very eye-opening project; I’m really excited for you! Also, congrats on making it to 2000 days! I actually clicked on this post because I’ve recently been thinking about whether or not to go home after my travel plans for 2016. I’m torn between wanting to build a life in New York and wanting to see the world, so I came to your site for a little guidance. Do you ever get homesick or find yourself wanting the typical “American Dream”? I guess what I’m asking is: how do you know if you’re cut out to be an expat?

  32. What a lovely thing to do for your dad. You both, must be so proud of each other. His wonderful achievements and survival instincts in that awful period of the so-called Cultural Revolution, fleeing to the US and making it wrong beautifully, in America. And yourself. Living the life you want and loving it.
    Now isn’t that something. Congratulations!!


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