Well, I’m back at my desk in China, studying Chinese, reading books, and scrambling, somewhat, to prepare for classes that I completely neglected to prepare for while I was home. Which was just as well, because it gave me time to hang out with people, get caught up as much as possible on what had been happening in my friends’ and families’ lives for the past year or so and just enjoy being there.
It was definitely a huge recharger, seeing friends especially and being around people who I relate to instinctively; at first it was unfamiliar and a little scary, I think because I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to relate or connect anymore for whatever reason. But when we did it felt good, as you’d expect, and made me question all over again whether I really wanted to go back to China.
Of course, not having anything else lined up, I had to come back. And now have been back for about three days. But the hard things about coming back are not the ones I expected. I’ve found that it’s basically just a horrible bitch to get over the time difference and the germs that you’re exposed to during long-distance travel, that moving from China to America and America to China is basically the same in that your first couple of days in either place is challenging physically and mentally, just because you have to confront a life that you haven’t confronted in a while, and do it on a severely mangled sleep schedule. Apart from that, and from a nasty cold that set in after my first day here, it’s been smooth — I was surprised at how natural and normal it felt to walk into my apartment building and put down my bags in the apartment I hadn’t seen for 5 weeks. Similar to how it used to feel to arrive back in Oregon after having been on the East Coast for a week or so, except in this case I was a hell of a lot farther from home.
Even that seems pretty remarkable to me. On the way to the airport I asked my father how long he thought it would have taken to get to China 100 years ago, and although I don’t know I assume it would be at least weeks and probably months. Now you can do it in a day and a half and feel like you never left.
Some observations from being home:
American food consists mainly of cheese and fried beef. That’s OK, but it becomes a problem because I love those foods. Particularly cheese. The fact that cheese is hard to come by in small-town China is extremely good for my waistline.
After a year in China, it takes about three weeks not to be stunned every time you see a person of non-Asian ethnicity.
After a year in China, even if you hate everything about Fox News, it is for some reason just intrinsically interesting to watch on TV. I have no idea why about this one. I can’t even begin to explain it. Maybe it has to do with how Fox News presents a simplified, uglier version of Americanism that is pretty close to the Chinese idea of what Americans are. I don’t know. That’s just a theory and I don’t think it’s true. It’s just fascinating, is all. The English voices, the big loud Americans, the bright colors, the extravagance, the extreme theories and unadorned Americanism. It’s weird. I couldn’t get enough of it, like picking at an itchy scab, so satisfying. I’d never even watched Fox News before this trip back to the U.S., but every time I saw it this time I was transfixed.
China quickly becomes a weird almost inaccessible washed-out memory. After a week home I found it difficult to recall lots of things, but now that I’m back that doesn’t make any sense because I don’t seem to have forgotten any of the language.
People in the U.S. are interested in China. I ended up having a lot more conversations about China than I expected with people who seemed genuinely interested. I kind of expected people to be pretty indifferent, because it’s such a far-away, weird, obscurely unknown kind of place. But people were pretty interested across the board, not too judgy, just asked questions and listened, which was really cool.
Now that I’ve woken up after a 15-hour night’s sleep and am feeling much better than I did the last two days, I think I’m getting used to things again and not feeling completely destroyed by the time change, I’m getting a bit more glad to be back. Not completely there yet, but getting there.