The second time coming back home it finally hits you that China has started becoming something familiar and comforting (doubtful I would have said that in May). I feel like on any trip anywhere really, you sort of crave the comforts of things you recognize (like buying that yogurt brand you haven’t been able to find in 13 months, or drinking water from the tap), but for me, some of those comforts have become Shanghai — its stale air, ayis pushing past me on motorbikes built sometime in the 1980s, the fruit stalls selling grapes half the size of the palm of my hand.
My entrance back to the U.S. (into the city of Seattle) wasn’t the most.. graceful. I embarrassed both D and myself by unceremoniously shouting ‘Oh my God!! White people!!’ rather involuntarily as soon as we disembarked from the plane. Seeing an American person holding a wheelchair for someone was apparently a little too much for me to handle.
That first day back is always a weird shift, which fades away by day two, but which makes you feel like someone who’s lived in a cave for the past year (which, let’s face it, is what China is kind of like). You don’t really know how to talk to waiters (shouting at them is probably a bad idea, right?). You can’t give the people in grocery stores your credit card, because otherwise they’ll just stare at you, hand it back, and point to where you should be swiping it yourself (which again, makes you feel like a tad of a douchebag). You’re overwhelmed by the pleasantries of crowds of caucasian people saying ‘excuse me’ when they bump into you. Also, what’s up with everyone in Seahawks jerseys, backwards baseball hats, and cargo shorts? Because just under 12 hours ago you were living in China full-time, and now, it’s.. well it’s something that used to be the only thing you knew.
At the moment, I’m in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A town that is remarkably similar to the one I grew up in in New England. It’s simultaneously wonderful, but at the same time kind of terrifying. The Milwaukee airport sold nothing but Packers Cheeseheads and Sweatshirts that only came in size XXL. People were telling me to put things in ‘behgs’ and replying with ‘ohkeyhs’ in that perfect Mid-Western lilt. In the span of 90 miles on the highway, we passed a Harley Davidson factory, a JC Penney Furniture outlet, two outlet malls, a shooting supply store, and four billboards advertising adult superstores alternating with call outs to Jesus. Maria’s America this is not, but it’s a part of the country I sort of love for giving in to being American the same ways that the people in Zhejiang or Fujian give in to being Chinese, translucent-blue preserved duck eggs and all.
My only complaint is that we’re – at the moment – without internet, since the lake house hasn’t quite gotten a wifi signal. I came to the States primarily for the fast internet. Okay, well not really, but I’ve been dreaming about watching Netflix uninterrupted for weeks. What I got, unfortunately has been just a tad bit above the Chinese standards of dial-up. Between the clean air and the deep-fried food however, I’ve managed.
I still need to write about Seattle, about San Francisco, and about coming back to China to what will hopefully be a new job, but I’ll save that for another time.