Dear China: It’s been a while.
As usual, there’s a huge backup of photos that I hope someday will see the LCD-light of a computer screen as viewed on my flickr page, but until then it is just going to be the monochrome of these words on the black white background of this blog.
I have been back in sunny (although yesterday we had a tornado warning) California for what seems like an eternity, although it has only been a few weeks. I remember now why I was so eager to leave America–for the first time, my life, with all its delights and dilemmas, was solely my own to live. Since I have been back, I have the same random things that I need to take care of, except now in addition I have the problems with my friends and family added to my own, complete with the input and the nagging of the rest of my family. That grungy third world country I left behind has never looked better.
Add that to the fact that Claudia is now in Paris, I no longer have my closest friend around to enjoy life with. I feel like I lost my better half, the part of me that keeps me on track, keeps me honest, keeps me in check. I could not have imagined how difficult it would be to see her for a few weeks only to have her so quickly and suddenly fly out of reach again, how deeply that would affect me. I am both so proud of her that she is embarking on an adventure that will surely be life-changing for her, and at the same time worried that I am going to lose touch with her. Ce qui sera, sera.
I have spent the majority of my time in the Western Hemisphere taking care of family, catching up on CSI and Law & Order (both of which are not nearly as interesting as I remember them), and driving. I’ve put over 1,200 miles on my tires since I’ve been back, all of which has been traveling between Santa Monica, Woodland Hills, Irvine, and Pine Mountain. I need a car with better gas mileage, but I love that Xterra too much. It’s become a mobile home, just not in the Midwestern sense. I haven’t gotten to see too many friends, despite the fact that I am sitting here in Yuki’s Newport beach house writing this, he, and everybody else who I’d normally go out to see, are all diligently listening to their professors lecture in class.
Despite all that, it is actually nice to be back in the States. It has put my time in China in perspective, allowed the memories to decant, to mix with the air and oxidize in to a complex, delicious complement of flavors that excite all different areas of the mental palate. I look back at Beijing not as a foreign country anymore, but as a home. In fact, I feel like I am only visiting America on a short vacation trip before heading back to my home. It struck me the other day just how comfortable I was living over there. When I think about heading back over, it is not with the excitement of heading to a new country like I felt on my flight in to LAX a few weeks ago, but that resigned contentment of knowing that I am heading home to the place where I can continue my life that I left off while vacationing stateside. It was a very novel epiphany for me, this reversal of belonging, that really hit home when Scott and I called our British friends last night to check up on the cats while with Yuki and our UCI friends. It truly dawned on me that I have a whole life over in China, one that nobody here in America will ever truly be privy to. It is a very liberating feeling, akin to having divorced parents with separate houses, knowing that I can lead two effectively separate lives. That might sound weak or less than scrupulous, but I do not mean it to be. It is just my reality. This is going to be the reality for the next stage of my life, and it pleases me that I am so comfortable with it already.
Living in two completely different countries that are competing for the top spot on the world stage has laid bare for me the generalizations, the racism, and the ignorance that both countries label each other with. My flight into LAX was on a United jet, and despite the fact that 90% of the passengers were Chinese, there was only one Mandarin-speaking flight attendant on board. I ended up acting as a translator between my fellow passengers and the flight attendants, the latter of whom quickly proceeded to confide in me their distaste and utter misunderstanding of the former. Despite the overt lack of professionalism in this, I did find it somewhat morbidly interesting from a social point of view–just how ignorant of any other culture the average American is, that even these flight attendants, who have made it their lives to serve any passenger on any flight despite their ethnicity, who by the very nature of their chosen occupation come into contact with myriad people from different walks of life, still harbor the same prejudices and generalizations towards people from other countries that my dental technician, who knows not the slightest thing about China, does. Living in a different country lays bare the inherent propaganda built in to the American school system, the American media, the American way of thinking, and even if it is only towards this relatively specific viewing glass of the generally-accepted American perception of the world that I now can look through both sides of, it is a key starting point towards extrapolating this same skepticism towards any other aspect of the American view of things. In the many senses of the word, living abroad has made me much more worldly. I have always tried to get my news from as many different sources as possible, from as many different countries’ viewpoints as possible, in order to get a conglomerate of the general world view of whatever issue is plaguing us at the moment, but coming back to America and seeing the dearth of knowledge in other people who do not follow the same methods of information-gathering that I do more than re-affirms to me that I am on the right track; it also reinvigorates me to continue on my chosen path. It may sound a little sardonic, a little conceited, but I take a certain amount of pride in knowing that for once I actually know what I am talking about when discussing the social and economic issues of the Chinese with whomever I am discussing them with, knowing that I have a much more holistic viewpoint than they do.
I really am excited to head back to China to continue my studies. I tire of having nothing to do over here, sleeping on friends’ couches, not really feeling like I am at home. I also just want to continue studying for my own good. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I am catching up mentally with the speed at which my life is changing. I am starting to get on top of my goals before they have already passed me by. It is a phenomenal feeling, and I plan to keep it up.