Culture Embrace?

I’ve been back home for about a week now, and I still have yet to be really culture-shocked. Everyone had been preparing me to be “reverse” culture-shocked when I returned to the States, and they warned me that jet lag could take weeks to get over, but I haven’t really had any of that. Walking through the airport at LAX, surrounded by Americans all speaking English to one another, and seeing the American flag with President Obama’s picture beneath it captioned, “Welcome to the United States of America” really felt like waking from a long, strange dream and returning back to, well…normal.

It was really perfect to get back home just in time for Independence Day. I felt like this year, more than ever, I was able to really appreciate all of the freedom that our nation enjoys. Hearing the song “God Bless the USA” got me a little more choked up than it usually does. The government will never tell me that I can’t make a trip to another country or move overseas if I want to….The government will never put a limit on how many children I’m allowed to have….The government never forced me into a college major that I didn’t want to take….I can own my own property….I can place my vote for our nation’s leader this November….I can visit any website on the internet and listen to any kind of music that I want to. I really enjoyed spending the year in China, but America is hands-down my favorite place on Earth!

There’s nothing more American that barbeque and….

…baseball!

That being said, there are a couple of things in America that I’m still having trouble getting used to. Not to sound rude, but I forgot just how obese Americans are! You occasionally see overweight people in China, but no one as absurdly blubbery as the people walking the streets in America. The day we got back to the States, we ate lunch at Applebees (Ricky Bobby’s dining establishment of choice) and we actually saw a man so large he was having difficulty wedging himself out of the booth where he’d just finished off his meal. It probably has something to do with culinary monstrosities such as this:

What is with this weird bacon obsession?

And I thought eating duck tongues in China was disgusting! Little did I know what I was coming home to…

Speaking of Applebees, Justin and I have yet to be able to finish a restaurant meal! Most places serve meals that are WAY too big, and since we are vagabonds and have no refrigerator to store leftovers, I have been feeling really guilty about wasting food. Even after stuffing myself until I feel sick, I can only usually finish about half of the food on my plate. After wasting food at Applebees and Denny’s, Justin and I visited Olive Garden and finally remembered to split our entree so we wouldn’t waste anymore food (what can I say? Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs!).

I also feel a little bit sick about how so many people in China are poor and starving, and people in America are treating eating like an Olympic event. Eat twelve hot wings in six minutes and win a free t-shirt, plus your name up on our wall of fame! When we were at Olive Garden the other night, Justin asked the waiter about the portion size of the meal we were about to share, and the waiter said, “Oh, it’s a pretty big dish! It’ll definitely fill you up. You’ll be feeling pretty useless afterwards.” We all laughed, but I felt a pang of guilt when he said it. Is that the goal for suppertime these days? Not just gaining sustenance and energy, but eating until we’re beached on the couch like whales, feeling completely useless? It’s an idea that will take me awhile to adjust to, but I’m kind of hoping that I don’t get used to it at all…

The question that so many of our Chinese friends asked us before we left was, “When will you come back to China?” We laughed and told them we weren’t sure, but it probably won’t be for a long time. They were sad that we weren’t coming back in the fall to teach again, and I’m a little bit sad about it too. It was a nice job, and now we’re faced with trying to find jobs in the U.S., and living off of the hospitality of family and friends until we can figure out where we’ll be living and what we’ll be doing.

Will we really ever return to China? That’s a good question.

I’m going to go ahead and tell you a secret: Justin and I would like to adopt a little Chinese girl someday. We actually looked into it while we were living in China, and there are a whole bunch of requirements (and expenses!) involved in the process that we don’t quite meet yet, including the adopting couple being over the age of thirty. But in another four or five years….who knows? We may be on a plane headed back to China for a very special reason. 🙂

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Late Night Musings

I can’t sleep.

Justin is sound asleep in bed, his chest rising and falling, probably lost in some peaceful dream. How does he do it?

My mind is racing, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to catch a wink of sleep tonight. I keep going over a mental to-do list in my head. Have to finish packing. Have to figure out how to fit all of the stuff in the suitcases so that we can finish packing. Have to find a paper bag to breathe into for when I start panicking about how all of our stuff will never fit into our suitcases and we’ll never finish packing. Have to make a list of all the stuff from China we’re packing for the airport customs people. Do I need receipts? Why did I never save any receipts?? And on and on…

And the dreams keep playing with my head, too. I used to have “America” dreams a lot when I first arrived in China. I would fall asleep and find myself back in America in my dreams. It was always someplace different. Once I was at my Aunt Sondra and Uncle David’s house, sitting and chatting with them and my cousins in their living room. Once I was with my friend Cherika playing mini golf in Orlando. But it was always very normal, humdrum stuff…and then I would glance at my wristwatch and say, “Oh look at the time! I need to get back to China now. Sorry I can’t stay longer!” and then I would wake up in my bed in China. These dreams were so realistic and convincing that I drove myself crazy sometimes when I woke up and realized that I wasn’t really back home. About three months into our stay in China (during the holidays), I grew so homesick that I was having these dreams just about every night, and even my dream-self started growing skeptical at that point. I would dream myself at home, in my parents’ house, and walk around examining the room closely. “Hmmm….I don’t know. Would Mom have REALLY chosen these curtains? I don’t think this is real! I’m not REALLY home yet! This is another fake-out isn’t it?” I would question, before waking up in my bed in China again.

It took about six or seven months before I finally had a dream that took place in China, with people actually speaking Chinese. I suppose it was a long time before I finally really embraced my living situation.

But all this past week, the America dreams have started recurring again. This time, there’s usually some sort of problem when we try to return home. Like I realize that our visa has expired and we’ll have to wait for it to renew before we go home, or I realize that there are a few important people who I forgot to buy souvenirs for. Last night I dreamed that Justin decided to rent a car and DRIVE back to China to save money on airline tickets, and no matter how many reasonable objections I voiced, I couldn’t convince him to do otherwise.

I suppose my reverting back to America dreams means that I’m excited about going home–and I am, truly! That’s part of the reason why I’m having trouble falling asleep tonight (our last night in China). But the switch from the America dreams being pleasant, almost too good to be true to the America dreams being a bit troubling means that I am feeling anxious about returning home. What if returning home isn’t quite as good as I’ve been hoping for all this time?

What if people in America are mean? Chinese people are some of the nicest people I’ve ever come in contact with–I mean, complete strangers are always willing to go out of their way to offer Justin and I some help or even pay for our cab or something. No one in America will be that nice. In fact, there are a lot of people in America who are mean for no reason, who sneer at someone because they don’t like the outfit that person is wearing, or perhaps just because they missed their morning coffee and they’re feeling a bit cranky with everyone at the moment.

For example: on the last day of classes here in China, I wore a new dress and some new glasses that I’d just bought (with cute, red plastic frames). In America, I might get a few scattered compliments here and there for my new and improved appearance. There are many people, though, (like my husband) who probably wouldn’t even notice the change. Here in China, when I walked into the classroom, I received a round of applause. Actually, no….that doesn’t even cover it. I received a standing ovation (yes, they stood up out of their chairs!), and many students yelled out, “Wow! So beautiful!” and got out their cell phones to take my picture. I mean, let’s be honest. In America, that kind of situation will never EVER happen.

And while I still occasionally hate my celebrity status here in China (like, for example, when Justin and I order some food at a restaurant and the chef insists on bringing it out to our table himself….and pulling up a chair to watch us eat it), for the most part, I’ve gotten used to being special. I see people staring at me, and only for an instant, I think, “Why are they all staring?” and then a second later I remember with a haughty smile, “Oh right….just because I’m me.” I’ve gotten used to random strangers on the street approaching me on a daily basis to tell me that I’m beautiful, or ask to take my picture, to which I roll my eyes and graciously reply, “Oh…I guess!”

But when I go back to America (tomorrow!) I won’t be special anymore. I’ll be just another face in the crowd. Which will be especially discouraging during my impending job search.

Justin and I left for China jobless, and we will return to China jobless. We are both attempting to find jobs in relatively the same city, anywhere along the eastern seaboard, which in this economy is becoming increasingly difficult to do. In China, random people come up to me on the street and offer me teaching jobs at their schools. In America, it’s more likely that I will be standing on the street, looking disheveled, holding a sign that says, “Will teach 4 food!” Oh no…I shouldn’t think too hard about that. That’s another bad dream just waiting to happen.

I’m not really sure how to conclude this post (or this blog, for that matter) because I’m not really sure what my conclusion is yet. Will America welcome me back with open arms? Or will my arrival back home herald the beginning of the “China” dreams, in which I long for a place where I am considered special and have no shortage of amazing opportunities offered to me on a silver platter? Only time will tell…