Monday, June 18, 2007

Curtain Call

Well, I am back on American soil for the first time in a year. People in Beijing had warned me of reverse culture shock after being gone for this long. First impressions? Well, ordering coffee is easier in English than it was in Chinese, but I paid almost as much for a 16 oz cup ($ 3.69) as I did for my last dress shirt at the cotton market (Y 30.0 = $3.90).

I slept the entire way from Tokyo to Detroit – I finally got lucky this time and had a window seat with an empty seat to my right, so I could stretch out a bit without having a massively overweight man’s gut rubbing up against me (happened twice, see previous blogs.) So now, on the three hour flight from Detroit to Houston, I am awake enough to do a little writing and a lot processing.

“How was Beijing?” How can I answer that question? Maybe I aught to just describe the concrete things. Beijing was great – I learned the value of hard work: 60 – 78 hours worth every week. And in my free time I learned to love Chinese food and chop sticks, to speak a little of the language, and to just smile and nod when communication completely breaks down. I became a skilled bargainer and bike-rider, and I learned to hack and spit like a local (a habit I need to break again very soon.) I hiked along a Great Wall, toured the forbidden city, jumped planes and trains all over China, and loved every moment of it. I made good friends too – and made connections (guanxi) which may last a lifetime.

But inside I know there is more to it that that. I couldn’t have lived apart from everyone and everything familiar for a year and not return a changed man; there was a growing and maturing process which I can’t really describe. This kid left home for a year, got his first full-time job, and lived among a people in a culture which doesn’t speak, eat, or even think like those he grew up with. I learned to adapt quickly and to be flexible and forgiving with people who are so different and a society that was so foreign; to the point that in my mind now Beijing is home, and home is estranged, but that should also change with time.

“What are you going to do when you get back to Texas?” is a much easier question for me to answer. It is raining in Houston right now, a good strong Texas rain – not the Beijing drizzle I grew used to. I know that when my plane touches down and the humidity hits me like a wet blanket, I will take a deep breath of air that feels fresher than any I have tasted in months. My family will be waiting for me after I claim my bags. I’ll give each a big old hug; then we will talk and laugh as we load up the car and drive down familiar highways and neighborhood streets past office buildings, churches, schools, and shipping centers I have seen a thousand times before. We will pull onto the street where my parents live, where I grew up; the maple tree we planted fifteen years ago is now taller than our house, and the leaves will be rustling in the wind and rain. My dog will bark as we pull into the driveway, and then shy away when I first step through the back gate, but she will recognize me and lick my shoes, hands, and chin as I bend down to stroke her. The back door squeaks as it opens, unless dad oiled it, and I’ll throw all of my bags into the middle of the living room. I’ll wash my hands, and then we’ll eat a home-cooked meal – only my third of the year, and for the remainder of the evening I will show off my souvenirs and tell tales of strange faces and faraway places until I collapse on the big leather sofa and fall asleep.

...

Well, That’s pretty much what happened. Life at home is more predictable – a good transition for now – but it won’t be this way for long. From this pilgrim’s perspective, living is an adventure down a long and winding road, and I haven’t a clue what might be just around the next bend.

This is the End of the Chronicles of Beijing Ag. Blogging was fun; I'll have to keep another travel log next time I leave the country - until next time!

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread.” - JRR Tolkien

3 Comments:

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Becky said...

Wow. You are a tremendous writer. I feel like I am able to understand your experience of returning home, although I haven't arrived there yet: I'm still a wanderer in a foreign country (or, well, province). I am glad that you have a chance to spend heaps of time with your family, and I hope that the next few weeks will be a good time of getting to know them better before you head back to school. Becky

 
At 1:24 AM, Anonymous gramma said...

Nathan
I am going to miss reading your blog. All the pictures and the adventures you painted into "pictures" for us all was incredible.
Thank you.
Glad you are back home.
Gramma

 
At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!

Cheers
Christian, iwspo.net

 

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