Friday, April 15, 2011

Culture Shock

During my long walk across the bridge and through town (see previous post), I started thinking about this summer. July is only 3 months away! In a little over 3 months, I will be on a plane, headed back to America.

There is a measure of anticipation in this. I will get to actually be in the same room as my loved ones; not just see them on video – although you will never hear me say a bad word about Skype. All praise Skype! All hail Skype! It has been a part of what has kept me sane during the lonely winter months.

But ‘skyping’ with loved ones and actually being able to touch them and speak with them face to face is two totally different propositions. And, come three months from now, it will be a ‘face to face’ proposition. The first thought is: ‘Wow! What a long time it has been since I’ve held my beloved Gabriel, or gotten one of those crushing bear hugs from my son!” I even miss the sideways, one-armed hugs from my daughter. Marjorie, crying tears of delight in spite of her best efforts to not cry, and dragging me along into the tear-fest because of my own joy at hugging her. Chris, George, Ann, Lisa, EVERYONE is going to get so hugged when I come back!

Let that be fair warning! I will be doling out hugs, and will be lapping up my share or more, if I can. If you let me.

My plan is to go cross-country again. Start in California and end up on the East Coast, from whence I will again make the journey back to China and the job and future that awaits me here. On the way through, I’ll make stops in Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Memphis, Tampa (if my daughter and her family are relocated), West Virginia and Pennsylvania, before flying out of one of the major airports – as yet undetermined which one.

This trip will have its challenges. Being as I no longer have credit cards, it will not be so simple as renting a car and going anywhere I want to go. If I am in a city with minimal or no mass transit, I will be reliant upon the good graces of friends to drive me around. If there is only minimal mass transit, such as in Dallas, I will be taking what buses or trains I can, and then walking a lot. Or, again: relying on friends to get me around.

Getting across the country will also call for ingenuity. Amtrak or Greyhound? Cost is a factor, as is time. Obviously I want to spend the maximum time available with my loved ones; being on the road or on the rails takes away from that time. And, taking the train or the bus takes much longer than flying. Finally, another consideration is that, while everything costs money, flying is the most expensive. So, I have vetoed airplanes. I’m going to have to engineer everything by bus or train.

Buying tickets online? Out of the question: no credit card. And, speaking of online: should I lug my faithful laptop back to the States with me? Most everywhere I’ll be there will be a computer. If there is none, I can just as well go to the local library, where they do have public access computers (I hope). I don’t think internet cafes are as prevalent in the States as they are here.

And THAT is when my thoughts turned around. OMG! I’m going Stateside! In three months I will not be in China! I will hear English when I go out and about, unless I’m in an ethnic neighborhood where another language is spoken. And, there is a good chance that that language will not be Chinese.

There is going to be Caucasians everywhere I look! Chinese people will be a rarity! People will no longer point and stare at me and say ‘Waiguoren’! I will no longer have the pleasure of smiling at little ones and shocking them by telling them I’m not a foreigner. I will not be the only blonde for miles around! All of the good graces, the mannerisms, the sleek black heads and trim bodies I’ve been surrounded by for these last 7 months… all supplanted by people who look like me (Caucasian), talk like me (English) and eat the same foods I eat.

No, wait. That’s not true either! What am I going to eat when I go back stateside? There will be no Re Gan Mian – hot dry noodle, no street vendors selling yummy treats for a few Yuan. Restaurants are mostly all going to still be on that trend of ‘the louder the better’ – here, restaurants are so quiet you can hear the click of chopsticks. The grocery stores will all have foods that I am not used to anymore, and in much larger quantity and variety than I am now used to. I will not be able to negotiate a fair price for something that I like in stores, like I do here. I’ll be expected to pay the full, marked price on everything in Wal-Mart or anywhere else I go.

And there is more: no more will I have the convenience of a bus just a quarter mile from where I live, networked to all of the other buses in the city. Traffic is going to be so regimented; even buses have timetables to follow. No KTV for entertainment, no night market to walk through, streets nearly devoid of pedestrians, nobody doing tai qi in the morning or dancing in the parks and courtyards at sundown. I’ll be in a place where eating with chopsticks constitutes a rare talent, and is only allowed in certain types of restaurants.

There might be a chance that I would want to hide. Just bury my head in my pillow and not leave… wherever I’m staying at. How can I do that, when I’ll mostly be staying with family, or the occasional friend who welcomes me to their home? I’m so used to living by myself, being alone within my concrete walls. The walls won’t even be the same!

I’m sensing a greater impending culture shock than the one I had when I came here, aren’t you?

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