Sunday, August 14, 2011

Excess! Excess, Everywhere!

Ah! With a few moments to myself, I sit and write to you, my dear friends and readers. Believe it or not, amidst all of this visiting, I've missed you! I've missed writing to you.

It has been a lot of fun, languishing with family and friends again. There is nothing like the smile and warm greeting of a loved one, and there is nothing that compares to the feeling of taking someone you hold dear in your arms, whether it is after a long absence or not. Sometimes, like in Dallas, I did not plan for enough time to spend with everyone. More's the pity. Needless to say that, along this journey of mine across our United States, I have wept for the sheer beauty of our Land, as well as from joyous reunions, sad departures, missed opportunities (or slim chances) and from exhaustion.

It is exhausting, all of this traveling. Seemingly interminable bus rides, sharing a seat with some truly strange people, or, conversely, truly interesting people. It is also exhausting, seeing loved ones again and regaling them with tales of my life in China, and hearing of their doings and... just being around people 24/7. Believe me: I wouldn't miss it for the world but, for this painfully introverted girl, this venture has proven to be a grueling marathon. One that I wouldn't have missed for... well, for all the tea in China.

Back to visiting with loved ones, though. That is the best part of this summer's adventures.

After a mere 24 hours in the company of my dear Darrell, I rode the grey dog for the first time this summer, on my way to Denver to visit with my little known brother and sister. We grew up in different households and only met maybe 4 times in our life. High time for a meeting, don't you think?

However, I think I'd like for my personal ventures with family and friends to remain personal. Suffice to say that visiting Anita's beautiful home and meeting her family for the first time, and visiting with Woody and Liz in the home that they are refurbishing together went very well and was very productive. Every family has skeletons in the closet and ghosts and hurt feelings and misunderstandings that must be discussed and overcome. That part went very well, and from there we moved on to enjoy each other's company and doing a little sightseeing. In fact, visiting with everyone has just been great, thrilling, joyous... insert whatever positive descriptive you'd like. That's what it has been like, visiting with everyone.

It was at Anita's lovely home that I was reminded of excess as a lifestyle. Please do not think that my sister's home is replete with useless gadgets, and I'm certainly not crowning her the Queen of Detritus. She has a beautiful home, well worth photographing and a pleasure to stay at. Just keep in mind where I've spent the last 10 months: in China, where one only buys enough food for a day's meals, or maybe two days. Where one only has enough dishes for maybe 4 or 6 people to eat from at a time. Where there is only space enough for each person to have a little room, not for each person in the household to have an entire suite of rooms for themselves, including their own bathroom.

While at Anita's, I couldn't help but open each kitchen cabinet in succession and marvel at how full they are. An entire cabinet dedicated to glasses and another to dishes! And then there was a cabinet that contained nothing but spices and a drawer full of eating implements! Over here there was another drawer exclusively for wrapping products: baggies of various sizes, foils, cling film. And the refrigerator! It seemed like an entire grocer's cold food section AND produce section was ensconced in one cold-storage cabinet for one household! Why, there was even an entire closet - the pantry, given to the storage of food! It had been so long since I had seen such a wealth of gadgets, tools, food and implements in one place, I could have believed I was in a store instead of a private home.

Again, please be advised: I am not criticizing Anita or anyone else who has full kitchen cabinets and a well stocked larder. It is just that, after going to the farmer's market every few days for my produce, to the baker's for my daily bread, to the supermarket for my weekly needs and making do with 4 bowls, 4 'plates', 6 glasses and 6 tea cups, one wok and one pot, finding such a wealth of goods in one place, for one family, astounded me.

Once you see something, you cannot unsee it. I had been reacquainted with excess while in Anita's lovely home, and now, back on the bus, I saw it everywhere. Large vehicles transporting only one person, huge houses - McMansions - where, presumably, only one family lived - and not large families of 20 or more members, either. Wide streets that semis could easily navigate. Wide open spaces and large properties, either already owned or up for sale.

I recalled my own kitchen, from when I lived in the States. The daily china and the fancy china, two sets of silverware - one for everyday use and one for special occasions, enough glassware to serve a small army, and entire cabinets containing nothing but food. The large stove with 4 burners and an oven capacious enough to roast a 20-pound turkey, twin sinks where I could wash everything my kitchen contained at once if needed, and the gadgets: a dishwashing machine, a garbage disposal, a bread maker and a food processor and a countertop toaster oven and a microwave oven and a coffee maker and a butcher block full of knives, one for every cutting need and... the list goes on and on.

No wonder the people in China, when they see America in the movies, believe that everyone has untold riches and each home is a palace!

Compared to the meager kitchen I labor in nowadays, and the minimalist lifestyle I live now, beholding such excess was veritably shocking to me. And, it seems, the bare minimum I live with now seems shocking to everyone here. Face it: my entire linen collection occupies a small shelf in the bathroom. It consists of two towels and ten washrags. The one set of bed linens I have is already on the bed. I do have two extra blankets and a quilt. They are in the closet awaiting winter.

These last few weeks I have witnessed people using a whole paper towel to wipe down a countertop and then simply throw it away. Or they use it as a napkin and then dispose of it, barely soiled. The first time I witnessed that, I nearly gasped out loud! I grant you that, whether in China or America, a kitchen with no paper towels seems hardly a kitchen at all and, since I've been here I find myself using entire paper towels only once and then throwing them away, whereas in China I will use only a bit of the paper towel and save it for future use. Does this mean I could get used to excess again, if I lived here?

I think not. I keep running around my daughter's house, turning off lights. She goes behind me,throwing away my 'saved' paper towels. Even though I have replenished my wardrobe for my next year overseas, I still only alternate between the three outfits I brought for my trip. I'd sooner walk to the store and carry my purchases back than load up the truck, drive across the street to Walmart and then drive home. It just seems horribly wasteful to do so. I am already calculating what I can travel without the next major trip I plan, in order to travel even lighter than I am now. HINT: I can live without the laptop, but not without reading material. In spite of having rested in several homes that come equipped with streaming entertainment systems, I am still intimidated by just the remote controls. What do all of those buttons do?

I'm afraid I might accidentally push the button that will eject me from the household as a relic, an antique, someone who doesn't understand the American way of life. Who knows? I've been gone for so long and have gotten used to so little. There might be a gadget for that... you know... to get rid of guests unfamiliar with this way of life and all?

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