Monday, April 9, 2012

The Trip to Mankato

Who remembers that iconic American TV show: Little House on the Prairie? Every so often, that paragon of fatherhood, Pa, would consult his family for a list of supplies needed from town and, early morning get the buck wagon ready to make that long trip over the prairie to Mankato. Usually one or the other of the kids, and sometimes the whole family would ride along.

I know exactly where Mankato, Minnesota is. I’m not going to Mankato, though. I have Minnesota on the brain because last week my former mother-in-law, that native Minnesotan joined her husband, who passed away 4 months ago (see ‘A Mile in their Shoes’ and ‘Numbing Pepper’ entries). I’m still grieving and think of how that family is coping with the loss of both their parents within such a short time.

I liken my preparations for my trip stateside to the Ingalls’ preparations for going into town.

Yes, it is time for me to contemplate my temporary return to American society. Same as last year I am experiencing some panic: the anticipated culture shock after all the time spent here, wondering what I will eat when I’ve so enjoyed Chinese cuisine for the past ten months, and already mourning the loss of my quiet time and my private space. For more about my panic, please revisit ‘I’m Going to Be Arrested’ entry, posted May of last year.

I think this year it will be worse for me. Last year when I returned to America I was only one year out, and many things were still familiar. One thing that was new was how much I missed being in China and, upon regaining my footing here I found such joy at being where I belong.

The one thing I didn’t find joy in was having a rat crawl on my leg. (See ‘The Rat Party’, posted September of last year).

Now that I have a bright, clean comfortable home to live in instead of a dank concrete bunker on the ground floor of the girls’ dorm, I find I really like living here. Having hit my stride in the classroom, having gained acceptance with the Over the Wall community and become a part of the teaching community, having made even more friends… sometimes I loathe the thought of leaving what I have here. And now, I’m planning on leaving for over a month instead of just a few hours or days. What am I going to do?

I’m going to cover all of my furniture with dropcloths, for one. I’m going to leave windows cracked open, drapes partially open and bags of silica gel in my clothes and footlocker, so that no moisture gets trapped and makes them smell moldy. I’ll have to find a plant sitter and possibly give away whatever perishable foods I have in the freezer, in case the property manager turns the electricity off. Me being the sole inhabitant in my building, that is a possibility. Like Ma Ingalls, I will have to make the house ready for my absence.

And, like Pa Ingalls I will have to plan my trip Stateside with utmost care. As with that television family, money is a concern to me. Also, like them, I will have to make sure to buy everything I need for another year in China.

They only had to worry about what they would need for 3 months on the prairie.

Like the Ingalls, my needs are small. I only have to get things I know I cannot get in China, like shoes and clothes.

By no means am I saying that the Chinese do not have shoes or clothes. They have those in abundance, just not in my size. So, upon my return Stateside I have to plan on buying good, quality shoes that will last me the entire year I’m here. Another pair of jeans would be nice. This pair that I’ve had for 2 years is getting kind of worn. I probably need a new shirt or two, especially casual shirts to wear during leisure time. This hard water tends to take the life out of garments rather quickly.

I’ll need to stock up on Benadryl. I still have plenty but that is one thing that I cannot afford to run out of. The Chinese do have allergy medications but who knows if it will work? I’d just as soon have a supply of what I know will get the job done.

I’d like some rubber gloves that actually fit. I can buy them here but they are just a shade too small and I end up having to fight them to extricate my hands. Rubber gloves sounds like a luxury but believe me, my friends: with the quality of water here, wearing rubber gloves while cleaning is essential. Maybe I’d better plan on buying 5 pair.

Let’s see… what else? I’d like to go by a Columbia Outerwear store, or some other sports store. I get tired of being cold all the time in the winter. It would be nice to find some microfiber undergarments that are guaranteed to retain body heat. A new parka would be good, too. If it doesn’t cost too much. I’ve found the parka that I have does not block the wind very well, nor does it keep me especially warm. Of course, buying these is conditional. I’ll be in shopping mode in the height of summer, when such seasonal garments might not be available and if they are, they probably won’t be discounted.

And then there are gifts. The gifts I will bring to my loved ones, and the gifts I will take back to China. Offhand I’d say the challenge of gifting my friends who are Chinese something genuinely made in America that won’t take up my suitcase weight allowance, not cost much and mean something for the individual it is intended for will be greater than finding gifts in China for my loved ones in the States.

In this respect, Pa Ingalls and I differ: I do not have to inspect the wagon to make sure it is sound to make the trip, or make sure the horses are well shod. All I have to do is buy plane tickets and arrange my visiting schedule.

I’m not going to do the monstrous road trip that I did last year. It was grueling, taxing and costly. This year I will limit myself to 3 destinations: California, Texas and Florida. Most everyone I love is in or close to those places and several who are not have already said they would meet me wherever I am, rather than me going to see them. I really appreciate that.

Also unlike last year I am not going Greyhound. I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything, and I still maintain that Greyhound has an undeserved reputation for being a ‘bottom of the barrel’ way to travel. No, the reason I’m not going Greyhound this year is because time is at a premium.

I’m only going to be Stateside for 5 weeks. America is very expensive, even when my loved ones treat me to everything from accommodations to food. Being on the road did lead to some unplanned expenses, and it took the fight out of me when it came time to resisting impulse purchases. I cannot afford to overspend. And, I cannot expect everyone to treat me to everything.

The rest of my summer, about 6 weeks, I will spend in China. Are you thinking ‘Geez! Don’t you get enough of that place while you’re there the rest of the year?’

Well, no, I don’t get sick of being here. And, I have another reason for spending part of my summer here. But I’m not going to divulge it now.

Like Ma Ingalls tucking her hair under her bonnet I’m going to keep that nugget of information under my hat. You’ll just have to wait for it.

Cue music, roll credits. This episode of The Vagabond Blog is over. Watch the little pigtailed girls wearing 1880’s garb airplane themselves down the hill. See Baby Carrie tumble in the high grass as she tries to imitate her sisters. Wipe your eyes and savor the heartwarming feeling that classic family drama gave you.

I’m going to Mankato.

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