July 3, 2001
Lara and I returned from China in late January, and moved to SE Arizona, to live on the family desert ranch with my parents. Since then, we've been taking it easy, gradually getting used to American life all over again.
You might ask, what has this got to do with China? Well, it's a funny thing, but I never realized how Chinese I had become until after we returned here. Of course, I did have some advance warning that we would have to deal with 'reverse culture shock'. So on some level I guess I had some warning.
But we moved to an entirely new and different part of the U.S., so in a way, our adjustment hasn't felt much like returning to an old way of life as much as it has felt like learning about an entirely new and different place and culture. Believe me, the Sonoran desert is not a typical place to live.
At first, I found that the same things that always used to annoy me, pretty much still do - the heavyhanded American news media, excessive product packaging (with the hypocritical request to 'please recycle' on it), misleading commercials and generally tiresome television, and the like.
On the other hand, I was amazed at how much pleasure I have taken in simply being an ordinary person again. In China, Lara and I were walking celebrities everywhere that we went, never left alone for a minute. It was fun sometimes, but most of the time was an added pressure that we didn't really need. Here we are virtually unnoticed, and almost never questioned.
One of the things that I really began to miss when we were in China was beauty. Chinese cities and towns are not beautiful places. Well, most cities probably aren't, but creativity doesn't seem to be highly valued in Chinese culture, and we saw so little to inspire our senses. The buildings are mostly drab and rectangular, and little attempt is made to add beauty to people's daily lives. We found very few art museums in China, or artistic expressions of any kind, for that matter.
As far as I could tell, the main source of beauty in China, comes from CCTV television programming, which offers lots of lovely performers in pretty costumes singing and dancing, and grand, glorious panoramic scenes of remote and glorious China scenery that most people never will have a chance to see in person.
In Jinzhou, there were no parks or pleasant places to take a child to play until just last summer. And coming from the Colorado Rockies, by last summer, I found myself desperate to find some beautiful place to visit. We did, indeed, find such a place in the far northeast corner of China last summer. We traveled 24 hours by train to a mountain area that offered streams clean enough to drink directly from, wooded areas showing little or no sign of people, clean air and beautiful scenery. At that time, it was just what my soul needed to rejuvenate itself. And I was thrilled beyond measure to discover that the city of Jinzhou had built a lovely city park, with inspiring sculptures and views, a children's playground, and a clean respite from daily life.
But yes, coming back to the United States has helped me really appreciate the beauty and creativity that most of us take for granted here. Of course, it doesn't hurt that we've picked a particularly unspoiled and lovely place to settle. But we are truly spoiled here to having beautiful things to enjoy and to inspire us, from product packaging to magazines with their lovely photos, to all the artistic expressions that surround us daily.
Of course, returning to American food has been the disappointment that I expected. I tried to learn to cook the local dishes, and can cook a few of them, but it's not the same as being able to walk into any sidewalk restaurant and feast on tasty and freshly prepared dishes as I like.
You know, when we returned from China last January, the only thing that Lara could remember about American life at all was McDonalds and her grandparents. The first few days back were a real eye opener. At the airport in L.A., Lara played with a little blonde haired girl about her own age, then quietly came over to me and whispered, "Did she dye her hair?" And there were lots and lots of standard American things that she didn't recognize at all.
But children adapt very quickly. Lara will be starting first grade next month and I think she'll do well. She still remembers her Chinese, but doesn't speak it as easily or readily as before. I'm already planning to take her back to China next spring for a visit.
One of the great things about sharing our China Adventure story has been the new e-friends we've made as a result of it. One of them, Karen Thompson, was inspired enough by my tales to take the leap herself. She and her two young daughters will be taking up where I left off, teaching at my old school in Jinzhou. I encourage you to subscribe to her e-mail list, as I have: http://www.yahoogroups.com//group/KarensChinaJournal/join and visit her website at: http://www.thompsontrio.com/
And by the way, there are still openings for four additional foreign
teachers at my old school, for the fall semester beginning September 1 and
running through the first week in January. If you are interested, or know
of a reliable friend of relative who is, please send your resume via e-mail
to Leanne at I'm not ready to shut my China Diary list down completely yet. On a daily
basis, I find myself pondering our experiences and how they've affected
us. I admit I've been a poor correspondent, but I think I may yet have
another post or two in me. I'll keep my China Diary website up for the
I'm not ready to shut my China Diary list down completely yet. On a daily basis, I find myself pondering our experiences and how they've affected us. I admit I've been a poor correspondent, but I think I may yet have another post or two in me. I'll keep my China Diary website up for the same reason.
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