The past two weeks have been a little frustrating, because I’ve been just too overwhelmed by the experience of being home, and as a result haven’t really been able to write about them coherently (and isn’t that the mark of a bad writer? or maybe it feels off-putting to describe some things that used to be so natural as being novel. Oh look, a trash can! ).
But I just got back to Shanghai and all I’ve been able to think about over the past few days is how I’ve never realized just how bad the air in this city was – until now. Of all the places I could have escaped for clean air, New York shouldn’t seem like the place, shouldn’t it?
Over the past two weeks:
- Shanghai (especially Xiangyang nan lu) has become significantly lusher and green (but not yet exceedingly humid).
- I’ve had a slice of pizza for the first time in 14 months (okay, I ate the whole pizza, but don’t judge me).
- I spent about 44 hours on airplanes, receiving 5 TSA-approved pat-downs.
- I’ve realized that haven’t changed that much during my time back to the U.S., but then again, something else I’ve realized is I haven’t changed much in the past year either.
I think the most important thing about my trip back (and bear with me here) is that I went somewhere overwhelmingly familiar, but was able to create something entirely new out of my experience there. My last few days in Shanghai, I was miserable. All I wanted on my first days back in the U.S. was to sleep in, to have minimal human interaction, and to shove at least three slices of pizza into my face.
Only one of those things happened.
I spent my first 72 hours in the U.S. in a state of utter sleep deprivation. My Astoria AirBnB was about three stops further down the N-Q-R than I had expected and I had gotten the brilliant idea that I should get my visa to return to China on my first day back. When I saw the line (which was half a block), I immediately turned back. On Wednesday, Newark airport got shut down because of a suspicious package and D had to find alternate transportation from New Jersey, which is really its own circle of hell. On Thursday there was a brush fire in Connecticut and our Metro-North train got delayed over an hour (typical Metro-North). On Friday, I threw up on the way to JFK for a cross-country flight at 9am, having slept about two hours and still feeling the aftermath of the night.
I think that before leaving Shanghai, my biggest fear had been that I had changed too much to be able to return to the U.S.
But I hadn’t.
I’m absolutely feeling different after a year of China, but at the same time I’m still me. A little taller (because I finally started wearing heels), a little tanner, maybe a little more of an asshole (but let’s face it, I always had it in me). One thing that I realized I do now (which I don’t like) is expect people do things for me in the way I hadn’t before. I’ve gotten so used to giving my card to be put in the PIN machine in FamilyMarts that I would hand it (two-handed, of course) to store clerks in the U.S., who would all give me dirty looks and point to the card swipes right next to me. But you know, that’s a small price to pay for having spent a year of my life in China.
My other take-away (do these trips actually merit a take-away? I know I’ll be visiting home again soon) is that life in China (as intestinally-damaging as it may be) is a thrill. My closest friends back home have either also moved away or are planning a move away imminently, because life back home, or close to home, is, well, ordinary. I feel like we get these itches, whether they are to travel, to do reckless things, or to upend your life because of an impulsive decision and we can either choose to follow them or stay put. I’ve been following mine and they’ve brought me here and landed me back at the tall breakfast table in my kitchen in Shanghai.
p.s. This week, I’ll be changing my blog name to something more relevant and less wheat-friendly.