When you go on a journey, something magical happens—and it’s not just the trip itself. I’m talking about something that lasts a little longer than the present—a feeling that lingers like the scent of a roasted chicken or pie long after you’ve eaten. Every single day I spent in Asia was full of fantastic challenges and new experiences, but I didn’t discover the real fruits of the voyage until I’d been back in the United States for many weeks.
When I first returned, people asked me how I was handling the readjustment to American life. Did I suffer from culture shock? I was so happy to be back with friends and family after twelve months that I couldn’t imagine being unhappy. At first, being home felt like riding a bike–autopilot. Living in a spacious house with a full kitchen felt familiar and easy, drinking water from the tap was both completely normal and slightly thrilling, a soft, double-padded mattress was a welcomed addition to my nightly routine.
But, behind these welcomed comforts, a strange new sensation that I hadn’t had before began to creep ever so subtly into my being. It was a feeling I had rarely, if ever, felt at home: apathy, a quiet disconnection. Minnesota was my home, and yet I felt without a place there to call my own—no social routines or apartment or work or community with which I could fall into place. I was blissfully and terrifyingly dislodged.
Yes, there’s the shock of appropriating a foreign culture, but what about the decision to take or leave a past life?
I realized that stepping outside have given me a gift: the opportunity to break away from the deeply engrained habits and routines that had embodied my daily life before. The distance created by my time overseas offered me the clarity necessary to see my previous habits and routines for what they were. And once I could really see them, I was more than happy to cut some of them loose.
Turn that Racket Off
After spending time under the diligent eye of the Great Firewall of China, I found the constant political mudslinging of democrats and republicans much harder to swallow. On the one hand, living in a country with a heavy censor was frustrating and limiting, but oh the sheer joy of being released from the pointless, alliterative coverage of politics in America! I’m afraid that I’ve completely lost my taste for the constant wailing and doom of the national news.
Food for Thought
When it comes to China, the headlines about food safety are infamously attention-grabbing:
16,000 Pigs found Dead in Chinese River
H7N9 Bird Flu and Swine Flu May Combine and Mutate in China
Chinese Officials Find Rat, Mink, Fox in Meat Marketed as Lamb
But you know what doesn’t get as much coverage?
Majority of Chinese Population NOT Obese
Chinese Eat WAY LESS Processed Foods
Chinese Ride Bikes, Walk Daily
Chinese DO NOT SNACK all the Time
Chinese Eat HALF AS MUCH Meat during Meals
I think you get the picture. Our food culture in America sucks. Big time. I went to China expecting to be appalled by the food, but it’s the situation here in America that’s actually scary. It’s all the processed junk, people!
To Drive, or Not to Drive
Before I left for China, I sold my car. The act was liberating and distressing. I couldn’t imagine living in Minnesota without it. But since I’ve been back, I have in many ways enjoyed life without a car. There’s no stress from searching for parking, no insurance and repair costs, no liability of an accident, and it forces you to slow down, be more thoughtful and less go, go, go, hurry, hurry, hurry. But it’s not always easy to try and walk, bike, or take public transportation in Minnesota. The winters are harsh and the Twin Cities’ bus system is time consuming when travelling anywhere outside of Minneapolis or St. Paul. I’ve now lived in two different cities with killer metro systems: Paris and Shanghai. If only we could have such a system here in the Cities.
I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time abroad because I know that these experiences will continue to inform my thoughts and actions throughout the rest of my life. I’ve learned that in order to see yourself and your home, it is necessary to first live elsewhere, and as others live.