Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Leaving "Home" and Coming Home

I am home in my mother country, sitting at my gate in Newark Airport. It seems cliched to say that there are no words to describe my feelings as I stepped into the main hub of Newark, and yet, I am really without words. Perhaps because China has dumbed me down in the sense that I have lost a great deal of my English vocabulary and now struggle to put together a grammatically correct sentence that makes sense. It could also be that I have been traveling for twenty-four hours straight at this point, having slept for only moments here and there on the 13-hour flight from Beijing.
Rachel and I pulled away from the gate of Xingtan College what now seems like days, even weeks ago, when in fact it was only yesterday morning. We were seen off by around fifty students and The Gang (our teacher/office friends), all waving and giving heartfelt wishes for happy healthy lives, success, and our return to China. Many were also crying, including Rachel and myself.
I look at my only half-filled journal and wonder why I suddenly stopped writing in it. A bit of laziness, I'm sure. But more than anything, I think, by our second semester life in Qufu became my life. My apartment was my home and all the things once crazy and novel eventually blurred into just daily life, the norm. It is still a shame, though, and I hope the hundreds of photos I have taken can help to fill in the gaps.
As for my thoughts and feelings now being back in America, I will do my best to give them justice with the words I find myself limited by. Lost. Lost in my ability to suddenly understand and comprehend. Thrilled. Thrilled to see/hear diversity in all forms--race, skin color, hair color, fashion, food, language. Relief. Relief to be able to ask questions and comprehend the answers. Joy. Joy for finally being back in a culture where, for the most part, people don't hesitate to lend a helping hand, where a kind smile goes such a long way, and where perfect strangers can comfortably engage in conversation. (I must note here that this is a general Chinese cultural comment, and that I feel blessed to have found several exceptions to this in my students and good friends. I got to know some of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met this year, and I will never forget them.) To illustrate, just standing in line to go through security for my domestic flight I noticed the woman in front of me was crying and mumbling to herself. At first I thought she was perhaps unsound in mind, but then I remembered I am back in a place where it is acceptable and common to reach out to strangers. So I dug in my bag for a tissue, softly touched her arm and handed her a tissue. She took it, thanked me and murmured that she was trying to get home in time to see her mother, but that her mother had just passed away. I told her I was so sorry to hear that, and my eyes fell to the ground as I silently said a prayer for her. Then, not two minutes later, a boy behind us in line dropped something on the ground, and the woman touched his arm and called his attention to the dropped paper. I was reminded then of the idea of paying it forward, and I really believe that is something very present in American culture. Something I am proud of. This small scene was certainly a far cry from the scene of Rachel and I schlepping our six bags (between us) on and off the airport shuttle with great difficulty as several large men just stood and watched us struggle. Different from the several seats on the shuttle being occupied by small bags and careless people who didn't think to move their bags and offer us a seat. Different again from the scene of me, mid-flight, attempting to hoist my uber heavy backpack into the overhead compartment as an older man stood watching me, impatiently waiting for me to move out of his way. Even when he saw it just wasn't gonna happen for me. Thank goodness for my SPW in crime, Rachel, who quickly jumped up and came to my aid. Apparently The Gentleman died with chivalry.
My Rochester flight was delayed an hour, so with this in common, I chatted with several strangers. It's so nice to be able to do that again. I only wish I could have engaged in such casual conversation with the Chinese. There are a few Chinese on my flight, and it makes me feel more comfortable. Already a kind man offered to help me hoist my bag overhead, and the friendly flight attendant offered me a better alternative when it didn't fit. This is, by the way, a very extremely small plane. Especially after the giant Boeing 777 we had for the international flight.
I don't really know how I am feeling in this moment. Content? But that seems impossible given all that I have left behind and all the uncertainty and reality that lies before me. But it is my goal, as a world traveler, to be content wherever I am and to not mourn for too long what I have left behind. I prefer to hope, look forward and dream. And I look forward to returning to China in the near future.

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