Thursday, October 20, 2011


Re-entry is interesting. I landed in San Francisco in the morning (October 10) and had lost some of my normal sensibilities. I had grown weary of dense crowds, pushy Asianess. Once I had reached San Francisco, I found myself comfortably shoving some overly pushy Asian guy out of the way so I could gather my bag. I am sure he felt that it was reasonable to shove me into the person behind me repeatedly to create a large open space in front of himself, and didn't realize that I might find this objectionable. Regardless, I felt guilty after I shoved him into his precious space to make some room for me and my bag.

I felt miserable from the eleven hours of plane discomfort and the extenuating test of patience that it is, and was dehydrated from the air conditioning ... I was parched and stripped of my well being by the tragic environment of flight. I was also coming down with strep or pneumonia, or some other contagion..Thirty-six hours after my arrival, I will be in the doctor's office with scarlet fever and a thirty-nine degree temp.

I slipped into a cab for the quiet ride home, and a series of joyous reunions. Eighteen days in Asia leaves me wanting for my own bath mat, a bar of soap and drinking water from the tap. The dog runs up and tries to be cordial, but is angry, and doesn't really greet me. It will be days before the dog will greet me properly. I am tired of travel, and glad to be home to the scowling dog.

The comforts of Asia unfold from my satchel. The shorts I wore for days on end work their way toward the laundry ... the shoes that I still haven't put on since my return come out. The camera and 15 or so compact flash cards, it will be a week before I look closely at these. For now, I am afraid to look at my work, fearing the worst.. There's tea, Anxi Tie Guanyin, Iron Goddess, Steel Buddha, Oolong; it comforts me. Sunflower seeds, which will still be on my desk a week later, flavored with some substance, clearly marked on the package in perfect Chinese, wholly unidentifiable to me by taste or other means, feed me. Peanuts, which my mother reminds me are fertilized with “human excrement,” feed me.

This culturalism I hear from my friends and family plagues me. “They use human excrement for fertilizer there.” It's a disease of misinformation. Of misunderstanding. I call it culturalism because it's not directed against the Asian Race, only against the culture of China. The Chinese people are reasonable healthy today, the agricultural practices may be different than ours, but centralization of sewage treatment and composting of wastes, help to make the foods safer to eat.

When I mentioned that I had been to China,. Even my doctor was quick to associate my illness with China, claiming that, after all, ”They are still living close to the animals there,” as a justification for his assertions. His assumption that I was the vector binging disease from China into the US seemed disturbing. Everyone, it seems, knows a lot about China. I think back, and I don't remember these things from my trips to China, from my experiences. I don't remember that anything I was taught about China was necessarily true once I got there. I can't make the stereotypes stick.

By now it's ten days later. I crave for the companionship of my friend in China. I want saucy foods with rice and fish with bones in them. I miss the drone of conversation in another language that I don't even need to try to decipher. I miss that smell of the street, the interesting chatter and compelling noise that is the street in China, interesting places like the Beijing's Hutong, where quiet neighborhood charm and narrow streets make some essential life spill out of the doorways and alleys.

Here it's quiet, the keyboard chatters as I write, David Letterman idles in the background. I am no longer (extremely) sick. I am tuning up my bicycle and the noises of suburbia surround me. And it's a bit boring right at the moment. I am eating with a fork and contemplating stealing some red plastic chopsticks that say “Tsing Tao” on their sides. My culture shock has passed. Welcome to America. Re-entry is complete.

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