Summertime update

I’ve been taking a break from posting (mostly because my computer is out for repair) but I wanted to confirm the rumors that I am still alive and on a working vacation in McCarthy, Alaska. Like last summer, I am working at St. Elias Alpine Guides leading day trips on the Root glacier and longer trips in the wonderland that is Wrangell St-Elias National Park. If you haven’t been to the McCarthy-Kennicott area, you should put it on your bucket list. Now. At the top of the list. Because it’s awesome.

Between McCarthy and Xining I spent four days at the homestead in Philly – a stay which might be my last hurrah down there as the fam will be picking up and moving the (long monotonous New Jersey) hundred miles north to New York City. It was nice to see old friends, and though it was nasty hot (WXPN radio announcer: “Today will be hot. Tomorrow will be so hot.”) I was glad I made the long detour.

Adjusting to the US after a long time in China has been weird. For the first few days, my stomach flat-out rejected much of the food it was fed (cheese, desserts, etc). Walking down the street, I recognized nearly all of the people as old friends – before I realized that they were strangers, bearing just a passing resemblance to college or high school friends and only seemingly familiar to me because of their whiteness. I dropped Chinese words into my sentences, and had trouble finding English words I wanted to use. I don’t want to fall into the cliched “oh my god after my time abroad my home felt so foreign and I couldnt get used to it because I had become so used to abroad and oh my god reverse culture shock lol” pattern of foreigners returning from abroad – most notably, college students returning from a semester abroad – but for a while I felt truly out of place, suspended in a reality that was familiar but only in the manner of a distant, long-forgotten memory. Things that were familiar only a year ago floated up in my mind as I enountered them in daily life like Proustian memories of a time lost. The first time I went to the toilet, I instinctively dropped the toilet paper to the left side – where, in my apartment, the toilet-paper trash can stood to protect the building’s fragile plumbing.

Sometimes I revel in not being the permanent center of attention; sometimes, I feel lonely and ignored. But being in McCarthy and spending each day guiding groups of clients on the glacier and around the park lets me at least feel like a teacher again – something I truly enjoy. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do in the future, and while I’ve only got the vaguest ideas of doing environmental ‘stuff’, writing or journalism, and work involving the outdoors, I know that education will be in my career at some point.

I want this to be the endless summer, yet I can’t wait to get back to teaching in Qinghai – and teaching students who actually care. Essentially, life is good. Commuting back and forth between McCarthy and Qinghai, and holding two exciting and fulfilling jobs – I have no reason to complain about my life.

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