Currently in Portland OR and soon traveling to the east coast; if anyone wants to meet up please contact me via email!
It’s been nearly two weeks since I returned to the US, and I feel like I am constantly relearning how to be an American. Apparently this reintegration thing won’t be as easy as I had initially thought.
Spending time with friends has helped lend the country an aspect of familiarity, and as such has eased the process. But I strangely persist in holding on to my Chinesified behaviors. I cross the street randomly and without warning (which angers Northwesterners), I disobey traffic laws on the bike I’m borrowing (which angers them even more), I drop toilet paper into the trash can, and I use lots of oil when cooking. I am unaccountably rude to waiters and waitresses, hawk shimmering gobs of spit onto the sidewalk, and stand uncomfortably close to people using the ATM. I show my impatience on my face when in line or waiting for something, use Chinese and Tibetan exclamations, and say what I think.
But it’s not only my mannerisms that have changed; my thoughts are constantly in both places. Now I’m here, in the moment, eating Mexican food or relaxing with friends or running through mossily emerald evergreen forests, eternally damp and dark and richly fecund. But now my mind is with one or another of my students; I see them standing amidst the sterility of the winter grasslands, sweeping slopes of grey broken here by a herd of placidly cudchewing yaks, standing wrapped protectively in the warmth of a thick sheepskin robe, bracing themselves against the icy wind sweeping muscularly across the barren frigidity of the grasslands beneath a sky of aquamarine clarity. And now I’m back here, doing something I haven’t done for years, whether skiing or driving or eating cheese or seeing friends, and I don’t know what to think. I’m having a fantastic time here, but my mind is often absent.
Why have these places and people achieved such a firm hold of my consciousness? I feel like it can be hard to live here when I’m always thinking about the there, the other, a place and community of people which is impossibly difficult to communicate, describe or even share with others. My experience is my own, indivisible and unshareable, and over the past three years it has become so much a part of who I am that I feel mentally split, living fully in neither world and yet not in both. I am, with a nod to Ralph Ellison, the divisible man, one who can be cracked or split or broken into pieces but cannot be fully put back together.
I am in the middle of deciding whether or not to stay an additional year (I’ve set my absolute deadline for returning to the states in summer 2014, no excuses), and feel more lost and confused than ever. I feel like there is an immense amount that remains for me in China, and I feel drawn to remain by my second-year students – a class which, for me, will always be special. However, other parts of my life are getting ignored or left behind, and will likely continue to be left behind until I return. But if I return, what will I do for the next year as I apply for grad school (education, most likely)?
I don’t usually invite (or incite) comment on this blog, but if you are NOT my parents (I know what you think!) I welcome whatever advice or judgment you may have as I make this decision – via email or as a comment. What should I do? Let me know!