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America, animals, fish, less food-related, musings, travel

One small step for man

06.30.09 | 3 Comments

Physics has never been my forte (ditto with anything numerical or scientific), but one thing I do recall from my high school Intro to Physics class is the general idea of the Theory of Relativity. Basically that someone traveling the speed of light for a certain amount of time will age slower than a stationary person. So Einstein was saying that the speed of light is the fountain of youth? Mind bending.

But what Einstein forgot to mull over is how one’s geographic location, regardless of motion, influences perception of time. I experienced this when I went away to college, then came back home for break, then went back to school again. Upon returning home, it was as though I had never left for college; upon returning to college, it was as though I had never been home. (This can also encompass vacations.) So essentially, time exists as an entity separate from time somewhere else. Time is kind of like a dialect—different everywhere.

But that is Simple Geographic Relativity. It gets much more complicated—we’re talking lots of Greek letters and squiggly shapes—when you step it up to (Semi)Permanent International Geographic Relativity.

When I left America and set up shop in China, it was a pretty smooth transition. It didn’t take me long to find a groove, a routine, carve out my life the way I want to live it. It is different from the lives I used to have in America, but it is decidedly mine. And yet, here I am, at ‘home,’ in the same room I lived in since I was three, with all my clothes and books and pictures left behind like a preserved historical exhibit.

It’s amazing how easily I am able to resume my old habits from when I used to live here. I still see the same people working out at the gym or working in my favorite restaurant. It’s like time stopped on October 31, 2008, and has resumed with my return, while time has stopped in Huzhou.

But it’s different than when I used to visit from college. Everything feels…nostalgic. Like a memory, and like I’m remembering it instead of living it, like how sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m dreaming or remembering the dream. This is not my home anymore—it was my home.

Obviously, this is called growing up. But when I say ‘home,’ I don’t just mean my parents’ house. I mean this city/state/country. Folks, America is weird.

The most striking thing has been how polite people are. They bump into me, they say “Excuse me.” When there’s confusion about who was there first, people let me go ahead of them in line. They say “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “Have a great day.” I am sure that I have been totally (and unwittingly) rude to people because I reach across them or I don’t say “Excuse me” or “God bless you.” [Let’s just hope I don’t meet with the angels from Dogma.]

The supermarket has a cheese section, and the meat is sold prepackaged instead of in heaping piles that people claw through. People put change into my hand instead of on the counter. They (usually) obey traffic laws. No one’s outside. Bathrooms (with toilets instead of holes in the ground!) are clean. The gym is air conditioned. I’d forgotten what it’s like to not sweat as torrentially as a monsoon.

And get this: no one is staring at me. Hello? I’m here! I’m a waiguore—oh, wait. No I’m not.

It just feels different. Muted, like we’re all in some lockdown ward. When I got off the plane in San Francisco, I walked around the airport saying, “Where am I? And why can everybody understand me?”

In conversation with anyone, I continuously mention how in China we do it this way, or in Huzhou we don’t have that. I’m sure I’m becoming insufferable. I’ve easily fallen back into American ellis mode, but it doesn’t feel like me anymore. It’s like trying to remember the lyrics to the song—I remember the melody and some of the words, but I’m getting by on some la la las.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad here—see aforementioned air conditioning, cheese, et al. Some things come as a downright relief, like real, unsweetened yogurt, Ethiopian and Indian food, and pleasures like playing my viola again, driving a car, doing the crossword puzzle, going to the movies, and buying skin care products that don’t promise to whiten my skin.

I get to see my family, which always promises to be entertaining. Especially when dad thinks he’s going to be funny with my camera.

I also got to meet the newest family member, who came to us weeks after I left.

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This is Scout. My parents also call her Scooter.

My dad wanted to name her Barbara.

My mom wouldn’t let him.

I wake up to the light coming through my bedroom window.

And I get to revisit little parts of my American life and remember what a delightfully ‘unique’ family we are. After all, my dad made a giant rebar sculpture of a fish and stuck it in our front yard.

We hang tea kettles from trees.

And fill red playground balls with cement.

And make ‘yard fossils.’

If you look hard you can see the chicken feet standing up.

We made this one together. Can you guess what it’s called?

A: The Great Wall of China. Ahahaha—now you see where I got my sense of humor…

And we plant rocks with faces painted on them.

My dad built us a playhouse nearly twenty years ago.

It’s kind of falling apart.

It’s easy to make fun of the English signs in China, but there are the few precious gems on this side of the Pacific.

“Alarming Arizona since 1970.”

So you know who to call with an unshakable case of the hiccups.

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