After days of travel I stepped into the San Francisco International Airport. This was the breakdown: Hour and a half bus from Anshun to Guiyang. 19 hour train from Guiyang to Chengdu. 3 hour plane from Chengdu to Beijing. 12 hour plane from Beijing to San Francisco. The final leg being a less impressive 1 hour flight from San Francisco to Portland.
Despite going through customs in S.F. I had to go through the general metal detector and bag-check routine before boarding my connecting flight to Portland. Standing in line was like being involved in some kind of important mission. The airport security officers were running people through the metal detectors like food in a processing plant. My turn came and a woman asked me, “Do you have your boarding pass?” I casually checked my front pocket and, after, other pockets, all without finding it. “No, it’s going through there,” I said, pointing at the bag checking machine. “Hey, Roger, check him. Make sure he has a boarding pass. Did you hear me? If he doesn’t have a boarding pass he goes back to the end of the line.” She said it with such authority; it was as if I were supposed to know something about this process. I showed Roger the boarding pass and began the process of putting all of my clothes back on (belt, shoes, etc.) when Roger yelled at me. “Pick up all of your stuff and get out of everyone’s way.” I laughed in his face. I didn’t mean to. I was just suddenly and thoroughly surprised at how rushed everyone felt. I could feel the ulcers people were developing by looking at the expressions on their faces and listening to the demanding tones in their voices. Roger’s boss came over and yelled at me next. “You heard him, get your things together. Stop picking things up one-thing-at-a-time, grab everything, and move out of the way.” I was thoroughly upset. I turned to a Chinese man who was also gathering his things and said to him in Chinese, “China is better, people here are too rushed and too rude.” Luckily Roger’s boss didn’t speak Chinese. When he yelled at me a final time, telling me to get moving, I calmly explained how my final bag needed to be rescanned and that I would like to wait for it thank-you-very-much.
This is the first thing I noticed coming home. The directness of people in their individual quests for whatever it was they were doing. How would this story be different in China? The woman would have asked if I had my boarding pass, then she would have helped me to find it. Roger would have asked if I needed help moving my things to a different place (so I would not be in anyone’s way), and I would be expected to understand that he meant for me to hurry up (and expected to politely turn down his offer). Roger’s boss would not have existed.
This is only a small part of the story that is my first time in America in 13 months. Other than this I have experienced little “reverse culture shock.” I did find myself in the bathroom at one point, wondering why I felt compelled to steal all of the toilet paper and stash it for future use. These silly Americans were putting the stuff in each stall for anyone to take! The bathroom proved to be somewhat of a double-whammy when I found that I could, without fee, use a soap dispensing box that was fixed to the wall next to the sink. I almost took a shower immediately, but instead just washed my hands before coming my hair for 15 minutes (to the surprise of several people).
Walking through the airport I laughed to myself. I was grinning for most of the time, actually. The people and prices and products all captured my attention. It was the first time I felt myself caught in wonder for quite some time. People were standing in lines. And they didn’t cut one another. Amazing.
There have been other things. I am still internalizing it all. I am still adjusting to the time. I am still a little lost.
Overall, I am happy to be home. For now.