Going Back to China

So maybe my last post was a little unfair. Or a lot.

I had just returned to America after 13 months in China and I was a little shocked. You know, culturally. But I have come to terms with that: I now know that when someone tells me to move out of their way it's because they are being direct and I am in their way, not because they are presenting a challenge to fight to the death. I will walk faster. I will be on time. Thank you for your help. I didn't even throw toilet paper in the garbage can once since coming home!

I have also found that my 4 favorite phrases do not work as well in America. I am referring to those four phrases that can help one evade any social situation (almost):
"I have friends waiting for me."
"I am a little busy."
"That's not convenient."
"I have something to do."

These are the magic phrases. Responding to them with questions is unacceptable in China, and these little white-lie phrases help make life smoother for me. After a long conversation with a Chinese man I had just met, he asked me for my phone number. "It's not convenient," I replied. And it was done. Over. No problem.

"It's not convenient," I said to my mother regarding the mysterious growing stack of dishes and her request that I load them in the dishwasher. "No," I think to myself while loading the dishes after losing an argument, "You're not supposed to question me after I say that!"

"I have friends waiting for me," I say to a friend in Seattle. The response? "What friends, what are their names? Where are you meeting them?" These questions are unacceptable because I don't have the answers, I'm just looking for some time to myself.

I've found that I have been unable to use this experience to my advantage. "I have not culturally adjusted to mowing the lawn," and "Clean my room? We certainly don't do that in China," are weak arguments in a land where argument and reason trump harmony.

After all of this adjustment I'm hoping that going back will be a smooth transition. Weighing the relative merits of things will probably be a balancing act, like it was coming home. Everything was expensive here, but so incredibly easy. Everyone stands in line, but that means I don't get a chance to muscle my way to the front.

I know that I'll miss all of the people I got a chance to see again. The moment I saw Seattle I knew I wanted to go back (98% sure). I feel really connected to the work I've already done and to the work I have yet to complete in the next year. That includes the people in my community, my students, and fellow volunteers. But I also feel a distant longing to come home. It's really not quite so long this time: I have less time left than time I've served.

I think I wanted this post to be a "Thank You" to everyone for everything, but it turned into a disorganized discussion about something else. Thanks to everyone for putting me up, buying me meals, and putting up with me. See you next year!

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