Is it really possible I have lived in China for 2 years? Can I say China feels like home to me now? Can one’s own country really feel like foreign land?…..yes, yes and yes!
Where is home? It is said, “Home is where the Heart is”; “Home is where the bra isn’t”; “Home is where you hang your hat”; “Home is where the wifi connects automatically”; and “There’s no place like home”. So where is home for me? Home, my roots, will always be Warren, Ohio, but living and traveling abroad for roughly 3 years (if you count my stint in Paris), I honestly have to say, I feel like home has been so much more than Warren, Ohio, I have left my heart in so many places. Currently, I have been “on the road” for nearly 6 weeks living out of a suitcase and am now “back home” in Warren, Ohio, briefly, but still living out of a suitcase. My house is no longer my house and nearly everything I own is in storage. I have to admit, moving to China did have its share of culture shock, but now being back in the states has its own share of things that seem foreign.
How can returning “home” be foreign? Well, living in China, a country with 1.4 billion people, we don’t flush toilet paper. It goes in a trash bin beside the toilet, or as in many cases, beside the squatty potty. Yes, even after this amount of time it seems strange to actually flush TP. Okay, maybe that is TMI to start with, but seriously, my first reflex is to look for the bin. Toilets, in general, are strangely foreign when landing back in the states. My first reaction when I open a bathroom door is “surprise”! A real western toilet, I can sit instead of squatting. Not that squatting is all bad, the reality is, it is supposed to be the healthy way “to go”. But yes, seeing a real toilet does seem foreign.
Driving is definitely foreign to me. Yes, I drive a scooter in China, but not quite the same as driving a car. The hardest part about driving, other than the fact that I can’t back up, never could and I have a tendency to hit things, is paying attention to street signs, stop lights and stop signs. When I am in a car in China, I always have a driver, I don’t worry about which way I am going, how to get there or rules of the road. Since there aren’t many rules of the road where I live, meaning no lane lines, no stop signs and traffic signals that no one pays attention to, I found myself oblivious to these things when I was first driving back in Warren. I found myself not paying attention to these things until I realized that maybe, just maybe, I would have a problem if I didn’t heed stop signs and traffic signals. You would think driving a car is like riding a bike, you never forget, right? Wrong, after not driving at all for the most part over 2 years, it felt strangely foreign to me.
Having to cut food in order to eat it…….weird, right? In China, food comes already cut in bite-size pieces. Of course, I have become accustomed to using chopsticks to eat everything from rice, noodles, vegetables, and meat to peanuts. So it seemed strange to have to cut my food with a knife and fork before I could eat it. Other than when I prepare food in my home, food in China is mostly served family style and all dishes are shared, so having an entire dish to myself seemed strange, at first. Don’t worry, like “riding a bike”, everything eventually begins to feel natural again. Although, I have to say looking for the trash bin to toss TP never really went away.
It was strange to hear English spoken everywhere and see people with all skin tones and colors of hair. Living abroad, I have really stopped noticing race. I don’t see Chinese kids in my English class, I just see kids. Maybe that comes from living in a culture where everyone has much the same skin tone, dark hair, and dark slanted eyes. Everyone kind of does look the same, of course, I don’t see myself in my surroundings and only realize I stand out when I see a group photo. It did seem strange to suddenly notice race. I basically hear only Chinese spoken pretty much 24/7. It has become commonplace for me and you slowly realize you are starting to pick up a few words and phrases. Leaving China is like stepping out of your fishbowl. Everything just looks, sounds and feels different.
Sticker shock….wow, this was one of the things that is really strange. A salad and a plate of pasta with a coca cola would cost me $3.45 in Dong’e. I am pretty sure I couldn’t even get a salad for $3.45 in Warren. Being gone for a long period of time, you forget the cost of things and boy do you hate paying the price when you think about “what it would cost me back home in China”. No 2 to 3 times a week massages in Warren, sorry Leslie. You forget what things “really” cost.
Okay, I guess I have to say it, blue skies are foreign. Well, we don’t always have our share of blue skies and sunshine in Warren, but, it is a rarity in China. A clear day is when the AQI is below 100.
So, can coming “home” really feel like a foreign country? In the beginning, I said yes. Sitting here writing this blog, I still say yes, but that does start to change after you have been back for 2 weeks and things start to feel normal, if there is such a thing. I am back in Dong’e finishing up this post and I have to admit, right now, I am back home. This too will change, there will come a time when I just say, “I’ve had enough” and it’s time to go back to my roots. Of course, that won’t be anytime before my condo in downtown Warren is ready. So for now, a nomad I remain, and my home is living abroad.
I will leave you with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes, everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.”