I left Bali just over a week ago. I left 90 degrees and wall to wall sunshine to spend 53 hours in planes, trains and automobiles to arrive in grey, chilly NE Ohio. The temperature was hovering around the freezing point, my plane touched down around midnight in Cleveland, the gate wasn’t ready, and we had to wait about 20 minutes on the plane. Welcome to Ohio. I finally got off the plane and got my plastic-wrapped broken bag (one wheel and the handle had come off) and was greeted by my friend Cathy with a pizza from our local pizza joint, Sunrise Inn.
Boy did that taste good as I settled in for the approximately 70-minute drive home. Home ~ a condo I had not yet lived in, that was stacked with boxes of “stuff” I hadn’t seen in several years. My sofa and bed freshly steam cleaned were also waiting for my arrival. My condo is in a building in the downtown area of the city where I grew up. I knew we wouldn’t have any trouble finding a parking spot at 2 am. The problem being, my suitcase weighed in at 27 kilos or nearly 60 lbs and my condo is on the 3rd floor of an old, but newly remodelled building with no elevator (it does have a chair lift) and it is 42 steep stairs to my front door. Lucky for me, the bar in the basement of the hotel a few doors down was still open. Nick the bartender gladly and with ease, I might add, carried it up the 42. You would think after over 2 days of travel I would be ready to crawl into that bed. Wrong! It was sometime between 4 and 4:30 am that I finally dozed off only to awaken again at 6:30 am. And so it begins…….#mywarrenlife!
Not able to go back to sleep, I got up, ate some Sunrise pizza, found my electric kettle, the coffee I brought back from Bali, put some shoes on, headed down the 42, out the door and down the street to the Best Western to get some condiments for my coffee. Thanks, Pia! Back up the 42, coffee made may as well start opening boxes, etc.
My brother was in town as he has taken on a huge renovation project of a local theatre which has been closed since 1974. I knew he would be up and working so I shot him a text and he was indeed at the theatre. He told me I should head down to the Sunrise (the restaurant of my prior night’s pizza) for breakfast. One nice thing about downtown living is the ability to walk to many places. It was a sunny morning and I took a 10-minute stroll down to the Sunrise. It was great seeing my brother and sister-in-law after over a year and a half. Next, it was off to the theatre for a peek at the renovations, a visit to FattyCakes Soap Company (owned by a friend) and then into Nova Coffee Company (next to my building) for more caffeine. Little did I know what the day had in store for me. My friend Teri then picked me up and off we went to start some day drinking at the Buena Vista Café, known locally as the BV.
From there I met my brother and sister-in-law for dinner at a new wine bar in town called CharBenays Wine on the River (proprietors being Char and Ben). Then I made my way to the restaurant that I live above, Jacked and finally ended the evening with cocktails at Speakeasy in the basement of the Best Western with Nick the bartender that hauled my luggage up the 42. All I know is I was a bit tipsy and exhausted when I climbed back up the 42 and into bed. All this and I had only been back in town for less than 24 hours.
At some point over the course of the next few days, I was asked, “Do you hate being back?” I actually had to stop and think for a few seconds before answering. First, hate is a strong word, so no, I don’t hate being back, but yes, there are things I don’t like about being back. Most people complain about Ohio weather this time of year, but I have been lucky, and it has been rather mild so far, so no complaints on that. I love my condo; I love downtown living and I love what is happening in downtown Warren. What do I not like about being back? First let me say that Warren, Ohio is probably one of the cheapest places in the country to live. That being said, I was quickly reminded that I don’t like the cost of goods. A trip to the Dollar Store cost me over $50 for what would have most likely been less than $10 in China.
I got very used to fresh fruits right off the tree in Bali that were bursting with flavor. By the time a mango arrives in Warren, Ohio, it has probably artificially ripened on a slow boat from somewhere and lacks that juicy deliciousness. Can you even get a bowl of soup for $3 or under? I have gotten very used to paying about 45 cents for a big bowl of noodle soup. Food, in general, wasn’t what I had hoped for. The places I have lived don’t sell things in cans or boxes and they don’t have preservatives. My stomach has not liked eating since I have returned. Of course, coming back around the holidays and after nearly 2 years of being gone, everyone wants to meet for food and drink, so I’m sure overindulgence is a big part of the problem. Driving…..I DON’T LIKE DRIVING. Of course, I didn’t like driving before I left either so maybe that doesn’t really count. I had gotten used to walking 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) a day in Bali. At least living downtown, I do walk a few blocks to local establishments, but here, driving is a necessity that I don’t like.
The thing that I really don’t like about being back is I miss the simplicity of life. Life here just seems more complicated. Life is a big timetable of schedules and deadlines. Even when I was working in other countries, I didn’t feel like I was a slave to the clock. People just seemed more casual about time, whereas here, everyone seems to always be rushing around. Unpacking my boxes and looking at my stuff still in storage, I ask myself, why do you have all this stuff? I’m not talking about things I have brought back from my journeys, but do I really need 50 wine glasses? Or more clothes than all the students at my school combined? Really, 12 pairs of jeans? I have 4 fancy espresso machines, a French press, a portable espresso maker, an electric kettle and 4 Vietnamese phins, when in Bali I was used to ground coffee put in a cup with hot water, just don’t drink to the bottom. I did also have my French press, but that was all I needed.
I learned to get by with less, to live simply. I wore only what I could carry with me, I ate what the locals ate. I thought I missed the food I couldn’t get where I was living. Now I find myself missing foods from China, Vietnam and Bali. I felt healthier. I miss the nights of sitting on the porch playing Uno or other games with my homestay family or just sitting around chatting. There was no TV and no one had their faces glued to their phones. It was simple.
Don’t get me wrong, as I sit here on Thanksgiving morning I have much to be thankful for, I love my condo with my Toto toilet, I love my stuff (I just have too much), I love my family and friends and I love America! There is something about coming through customs and the border patrol stamps your passport and says, “Welcome Home”!
Do I hate being back? No, but I’m just not ready to settle back into life in the USA quite yet. I’m sure the time will come, just like when I knew it was time to leave China. I loved my life in China, but one day I woke up and knew I was ready to move on. I loved my life in Bali, but I knew I wanted to be home for the holidays this year. I’ve committed to a job in Poland, so that is next for me. It will be different from life in SE Asia and different than life in America. How long will I be gone? I have no idea. I don’t see myself returning for at least a year. I also plan to return to Bali as it has taken my soul. As for the simple life……I will sort through my stuff and downsize. If you plan to come to visit me, I can make all kinds of coffee and I have plenty of wine glasses, but don’t expect to watch TV…..I have no plans to get a television…it’s simple!
Do I hate being back? It’s good to be home….for now!