Saturday, April 08, 2006

Zài jiàn

***NOTE: This will conclude (finally) my 'China' diary. I want to thank anyone who's read my dribble, laughed at me, or scratched your noggin once or twice. This is it, i'm done and i'm not at the same time, please read on & peace out. - Luke****

I’ve been back home for two months now. Two months of re-acclimation to my former American life has brought me to miss quite a few things, many of which I hadn’t thought I would give a second thought. I’m back to work now and have just been totally swamped. I’ve been out of town at least once a week for the past month, I’m getting it on all sides from different people about going to meetings and living the business life dream. That dream seems full of superficial aspects of the business world that so many people live their working careers by. People with jobs that have no responsibility, but have somehow climbed to a position of power. People that insist on talking in meetings when it’s clear to everyone else that they don't have a clue. People who spend hours decorating their office or cube with various trinkets in a vein attempt at impressing the person in the next office or cube. All of this has worn me out to the point of yawning. I’ve been traveling a lot and it’s been the best part of my return. It gives me a chance to do a couple things that I love, such as be away from the office life and read my books. I can't believe how much I miss working on one project and then being left to my own devices.

Within 45 minutes of being on the ground in Kansas City, I noticed how large the servings of food were in America. How could I have been around this my whole life and not given it a second thought? Now, after being home for two months, which is even more disturbing, I no longer notice it. There is cheese on everything. Grease, oil, saturated fats, complex carbohydrates, inches of icing, boiling deep fryers. It is no wonder I weigh so much. I can't believe how much I miss the food in China.

I am no longer a giant among humans. Everyone in here is huge. I am still taller than the average person, but not in the 99 percentile as I was in China. There are so many fat people (myself included of course). Walking through airports and malls and shopping centers, I see fat. Not just white people, but everyone – Asians, honkeys, black people, Hispanics. Huge camel-toe ridden middle-aged teachers. Men whose ass and front-ass are so large, jean companies are forced to implement another measurement beyond the traditional waist diameter and leg length (perhaps something like ass depth or crotch capacity). The average American man breast size is easily larger than the average Chinese woman breast size, yet the men here simply refuse to wear a bra (or often shirts).

There are televisions all over the place. My grandmother brags to any open ear that she has a television in every room of the house. There are eight televisions in her house and a minimum of two on at all times. Grandpa wakes up and sits in front of the television from 10:00 am until 12:00 pm. I turn the television on in my room about once a week and only to watch an episode of Scrubs. One out of every three conversations in my office has to do with something on television and I am so far out of the loop and I don't care. Colleagues look down their noses at me when their television show discussions fall on my blank face and I have to admit that, not only did I not watch the show, but also had never even heard of it. I think about my massive 65” TV in storage and laugh at why I spent the money on the stupid thing in the first time. Everything is reality shows or news reports about how people keep killing each other in the Middle East or how our president is absolutely invincible despite his blatant violation of nearly any human or constitutional right law ever created. I can't believe how much I miss the absence of television and even more, the absence of talking about television.

I hit the bookstores with an unheard of passion over the past two months. I’ve bought over 50 books and have read about 25 of them already (it would have been more, but one was War and Peace, which weighed in at about 1450 pages). Of the two months that I’ve been back, about five weeks of that was vacation for me, so I read and read and read and it was awesome. Now that I’m back at work, I’m so tired at night that it’s hard for me to squeeze in even an hour of reading.

Day to day living expenses are also noticeable. It’s unbelievable how much money I blow over the course of a week. Get coffee for breakfast, out for lunch at work, gas for my car twice a week, not to mention the money I spend on books. Money just seems to disappear. I wrote a single check for $10,000 to pay off the balance of my student loans and live in my grandparent’s basement. The only bill I have every month is my cell phone bill, yet my money stockpile has been on a steady and sharp decline ever since I got home.

Now here I am. I’m writing the same thing about America that I wrote about China three months ago. I’m bitching about how much I miss the other place and have found myself dreaming more and more of my former life. I miss Mattie, Xinlei, Mu Duo, Jenny, Sky, Jenny #2, Jennie, Gennie, Dr. Dong, Gay Tony, Carol, Qianqian, the cock shakers, the prostitutes that I was afraid of, the slutty hair stylists, the Kung Fu class that I used to work over on the basketball courts, and even the work (actually, I don't miss that so much). It took me a while to realize these feelings and all it took was a steady dose of present day America. I think that it is human nature to feel that you will be happier doing something else somewhere else. If I was in a pool of chocolate pudding, I’d be upset that it wasn't tapioca. I was in China and all I could think of was home, now I’m at home and I’m bitter that it’s not China.

I have come to a great realization about my life. The more specific I can be about what I hate, the better prepared I am do deal with it. I hate working in China. It’s incredibly tedious and stressful. The work environment is dirty and oftentimes hostile. Yet, I still want to go back. My love for living there offsets anything I dislike about working there.

So last week, I was in our Houston office, depressed for some unknown reason and talking with my former boss, who I still basically report to, and he mentioned that the China sales guy was getting on his ass to have me back in China to run the next part of the project. He said it with that coy half joking slash serious slant of the eye.

“Ha ha, you want to go back to China? The client wants you to come back.”

“Sure, when do you want me to leave?” I replied in that same half joking manner, with a hint of surprise that I felt so sure of my response.

“Are you sure?” He said with a slightly astonished look.

Next thing I know, I’m writing a proposal and sending it through the proper work channels and the wheels are starting to turn.

As I put the finishing touches on this drivel, I’m sitting next to my worst enemy in the world - The guy who, at the last minute decided to get a seat in my row of the airplane, thus preventing me from being able to lay down and sleep for the next 14 hours.

My brother Xinlei is picking me up at the Beijing International Airport Starbucks, it’s our little romantic meeting place.

I look back at what I’ve done over the past months and see the roller coaster ups and downs and shudder at putting myself through it and realizing that I’ve never been happier than when I’m a fool on the run from society, living incommunicado, and doing what very few other people in my company have any desire to do. Talk to them and they will try to convince you otherwise by saying “Man, I would totally do that in a second!” No you wouldn't. Remember, I’ve been working with you for five years and have been a silent observer of you and your life. You tell me that you would love to do something like this, but you immediately follow your declaration of adventure up with “but I’ve got a wife and kids” or “but there is no way I would be able to eat the food, I’d starve first” or “I would hate being around all the Chinese people and their stupid language.” You wouldn't do it because you can't go that long without watching TV or talking sports or telling me about intimate details of your sex life with your boring wife.

Every week or month or year that I don't ‘settle down’ I realized that I’m moving farther and farther away from the traditional lifestyle of the American Dream. I briefly wonder if I’ve screwed up my life by not going out and having a family, the traditional fulfillment of what makes a man complete. I am 31 years old. When my mother was 31, I was 11 years old. I’m 31 and have no wife or kids (or prospects for that matter). Every time I think these thoughts they are dashed from my mind by the next colleague or friend who bores me for any amount of time with talk of their children or their lawns or their church group. I realize that I’m creating my own American Dream. A dream that is significantly different than a typical life. The absence of a family, the absence of a home, the absence of mass media. The presence of strangers, the presence of hotels and airplanes, the presence of strange and exotic worlds that most people in my old world will never see and are quite happy knowing that.

To those people who think I’m crazy, I say this. Thank you. For if you weren’t scared of challenge and a different world, strange foods and expanding your mind, I would not be able to do it. You represent the people that I’m running from and are a wonderful pursuer, because you don't follow me very far. Thank you and zài jiàn.