I put off writing this last post for a number of reasons, the most prevalent being me having no idea in what direction to take. Me being me, there were a number of ones that involved the pollution, China's role in the world, and the relationship between China and the US. There was one talking about the best/worst trip I've ever undertaken to the north, and another about simply what I want to do with my life now. However, after some serious consideration concerning my last blog post, and some introspective analysis into my own cynical nature, I finally realized what I would want to write about to close this trip up. And the post begins with today, in the States.
Prior to last January, I had only traveled in the US (extensively) and Canada (but who counts Canada). I did not have any cool stories about meeting different nationalities, or learning the language and customs of a country that differs from the states (and in that case, the little valley I've been in all my life) and I could only stared wide eyed at people who would tell me these stories. Now here I am, hanging with my old friends back in the ole' hangouts relivin the good ole' days.
I absolutely hate it.
The term is reverse culture shock, and it has had more of an impact on me these past few weeks than culture shock itself did going to Asia. What happens is an individual will go abroad for an extended period of time and upon returning, will have some issues adjusting back to their own culture. I've given it some pretty heavy thought, and even tried to talk about it with my friends. The only thing is, they haven't gone through it before, so they can't comprehend the troubles someone can (I emphasize can, some of my fellow China friends seem to have had no issue coming back) have upon their return. I ended up talking to my brother about it, for he had lived in Korea for a year, overlapping my time in China. After talking to him the only way I can describe reverse culture shock is going a little Robert Frost in my writing.
Imagine you and your friends walking down a forested path. The sun is shining and everyone is talking, singing, and laughing. The path splits and you, knowingly, take the new road. All of a sudden, you can no longer hear your friends; they never peeked down your new road, and are unconcerned for they know that you will be back before too long. Well you start walking down this unfamiliar path, slowly and cautiously at first, at complete awe at the new scenery. You pick up your pace, enjoying it, occasionally glancing back, wondering what could have happened had you continued on the other road, and occasionally peering through the trees, trying to catch a glimpse or two of your friends. But you have new friends walking with you now, and new ones coming along endlessly. Just when everything seems wonderful and you're singing new songs, and hearing new laughs, fate (God, free will, what have you) plucks you up, carries you to your original path, and plops ya down. Bam, just like that you are thrown back into the old world, and a little more than dazed at how everything seems to have changed.
And here I am, dazed at the new sights usually so familiar to me. So what happened? Why am I having such a difficult time adjusting whereas my closest friends from my travels are totally indifferent to coming back. The answer was a long time coming for me: I'm a cynic.
While in China, I concentrated on my perceptions so much that at times I ignored my experiences. I worried about the air quality, the anti-foreigner sentiment in Beijing, and governmental control. Now that I am back in the states, all I have left are my memories, my experiences. And because I concentrated on my perceptions and opinions so much while there, I became cynical about the country. But now all that is gone, and every memory I have from Beijing always brings a smile to my face. In short, I, a lot of the time, could not live in the moment there, and now I'm wishing that I could repeat the whole experience this semester, and take better control over how I lived my time. Obviously I cannot, and thus my reverse culture shock.
So here is my toast to my time in China, the experiences I had and enjoyed, with the people I grew to love. To Shawn, someone I've had Chinese classes for a while at UT, and we never talked until we flew halfway around the world. To Philip, someone who managed to find the best and brightest in any given situation. To my neighbor Sadie, and our many tea time conversations. Christina, who became delighted learning about beer pong. Rhoda, who I could always count on no matter what. To Mia and Xu Yong, the two best representatives of China that country could ask for. To all my friends from the north, forcing me to reconcile with my own beliefs here in America. To everyone that I might have only had passing conversations with nearly every day, just having those conversations made my trip far more enjoyable, hearing all the different accents and cultural views. And finally to my best friend Morgan, who I met there and spent many inseparable hours with, and got along with so easily. We were all brought together at Tsinghua, all on the same level, too. The Americans no longer were divided by liberal or conservative, religious or not, rich or poor. The Europeans would only talk about the crisis going on, never naming blame or raising voices. This is my toast to all of brave, stupid, or just plain adventurous enough to decide to travel and live in Beijing, China. For a young man sheltered by the bubble of the Tennessee Valley, it was my first experience abroad, and my first one having many friends from around the world.
Will I ever be able to completely adjust back to my old life? My answer now is I hope not. Never before have my values and way of life been challenged, my intelligence tested, and my own character rediscovered again and again, ever fluid. Maybe next time, after having traveled already, the reverse culture shock will not be as strong, but for now, I'm going to cherish those times I had there, and try to bring the best of my own self that I discovered while there to my daily life here, my home in Tennessee. What that actually means in actual practice is for me to discover, but that doesn't have a place here on this blog. Thank you all who supported me, from those i could lean on, to those across the world, and thank you for every single person that read this and kept up with me while I was gone.
Sincerely, and with much love and hope,