Thursday, September 20, 2007

The heat you come home to

I had a strange re-entry experience yesterday. As I turned off the shower, I heard a rumbling sound coming from the basement. I stepped out of the tub and felt a draft of warm air blowing out of the vent. Central heating! Something I haven't experienced for over two years. Of course, I found it to be a mixed blessing, as it reminded me that we needed central heating. Apparently I adapted to the Yunnan climate real well, as I find myself irked that I need to wear a jacket in September. I wonder if I would be reacting the same way if I was back in my native Chicago?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Life in the fast lane

Yau Neih commented the other day that she can "feel the wheels speeding up." Our summer "vacation" is over and we're heading back into school and the fall activities as if the past two years never happened. Okay, that's a lie. On one level we're going back to the pre-2005 status quo. It's a lifestyle that is less laid back and busier than life in China. But we're also dealing with the consequences of the past two years, from trying to whip the yard into shape after two years of neglect to trying to squeeze elements of our Yunnan lifestyle into our old one.

That plays out a bit differently for each of us. For me, I want to keep up the higher level of exercise I used to have and to keep dancing now and then. The former brings with it a struggle to make time for walking and a slight friction between family members with different schedules. As a rule, we'd all prefer to walk together. The problem is, I get up early and head off to work. When I get home, the ladies are all involved with school. That leaves the time after dinner, the time when Ga Dai and I start winding down. Oh, well. So far that hasn't been a major hassle, though I suspect that as we start rediscovering evening activities, the situation will change.

Incorporating dancing is proving to be a bit harder. Yau Neih and I finally made a date last Friday to check out the Greenlake Folk Dancers up by Green Lake. It was a pretty good time, but not the delight we enjoyed dancing in Cang Jiang Park. For one thing, it's like becoming an apprentice all over again. We had learnt a lot of basic moves to the Chinese dancing that were often incorporated in new dances. With the Balkan stuff, we've got to learn the basics all over again. Another difficulty is that going dancing brings to mind that we've really left China and probably won't be dancing in the park to Tibetan music ever again. A depressing thought.

And then there's the opposite of trying to bring Yunnan back to America. There's also the temptation to go overboard in enjoying the manifold blessings of our native land. Specifically, I succumbed to the temptation of the printed page. I'm currently in the middle of five books: A fantasy novel that I read over lunch, a commentary on Joshua, a biography to sooth my history itch, a computer book and a Calvin and Hobbes collection which I can easily read over breakfast. Who would have thought that a library card could have been so dangerous?

Anyway, while fall has traditionally been my happiest season, I think this year it might be a bit more of a burden. When we were leaving for China, I felt a sense of control, as we headed out to achieve our dream. Coming back, I feel like life is threatening to swallow me up* and I have to keep constant watch to avoid it.

*Don't do it life! I'll give you gas!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A place for my stuff

A few of the students who said they'd keep in touch as we were leaving have actually done so. (I suspect we may see an increase in e-mail once the new school term starts and students return to the internet cafes around campus.) So far it's been easy to offer quick responses, but the last couple I've received have offered a challenge. The problem is that the big focus of my life these past few weeks have been unpacking and buying a car. Neither of these things are something that the kids back in Yunnan can relate to. I mean, sure, many of them probably dream of owning a car someday, but I never saw a lot of old cars driving about in China. How can you explain about balancing the price of a used car vs. its mileage, or trying to see through the snow job offered by car salesmen? It seems too... American. And then there's the unpacking. It's a mini-culture shock to look at all the STUFF we have to fit into our house. (A house that has a lot more room than our campus apartment.) When I'm writing to those kids back in China, I'm too embarrassed to even joke about all the unpacking we have to do. I think I might have started to forget what a different world we really came from.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

August Webloggers Meetup Report

Well, technically we are settled. I got a job, we moved back into our house and on Tuesday we bought a car. No other major task remains before us, so last night, despite the numerous little tasks remaining, I took a break. I ventured over to Ralph's Grocery and Deli to attend the Seattle Webloggers' Meetup. It was my first social outing since returning from Chicago. (Well, I did go to the movies last week Monday, but I don't count that. I didn't socialize with anyone and besides, my main reason for going was that my house had no chairs and the movie theater had them in abundance.)(By the by, I never mentioned that movies in Yunnan are just as sparsely attended as here in Seattle. Or at least dubbed James Bond movies are.)

It was fun. I'd be hard pressed to give a full report of the event, as discussions tended to flow from topic to topic. I met a chap who had also lived overseas, and we compared notes a bit. He also gave a report on Gnomedex--something which I knew nothing about, though I had heard the name before. Jack let me play with his iPhone a bit. It was way-cool. I felt like Mr. Spock had let me hold his tricorder. Maybe in ten years or so I'll buy a used one. I need to get an iPod first, though.

The big challenge of the evening was trying to explain my blog. We went around the table and gave a short explanation of our respective blogs. I realized that I'm no longer describing Yunnan to the world. Instead, on those rare occasions I post, I'm left with describing myself to the world. What's it like, being an ex-foreigner? Unfortunately, I'm not much for doing serious soul searching online. And if I don't delve too deeply into the topic, I fear the transition back to America makes for boring reading. Ah, well. Maybe I can rent out the blog for infomercials.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Batteries not included

Yowzah! I'm writing this blog entry sitting at a table in my own home. Not so much earlier I cooked a TV dinner in my own oven while one of my own CDs played in the background. Today was moving day, the day when our worldly goods were finally released from their storage crates and restored to our own dear home. It was like Christmas. I went off to work and when I came home, there was some of my stuff, peeking out of the window. Of course, there are limits to the magic. Our things weren't so much restored to our home as they were dumped there. Now we have to unpack everything. It's kind of like a Christmas where you get a cool toy, but then have to wait a day or two before your Dad can assemble it for you. But, hey, it's still a happy day.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Home again

Things have a way of circling about. Many, many months ago, I sat blogging in my empty house, with little more than a bedroll and a laptop. Tonight, I'm doing it again, but since I'm moving in instead of out, I have a few more groceries on hand. This week has been a killer as the storm of resettling hit full force.

Sunday was a breeze. Of course, we essentially spent the day in Chicago, enjoying the last day of our vacation with my folks. We caught an evening flight back to Seattle, returning to my mother-in-law's house just after midnight. The entire trip back has to have been one of the smoothest flights we've had in a long time.

On Monday morning I called a man about a job. Before we left for Chicago, I had applied and interviewed for a position at a printing company in Seattle. I basically called in to see how the interviews were going, fully expecting that the job had gone to someone else. Instead I was invited to come up for a second interview. I buzzed up to Seattle, answered two questions and was offered the position. Remember how earlier I said that I had gone against conventional wisdom and had gotten two of my jobs via the want ads? Well, make that three.

Also Monday, I discovered that we had screwed our move. We had hoped to get our stuff delivered on Thursday. I had forgotten that the paperwork clearly states that they need 15 days notice to deliver our crates. Oops. We eventually worked it out so that we can move in on Tuesday, but we'll be paying for it. After that crisis, we went out to look for a car. We found one we liked and arranged to pick it up the next morning to have our mechanic look it over. Before I went to bed, I cheerfully transferred the required money over to our checking account.

On Tuesday, while Yau Neih and I took care of business in Seattle, our friendly neighborhood mechanic looked over the car and pronounced it unworthy. (He also scolded us for not contacting him a month earlier so he could have set us up with a decent vehicle.) We took it back to the dealer and put car shopping back on our to-do list.

Wednesday was my first day of work. It was enjoyable. The work was a bit simplistic, but I was indeed rusty after two years away. While I was laboring, Yau Neih and the girls ventured over to our newly vacated home to have a walk through with our rental agent. I came over after work to change the locks. My first impression was that plants can really grow in two years. It looked like our renters hated yard work even more than I do.

Thursday I had my second day of work and my first company barbecue. I think I will really like this job. Afterwards I returned to the house to finish the lock changing. (I had bought the cheapest locks at Home Depot and they only fit some of my doors.) Yau Neih and attempted to do a bit more car shopping, but we were too frazzled to approach it with any sort of intelligence. We decided to skip shopping until after the move.

On Friday, Yau Neih stayed at the house to do some painting and greet the various repair guys who she had scheduled to visit. (Our renters didn't really damage the house too much, but some things needed fixing and others need an estimate.)

On Saturday we once again ventured northward. Yau Neih finished her painting and I laid some carpeting in Ga Dai's room. I also completed a handful of other repairs.

Which brings us to Sunday, our day of rest. Except for the shopping I had to do, and the unpacking. Six days of commuting from Tacoma to Seattle was enough to convince me to move back into my house without the furniture. And so I settle down to sleep, missing my family and grumbling that Siu Wan's room now smells of dog....

Friday, July 27, 2007

My kind of town

I've spent the last week in my ancestral lands, visiting my family and Chicagoland friends. Except for periodic moments of gluttony, it's been a relaxing experience. I've been so relaxed that the thought of blogging really hasn't appealed to me. Maybe that's what vacation should be.

I've had a hankering to visit Chicago throughout our China venture. For the past decade or so we've been blessed with the means to visit my hometown at least once a year. In 2005, our finances and schedule required us to forgo the trip home. The situation in 2006 was the same, if not worse. Fortunately, my folks and siblings managed to head out to Seattle to visit us each year. As this summer rolled around, it looked like we'd have to skip a Chicago trip once again. While we had a month to kill before we could move back into our house, we didn't really have the finances. We were heading into unemployment and a big chunk of our bank account was destined to be sunk into a car. (Note to self: remember we have to buy a car one of these days.) As things stood in May, it would have been foolish to pay for a vacation to the windy suburbs.

Thankfully, things didn't stand still. First off, I had miscalculated our finances. Yau Neih's salary from the college was stretched out over the year, so we had two month's pay above what I had calculated. Then we were gifted with some money towards buying a car. The influx of cash convinced us to go ahead and make some last minute travel plans. We were still taking a risk that we were spending money we'd be needing in the months to come, but we figured it would be worth it.

At this point I can say it was. We've all been having a good time, but I've really felt a sense of peace and comfort here that I haven't felt in awhile. I've been away too long. It's also been a bit jarring, too. I don't know if it's been the three year stretch since my last visit or my time in China, but I've really been noticing how much Chicagoland has changed in the last twenty years. There's more childhood haunts that I can't point out to the kids than those I can. Still, there's an aura, a spirit of...Chicago-ness that hasn't gone away. I'm thankful I can soak it in before I return to Seattle and try to make a new life there.