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Monday, June 27, 2005

Back Home

Flying over Greenland, I was looking out the window at a three hour sunrise, a line of red separating deep, dark blue and white cloud. Below were mountains and deep piles of snow. Frozen rivers were etched into the landscape like surgical scars. It was about halfway into my flight home and after a few hours of sleep, I suspected that I would be awake for the remainder of the journey home (and I pretty much was). As I was looking out the window, I wanted so badly to have some great insight into the meaning of the last two years teaching kindergarten kids. I wanted to understand the importance of what the children have meant to me. I wanted a wave of sadness to wash over me, a delayed reaction to all of the good-byes of the last week. I wanted a slow piano solo or haunting violin to begin a quiet buildup to a moment of soaring emotion with horns and strings that would lift me right out of my seat and right out of my numbness. I wanted that crescendo to fall back into a steady and upbeat rhythm that would finish with a flurry as I finally found my parents at the airport in Cincinnati.

None of it happened.

My brain was too sluggish to make much out of the fact that I really am moving on from Taipei, or that for the next half a year I am going to be in a bubble world - not here or there but just wherever I am on that given day or night. It could not process the tears that were cried over my departure, or the children who wanted one last hug over and over again - the ones who made me realize that, no matter what I do from here, I have done at least one thing good in my life...I have affected a group of kids, meant something to them, taught them...and that feels pretty good.

Later, we crossed over Lake Michigan (or one of the Great Lakes at any rate). The we were overland, and as we crossed over Michigan, I looked down at the subdivisions dotting, and then dominating the landscape, and I saw in them Chinese characters, the kind you would see on a chop, or on stamps for businesses or the government.

Next to me a boy slept. He was with his mom, an American woman from Minnesota (they were on there way to see Grandma and Grandpa). His father is Japanese, and the boy is adorable. He was very talkative, and throughout the flight we chatted about this or that. He made up little stories and offered opinions about this or that thing. As he talked I wondered if maybe he wasn't the perfect person to be sitting next to me on this flight. A young boy, a year younger than my students, living abroad for most of his life. Perhaps a link between the last two years of teaching and what the future may hold for Natalia and me (a mixed baby or two [and learning multiple languages], living abroad {one of us will be no matter what}, and suffering, I suspect (I certainly wonder if Daniel, the little boy on the plane did) a sense of displacement, of mixed identity.

I think about that a lot these days, identity and displacement. Take Natalia for example. She grew up in Argentina, and while she says there is some Chinese/Taiwanese community there, it is not so large, and there is not nearly as much ethnic diversity as there is in the US. Then she goes to Taiwan and people stare at her in restaurants or give her rude looks when she tells them she can not read Chinese. Add this to the looks that we drew being together as a mixed race couple (which is not altogether uncommon in Taipei, but still - and this is not to mention the smaller towns and islands we visited, or Cambodia), and I wonder what it must like to be in her shoes.

And even for myself, after being abroad for the better part of the last four years, and not being in the US for a year and a half. I don't feel altogether at ease with the thought of settling in the US, and I say that just a day into my stay home. This is not to say that I am not happy to be here - I am, and I am thrilled. This is also not to say that won't settle here someday. It is a definite option. It is just that at this moment, and in many moments while being away, I have a general feeling of being out of contact, out of touch with everything here.

I have written before on here about my love-hate relationship with my hometown of Cincinnati. I feel that in the last few years I have come to peace with that though, and I made a conscious decision before returning, and reminded myself of it while on the plane, that I am going to do my best to enjoy every minute home. I am not going to dwell on how different I feel, or on the inanity of the news shows and newsapers, or the this's and that's that drove me away in the first place.

And yet, while sitting in the lounge in Detroit, waiting for my flight, this awful feeling began to sneak up on me. Perhaps it was because so many people around me, and walking past were overweight or worse. There was something American about that, about the fat. There was also something American about the facial hair on the men - the goatees and sideburns and (oh, how could people still be wearing them?) moustaches. And somehow that Americanness, the particular feeling this aroused in me sent me spinning back to 2000 when I felt like I had to escape.

The moment passed, however, and I hope that it has been buried away not to be noticed again while home.

Last night and this morning I enjoyed meals on our deck. The temperature has been hitting about 34, which is about the same as Taipei, but it has felt nice. To sit outside last night and feel that heat, the late afternoon, early evening heat, and to listen to the night animals coming out was a perfect cap to a day spent on airplanes and in airports.

To feel heat in the air, but not radiating up from pavement was wonderful.

At breakfast this morning, there was a blue jay making some very strange noise. A squirrel rushed up a tree and made a racket. A group of birds sang and planes passing overhead disrupted a conversation I was having with my dad. We turned our attention to the Sunday paper. What kills me is that living in the city takes you away from the simple pleasures of being in the suburbs, or in the country. But being in the burbs or out in the country takes you away from so much in the city.

Where are my 7-11's and traffic and people? Where are my fruit stands and street vendors? And for God's sake, where are my mango smoothies!?

We played golf today and I kept having visions of high-rises sprouting from the fairways and apartment blocks rising to steal away the sky.

I have one foot in Asia and one foot in the US and a future in South America. Jet lag is nothing compared to this kind of confusion.


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