My plane arrived late in the afternoon at JFK airport and within about an hour I was safely transported to my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side. I came expecting the stifling, humid summer weather New York is famous for but instead was greeted with brilliant sunshine and perfect temperatures. ‘Seems like you brought California weather to New York with you!’, my friend remarked.
The evening’s activity consisted of us traveling by subway to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where throngs of people had assembled to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on a massive projected screen situated near the East River shore. Most people were watching the movie- I couldn’t take my eyes off the view.
(Apologies for the paltry size- still working out a few WordPress issues. But yes that is the Statue of Liberty in the background)
I had a few concerns that I’d find the adjustment from China to New York difficult. I still might. In one important respect, however, I feel right at home. When my friend apologized for how crowded the subway was, I reassured her that I didn’t mind. If there’s one thing living in China prepares you for, it’s dealing with crowds.
New York though has a diversity that no city in China can match, an observation one can make simply from the subway. During a fifteen minute ride I heard people speaking French, Chinese, Japanese, English, and three other languages I couldn’t identify. A man with a chin-length beard and dressed as a Hasidic Jew sat fatigued next to a woman whose origins looked distinctly Indian. I don’t include this comparison to highlight China’s homogeneity but rather to express just how international New York truly is.
Tonight I stepped into a classic diner for dinner. A lady approaching 80 shuffled toward my booth and took my order. ‘Anything to drink, sweet hawt?’ she drawled, and for a moment I was catapulted into the New York of classic stereotype.…
As you may have noticed there are a few cosmetic changes here with the site. Since my primary residence will be in New York City for the next two years, I felt writing a blog entitled ‘A China Journal’ seemed slightly incongruous. Not to worry, much of the content will be China-related. However, now I’m also interested in recording my transition from Kunming, China to New York City. This explains the blog’s new subtitle: from the Dragon to the Apple.
I also felt that the blog’s minimalist style had grown tired and that a fresher look was needed. I’ve kept the Manichean color scheme but have added a few touches. The photo in the background, for instance, was one I took on a visit to Beijing’s 798 arts area in the winter of 2008. I hope that by looking at it I’ll be nagged to keep up my study of Chinese characters!
The adventure will begin in a couple of days. Hope you stay with me!…
Since moving to China in 2004, this is the sixth time that I’ve come home for a visit. Unlike the previous five occasions, this time I do not have any set plans to return.
In times past, my visits home would follow a fairly predictable emotional arc. I’d spend the first week in a fog-like state caused by jet lag and culture shock. Then there’d be two weeks of seeing friends and family, enjoying familiar restaurants and sights, and stocking up on books and clothes. The final week would then be characterized by a strong longing for going back and resuming my life in China.
This time has been different. Since I’m not going back, I’ve focused more on establishing a rhythm. Going to a Mexican restaurant or to a movie are no longer special occasions but rather quotidian activities that must, like all things, fit in the budget. Seeing friends has been less urgent than before. Many have pledged to visit me in New York, and those that haven’t know they’ll see me when I come back to California for Christmas.
In the past I’d occasionally feel alienated from peers here in California, particularly when people would ask me questions about my life in China. I used to worry that I was approaching a stage when I had become too Sinified and would never feel comfortable in my own country again. These worries have completely abated. I now feel that I have the wonderful luxury of being at home in two places.
Of course, I haven’t yet shaken the China cobwebs out of my brain. The other day, I found myself wandering down the middle of a suburban road near my house when a driver swerved and lobbed an expletive in my direction. For a brief moment I wondered what the man’s problem was until I realized that the sidewalk in the US, unlike in China, is more than just a gentle suggestion.
In Kunming, a friend of mine used to quip: ‘China will be pretty nice once it’s finished’. A joke, to be sure, but also an accurate observation. The overwhelming feeling one gets in China is that the whole country is a giant construction site. It is difficult to appreciate the pace of change in China until going back to the developed world. In the small suburb near San Francisco where I grew up, long-time residents tell me how much the place has changed. But I can’t get over how much everything has remained the same.
The Chinese will often say, occasionally in halting English, that theirs is a developing country. I used to sneer at this comment as it seemed designed to deflect the corruption, despotism, and degradation that I saw as China’s real root problems. Today, I feel the distinction between ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ is paramount while hand-wringing over political systems and human rights misses the point.
My future home, New York, considers itself the ‘center of the world’- it would be hard to imagine anything more developed. More observations to come……