I left for San Francisco on December 20, and just got back to Beijing after what felt like a very short break. Although there was lots to write about while I was away, I wasn’t too motivated to do so, so I’ll just summarize some of my thoughts now that I’m back.
I flew in to San Francisco on an amazingly beautiful, sunny day. As we flew over the California coast I was stunned at the unspoiled beauty of my home — where were all the factories? The towering apartments? The ugly, squat warehouses? We flew in from the north of the city, passing over a magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, and as we passed over the city I was overcome with emotion. I could see all the places I had been missing — schools, parks, Twin Peaks, and finally, I saw the little yellow building that is my home.
As we landed, I was still in shock at how many trees there were near the airport. It’s not just that there are a lot of trees in San Francisco, but they are often taller than the buildings surrounding them. I found myself on many of the first few days home sitting the windows overlooking the city just appreciating the trees.
It’s hard to sum up all of my culture shock at being home. I arrived right before Christmas, when people are frothing over material gifts, so that was a bit weird. I have been going through a mild inclination for asceticism, and it was difficult to not get exasperated with people worrying about Christmas gifts. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how many gifts you give, I think. You could even give nothing at all, and it would be OK.
Even more unsettling was coming back to a place of such economic security. I had been reading so much about the economic meltdown, but in downtown San Francisco I couldn’t see any signs. It felt like there was a storm looming, but nobody saw the thunder clouds. Especially after seeing so much poverty in other parts of the world, I couldn’t help wanting to shake people who were going about their daily routines, worrying about their own isolated struggles, and yell “Don’t you know? Don’t you know something bad is coming?” The rest of the world is in serious trouble, but most of us are still burying our heads in the sand. It seems like only a matter of time before the world comes knocking on America’s door, and it may not be a pretty situation when we have to face the same problems everyone else on the planet faces. It took quite a while to quell my feelings of discomfort and mild paranoia around San Francisco’s seemingly blithe population.
On the whole, it was wonderful to be home. Both my brothers were around over the holidays, and Jeff was at our home for Christmas due to a long layover on his way to see his own family. We had a quiet and nice Christmas with surprisingly little turmoil or hilarity to relate, sad to say.
At any rate, I didn’t have much time to ponder my culture shock, as my break was pretty busy. I went to the dentist a few days after getting back and discovered that my wisdom teeth were in a bad way. I also had some cavities that needed filling, so I was looking at a break riddled with dentist appointments threatening to ruin all my plans.
I had my wisdom teeth removed on New Year’s Eve, because there were openings due the obvious undesirability of that day. I was awake for the operation, since the dentist said that’s “what most people do.” Since then I’ve heard from almost everyone that that is a lie. It was one of the most terrifying and disgusting experiences of my life, which concurrently says something about how awful it is to be conscious during a dental operation and how pampered my life is. I was mildly hysterical by the time the operation was over, so I went home, loaded up on antibiotics and vicodin, and watched animated movies with Kieran.
By the next day I was pretty much fine, and a few days later I drove down to Santa Barbara to spend time with Jeff’s family. Since Jeff’s dad is a dentist, I was able to kill two birds with one stone and have my cavities fixed up while I was there. Unfortunately this meant that Jeff had ample opportunity to laugh as I pathetically tried to drink liquids and smile symmetrically with a numb mouth. Other than that, we did all the usual Santa Barbara things and had a nice visit filled with wonderful food and pleasant relaxation.
Since I have never been to Disneyland, Jeff gave me a trip there as my Christmas present. I can honestly say without embellishment — but with a little embarrassment — that it was one of the happiest days of my life. The weather was sunny but not too hot, and since it was a Tuesday lines were short. Everything there was new and exciting, and Jeff was super awesome the whole day too. I’ve never ridden on roller coasters since I’m afraid of them, and so the Disneyland roller coasters were plenty scary and fun for me.
We rode Indiana Jones, which was my favorite because it wasn’t too scary. Then Jeff forced me to ride Splash Mountain, which was really scary. Fortunately, Jeff had to sit in the front of the ride and got completely soaked, which made up for it being scary because he had to pretend he wasn’t annoyed at being wet since the ride was his idea. We also rode Big Thunder Mountain railroad which Jeff said wasn’t scary (it was). We rode a Buzz Lightyear ride where you shoot targets from your car. Jeff got a score of about 300,000 while I got a score of about 3,000, which was hilarious. I watched “Honey, I Shrank the Audience,” which was my first 3-D film experience. We ate lunch and saw a performance/workshop where Disney actors taught kids how to become Jedi knights. It was super cute and you could tell the kids were really into it. We also went to the Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise, which were awesome in their tackiness and a nice way to relax after the sensory overload of the other rides and attractions. At the end of the day we rode The Matterhorn since it was Jeff’s favorite ride, even though I was totally afraid of it. Pluses: the seats are arranged for snuggling. Minuses: I felt myself lift off the seat at every drop and sudden curve.
All in all, it was a highly successful trip. I’ve decided two things though. One, I won’t take my kids there when they’re young, because all the kids there were crying and the parents were screaming. Two, I’m never going back, because it was the perfect Disneyland experience and I don’t think I could top it.
At then end of the week, Jeff and I packed our things and headed to Davis. I stayed with friends and had a generally great time seeing people I’d been missing for a long time. It’s always great to see friends you haven’t seen in a long time, and to feel like your friendship is just how it always was. We went to the essential Davis bars that I had been hearing so much about throughout college, which seemed quaint after living in the hustle and bustle of Beijing, but I guess it’s the people that matter, not the scene. I also got to visit professors and stress about academic matters.
Before I knew it we were back in San Francisco, shopping for a few items before I hopped on a flight and found myself back in Beijing, feeling a little disoriented. I was feeling melancholy having to say goodbye to my family and home, and more than a little hesitant to come back to Beijing. Being in America was like living in a wonderful, real Disneyland, and now I had to come back to real life. But after stepping off the plane and riding the subway home, I felt like I was also coming home in a strange way. I still don’t feel too settled in, and I spent most of my time here so far in my apartment napping and reading, but I’m curious to see what will unfold in the coming months. It will likely determine where I’ll be living and what I’ll be doing in the next few years. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities, and daunting to think of the great unknown. I’ll try to keep you posted…