Friday, September 3, 2010

The Return

The plane took it's time coming down over LA, almost as though it was giving me a chance to start figuring out how I was going to deal with being back in 美國. I watched the lights form grids and the grids get bigger, and then I saw something odd. There were strange little boxy shapes dotted here and there. At first I thought they were parked cars, but then I saw the highways and the cars whizzing by on them, and the shapes I was seeing were too big to be even semi trucks. I stared at them and tried to figure out what they could be.

I spent the last day in Taipei getting the best of everything that it has been for the last two years. My friend's parents were nice enough to help me deal with my tax information, and then took me to lunch afterward at a little vegetarian buffet. I think they miss having younger children around, because Joyce (her English name) was extra solicitous and took the time to put food on my plate for me if she thought I wasn't taking enough of one thing or the other. They dropped me off at my apartment after lunch, and I got my security deposit back and reassured the landlords that I was indeed planning on leaving, see, that was all my stuff in the bags packed and sitting by the door. They told me I could leave the keys on the desk when I went, since my flight was so late.

So I took the bus over to Jinshan school for the last time. I wanted to drop off some information for one of the classes I had, and once I got there I discovered that my old 1B class was in session (now 2A, of course). I stuck around for the extra five minutes it took them to finish, and I am so very glad that I did. It was a sweet send-off. Amelie saw me and her face lit up and she stuck her head back in the classroom and said, "Miss ROWAN!" Arthur and Sherry and Lianne all piled out and waved, and Lianne leaped on me and hung from my legs like she does, except heavier now than she was last I saw her. We took pictures in the classroom, and Amelie gave me a picture she'd made in school that day. I was touched.

When I left Jinshan, I went through the CKS memorial garden to take the MRT back to my apartment. I fed the fish there, and appreciated the breeze, and watched the dragonflies, and wondered just what kind of reverse culture-shock I'd have coming home. Doors, I thought, that open out consistantly. English everywhere. The lack of the veneer of politeness over everything.

Then I rode the MRT back, stopped in at 1868 to say goodbye to Tiffany, and caught a taxi to the airport. That part took forever. The traffic was appalling. It should have been a 45 minute trip. It took two hours. But I made it in time, and dealt with getting the paperwork for my exit permission, and got my baggage checked. There were three security guys standing chatting at the conveyor belt in TPE, speaking in Chinese about something or other. When I came up to put everything back in my bags, one of them was saying, in Chinese, "I'd rather be a girl than a boy, anyway."為什麼?" I asked. The gentelman in question turned bright red, and stared at me, and covered his face in embarrassment and seemed altogether astonished that I could understand. "你聽得懂中文嗎?" I could. And after that all three of them chatted with me and another one came over and also chatted with me while I was packing everything back up.

At this point I'd been awake for 35 of the last 38 hours, so I was dragging a bit. And then came the 14 hour flight. I got my carry-on stowed and slung myself into my seat. The plane took off, and they served dinner right away, and I ate and passed out. I slept for about 7 hours, and then I watched the inflight movie about the princess of Hawaii, and then chatted with my neighbor, who was a housewife who split her time between LA and Taipei. Then there was another meal, I slept for another two hours, and then we were circling LAX.

I don't know how to express my feelings at being, for all intents and purposes, back. How do you say goodbye to a place that will leave bits of itself in you forever? How do you greet a place that's been yours forever? The smell of the air is different. I can't say how, but it is. It's less humid, certainly, and less close. A man who was clearly American offered to let me go in front of him in a line, and I couldn't remember how to say "Thank you." The man who checked my passport after I re-checked my luggage said, "Welcome back," and I teared up. I miss Chinese already, even though there is more around me than most other places in this country barring the occasional Chinatown. What will my reverse culture shock be like? What forms will it take? I don't know.

The boxy shapes, those were houses.

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