When we touch down on American soil, we go on automatic pilot. We step (almost) right back into our old lives. We slide into cars and drive like it’s no big deal, even if it’s been half a year or so since we last took control of such heavy machinery. We shop at the grocery store and hit up our favorite aisles where we know our favorite foods can be found (hello Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey!). We see our families, we see our friends, we go out to dinner, we go to the movies. And we do it all when we want. It’s the best part of being home; we’re on our own time and we have the freedom to do whatever the hell it is we want.
It’s almost like our lives in China are one big dream…or nightmare depending on which memories surface in our minds. All the hassles we’re so used to dealing with in China are all but forgotten because our lives are so different in the U.S. We don’t have to worry about constantly filling our water tanks and turning on our hot water heater. We don’t have to haul huge jugs of “purified” water up three flights of stairs every couple of days. I, for one, don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen, making everything from scratch, or tackling stacks of never-ending dishes that have to be hand washed in a sink fit for a hobbit. It’s true — our sink is the perfect height for a cute little hobbit person and their cute little arms and hands. Not so much for a big American gal that stretches beyond 5′ 9″.
Traveling between our real home in the U.S. and our temporary home in China is like flipping a switch. In China, it’s almost as if all the comfortable memories of home are automatically suppressed. It can’t be real, we tell ourselves, that we were just making snow angels with our nieces and nephews on a day straight out of a Grandma Moses painting.
It’s always hard reentering China for us. It takes a while to get back into the swing of things. I can’t speak for Iggy, but I must admit that gearing up for everyday life here in Haiyang requires a pep talk. I will myself into our dank shower stall to wash off the filthy coating of germs that inevitably builds up over 36 hours of travel. I talk myself into going to the grocery store where the quality just doesn’t live up to what’s on offer back home. I eventually coax myself into cooking by reminding myself that no one makes soup like I do and that, if I just make a first batch, I’ll get excited about cooking all over again. I tell myself over and over that the jet lag will pass. We tell each other this as we sip coffee at 4:30 in the morning during our first week back while watching House of Cards.
Slowly, but surely, we get back to our old China lives. Iggy dives right into work (not that he has a choice) and I reluctantly get into the routine of being a desperate housewife of Haiyang. To be truthful, it isn’t as bad as I sometimes make it out to be. There’s coffee and lunches with good friends who I miss while I’m away and always have fun catching up with when I return. I get back into working out, doing yoga and venturing out along the country roads. Because, let’s face it, after several weeks of stuffing my face with crab cake sandwiches, kettle cooked chips, trail mix, Dr. Pepper, and lots of other good but not-so-good-for-you stuff while back home, I always need a good workout or two…or three…or four. And, just like that, we’re back in our present lives, right here in Haiyang.