Sunday, February 27, 2011

Home for the Chinese Holiday

With shovel in hand and Penn State winter cap on my head, I looked at the fluffy white sidewalk at the side of my house in Tamaqua. I’d been greeted that morning to three inches of snow. This was three inches on top of the roughly foot of snow that had been leftover from the snow showers we’d received throughout the winter.

My parents grumbled about the weekly winter weather with wishes that the cold season would come to a close. I, however, was euphoric. Snow, snow, glorious snow. It was a sensation I hadn’t experienced in my second home, Beijing, for close to a year. This winter in China has been cold with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit but lacking of any snow. And I could see why – all the snow that should have fallen in Beijing had apparently been re-routed to Tamaqua and the rest of northeast Pennsylvania.

I’d forgotten how strenuous shoveling can get, but I was glad to be home. Back in China, it was the Spring Festival holiday, where the country’s population of 1.3 billion uplifts itself from its place of employment and journeys to hometowns across the country. Since all my Chinese co-workers and friends were visiting their families, I decided that I’d do the same and throw in a few weeks of vacation to make the trip home – 14 hours in the air – worth it. Vacationing in Tamaqua in winter, what a concept.

It had been close to a year and a half since I was home and in that time a lot had changed. My brother had graduated from high school, my cousin had a baby and most of my friends from college were now spread out over most of the United States. But a lot remained unchanged. Tamaqua, for the most part, was the same as I had left it. My Mom still had her big blue van. And my room was all but untouched, including my soft-as-a-cloud bed (my bed in Beijing is comparable to a rock complete with bumps of algae, or at the very least a few planks of wood).

The agenda for my three-week vacation was simple: I would do as little work as possible, eat as much American/Coal Region cuisine as possible, and just relax in front of my parent’s big screen TV. Life in Beijing is both tiring and lacking of any decent American meals, i.e. cheeseburgers, fried food and desserts. And Chinese television is non-sensical – even if I understood the language, I doubt I’d find the programs as interesting as medical dramas like House or anything on the Game Show Network.

As I sat on my couch for most of the three-weeks, pierogies and hoagies never tasted so good, and American television never as entertaining. Even the commercials, which for years had annoyed me, now seemed clever. I even considered buying the Shakeweight, now wildly popular, I’m assuming based on advertisements.

For gifts, I limited myself to buying a few red rabbits (it is the Year of the Rabbit, after all) and terracotta warrior statues. Miniature Mao Zedong trinkets didn’t go over so well the last time I was home – one of my friends proudly displayed his statue at work only to be asked if he was a communist – so any resemblances of the Chairman remained in China.

I also brought home bottles of baijiu, white rice wine considered the vodka of China, although the only similarities baijiu shares with vodka is the color. The taste is horrendous – imagine what battery acid would taste like; that’s baijiu -- and sits atop my list of worst tasting anythings ever list. With one sip, you feel it fall all the way into your stomach, like a bomb about to cause serious damage to your digestive system. And having given a few bottles to a few friends, I now think that I may have fewer friends in general. In my defense, I was only trying to share some Chinese culture.

Before I could say “halupki” my trip was over and I was China bound once more. I’d seen my family, visited friends in New York City, Washington, D.C., State College and everywhere in between, and stuffed my face with all the food I’d missed since moving abroad.

In retrospect, the three weeks at home may have been a bit much – the reverse culture shock I’d experienced at home had turned into a normal routine as I remembered how great America is and how inconvenient it can be to be an expat in Beijing. But it also helped renew the sense of adventure that is living in China and made me enthusiastic about the months and possible years ahead living abroad.

GROUP PHOTO: It's a tradition at every family gathering to have a photo of all the "kids," Taylors and Olseskis. These group photos were still taken while I was in China, but in my stead one of my cousins, Megan and Jonathan, would hold up a photo of me. It was nice to be home, in person, for this new photo

NEW FAMILY MEMBER: Last spring, my cousin Megan had a baby: Bentley. I was a little nervous meeting him for the first time, since he's had a whole year to get to know everyone else in the family and choose favorites but I think he liked me

LITTLE HELPER: Every time my dad or anyone in the family tries to do work, there's always a cat willing to lend a paw

CHRISTMAS IN FEBRUARY: My parents kept the Christmas tree up and even had a few presents for me since I haven't celebrated a proper Christmas in two years

THAT CAT: Our cat TC loves attention. I could tell he missed me, since he would follow me around the house to make sure I wasn't leaving