Life Goes On

Greg holds son, Tai
Seattle, USA
January 12, 2007

I'm at the end of a three-week visit to Seattle, about to board a plane bound for Chicago. This is the fourth winter I've returned from China to visit the U.S..

I flew in from Beijing on Christmas Eve 2006. Since then I've spent every day socializing, visiting with family and friends. I've developed an annual routine for these visits: Celebrate Christmas and New Year's Day with family. Call on one or more people each day for lunch, dinner, or coffee. Spend at least three nights at each of my siblings' homes. Shop for spices (e.g. oregano, basil, nutmeg) and other items which would be hard to find back in Urumqi.

This visit has been the best coordinated of all four winters. There were a couple friends who didn't respond to e-mail or who weren't free at the same time I was. Overall, I managed to connect and meet up with most of the people I tried to contact.

Being in Seattle this time feels different from previous trips. That sense of culture shock has been replaced by a certain sense of contentment. On previous trips I would be so excited to visit favorite restaurants, immediately seeking out food I couldn't find in China. Ethiopian doro wot, cheesy pizza, and Vietnamese pho were the cuisines I would crave and make a point to eat within the first days I returned. This time there has been no sense of urgency. I haven't felt it would matter whether I went out for dishes hard-to-find in Urumqi immediately--or at all.

Another difference I've noted is in my perceptions of Seattle and the people close to me. Before, I might have been away for only one or two months, yet experience a sense of culture shock at different levels. I recall gazing at rows of toothpaste or bins of granola at supermarkets and wondering at how large, clean, and well-stocked American stores were. This trip, even after another year away, it all feels normal--I could have been living here over this entire past year.

There has been lots of news within my family and changes around the city of Seattle itself. I wonder if my perspective hasn't been dulled somehow, as significant events now strike me with less force--major changes now seem just a part of life going on. I attended Michael and Minh Chau's elaborate traditional engagement ceremony on January 6. Greg has a new son and will finish law school this summer. My other two brothers and their respective long-term girlfriends broke up in 2006. Mala and Vega just moved from their huge Wallingford house to Rainier Valley. Somehow events that before would have made me excited, sad, or emotional in some way now just seem like the way life goes on. Everything here feels the same, even when I can plainly see that it is not.

I'm waiting on a flight to Chicago, departing in 30 minutes. I'll stay there only for the weekend; this will be a full visit. As with previous trips I will stay with Aunt Kathy in Oak Park then drive down to small-town Indiana to see Grampa. I have lunch plans with Yun-Tzu this Sunday. I'll be seeing Aunt Martha as well. She transferred from her job in Southern California to Nashville over the past year. When she heard that I'd be visiting this winter she decided to fly up to Chicago herself for a brief rendezvous: this will be the first time we'll see each other since she came to visit me in Urumqi in 2005.

I fly on back to Beijing Monday.