My first month in Chicago, and back in my home country, has passed quickly and with no major trauma. The one negative note was being victimized by an apartment rental scam through Craigslist: while still in China, I thought I could make the transition easier if I rented a furnished apartment before arriving in the US. It was my own fault for being gullible and believing in my own wishful thinking, and I lost a couple of thousand dollars on a deposit for an apartment that didn’t exist. Another hard life lesson learned.
On the plus side, I completed a short-term job teaching Italian teenagers at a summer English course through International Study and Vacation. I’m now working on attracting some private students, and I’m boning up on my knowledge of academic writing. I continue applying for jobs, mostly through the Chicago City Colleges.
The weather here has been glorious, a sharp contrast to the oppressive heat and humidity of south China, where the students and I sweated through 90-minute classes and the climate drained every ounce of energy from me. China now seems like a distant dream; I only occasionally have cravings for steamed bao zi (meat-filled buns) for breakfast or other local culinary delights. My studio apartment is a short distance from Lake Michigan, and my dog and I enjoy walks to Belmont Harbor and through the beautiful urban greenery of the lakefront parks.
The worst of the culture shock has passed, although there are still some aspects of local life that continue to perplex me:
I was severely chastised for failing to hold a door open for someone exiting a restaurant; it simply never occurred to me. I had become used to having doors slam in my face in China, a country where it can be hard to observe social niceties in its overcrowded cities.
I can understand virtually everything people say here. In China I long ago became used to the bliss of incomprehension; it excused me from having to respond to rudeness or others’ remarks about me. Here, I comprehend every inane conversation around me, and it can be irritating.
Chicagoans seem to walk around anticipating any opportunity for being polite or accommodating. I’ve never heard “Hello, how are you?” so often when entering a store, or people excusing themselves or apologizing for passing others on the sidewalk. Strangers smile at each other here, especially when you’re walking a dog. This over-politeness gets on my nerves sometimes. I almost prefer the brusqueness of other big cities I’ve been in.
I’m still surprised when I see “no firearms” signs at the entrances to libraries, offices, or bars. It reminds me of the constant risk of violence here.
Finally, when I asked my Italian students what things surprised them about America, their first question was “Why don’t you have bidets here? Funny what things we take for granted, and then instantly miss them when they’re gone.
I’m now in my third week in Chicago. I can’t say that the transition has been easy; my dog Gougou endured almost 24 hours in a pet carrier being transported from China, and the culture shock of re-entry plus the jet lag have left me feeling drained.
We lived in a hotel for a week, while I searched for and rented an apartment in Lake View. We’re now installed in a comfy but small studio, and I’ve purchased the bare furniture essentials, and begun to outfit the kitchen. Gougou seems to have adapted better than I have, and we enjoy walks together to the nearby lakefront, Belmont harbor, and the abundant parks that stretch along Lake Michigan.
It’s strange new world that I inhabit: I can understand the language here, and the mannerisms and attitudes of Americans are very different from those of the Chinese. I’ve lost my different-ness; in China I was often the object of attention, and here I’m simply another person on the street. Coincidentally, my new apartment is just a couple of streets away from where I lived many years ago at age 22, fresh out of university and experiencing the big bad city with young eyes. I constantly compare what the neighborhood was like then with its current incarnation. There are far more yuppies now, and the gay population of Boys’ Town is much more visible than similar populations would be in China. My neighborhood seems to consist entirely of joggers, dog-walkers, and gym rats traveling to and from their workouts.
I have a two-week teaching stint in a summer English program at DePaul University, and I continue my job search as I continue to adapt to my surroundings.
I seem to have come full circle, once again.
Pagoda Street, Chinatown, Singapore
I took advantage of a three-day weekend to take a quick trip to Singapore. This was my last chance to travel in Asia before my return to the USA at the end of the month. Two days is much too short to take advantage of the stunning variety of food for which Singapore is famous, but I tried my best, fitting in four to five meals each day.
My base for three nights was the One Orchard YMCA Hotel, centrally located and next to the MRT station, which felt like my second home as I shuttled between historic districts and food hawker centers. The trip was sometimes relaxing – a back and foot massage in a cool, dark massage therapy center was a highlight – and sometimes rushed, as I did as much walking as I could in the heat and humidity, burning off calories before my next meal.
Here are some highlights from my whirlwind trip.