It’s over. Three weeks of indulging in food fantasies, hanging out with my dear brother, exploring Chicago, went by very quickly. Oh, the clothes and shoes I bought. In China it’s virtually impossible to find “western” sizes, so I had a good excuse to go slightly mad in Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Old Navy, and an incredible shoe store called Altman’s, where they won’t let you leave the store unless the shoes fit perfectly. It was old-fashioned service, actually measuring both feet, bringing stacks of shoe boxes for inspection, and fitting my hard-to-fit feet.
Wabash Avenue, El steps, pigeons
I even took a stab at riding a bike along the lake front. In my college days, I could easily make the 25-mile round trip from Evanston south to McCormick Place, but this time I was winded after just 45 minutes or so. 8 years of China smog, lack of exercise, and laziness have caught up with me (OK, age has something to do with it too).
My brother and I visited the Art Institute on a (free) Thursday evening, to catch the Magritte exhibition. We explored Chicago neighborhoods I’d never visited before, and I experienced the reverse culture shock of returning to my home country only the second time in 8 years. Most surprising, I guess, was the friendliness of the people. I’m a native midwesterner, and lived in Chicago in my youth, but I simply didn’t remember this kind of friendliness. It was a completely different kind of social dynamic than I experienced in my 15 years in Los Angeles. Rather than sounding fake, however, the Chicago friendliness seemed completely genuine.
Snow Drop Lounge – now Gino’s North Pizza
One of the sentimental journeys my brother and I made was to the former Snow Drop Lounge [above], a beautiful 40s deco bar where we used to hang out in the early 80s. The place had an amazing jukebox, and we would always play the Les Brown/Doris Day version of Sentimental Journey. These days the place is called Gino’s East, and serves pizza. Except for a window wall on the street side, it’s exactly the same.
We met up with an old friend, Lorraine, and reminisced about wacky things we did in younger years, such as visiting a fortune teller, crawling on hands and knees up the steps of Holy Name Cathedral, trying to drive into a 7-11, and re-enacting Lorraine’s birth at 4:30 a.m. on her New Year’s Day birthday at the Orbit Room bar. Generally, all of this was done while insanely drunk. Expriencing Chicago now after 22 years of sobriety was, well, a sobering experience.
Chicago skyline from Diversey Harbor
I’m now back in China, having gotten my working visa at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, which was ostensibly my main reason for returning to the US. My biggest headache – the insanely difficult visa process – is now over, although I’m still experiencing jet lag, and waking up at ungodly hours. All my packing was done a couple of weeks before I left, so now I must make arrangements with a driver and vehicle to make the 2-day cross-China trip from Chengdu to Suzhou. My new job starts next Monday, at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, and I have an apartment to furnish. My dog and I will make the trip together, and soon we will start the next 2-year segment of our lives.
Leaving the USA to return to China