decorative bay window in a restored building, North Clark Street, Chicago, 2014
Logan Square corner
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
I have been in Chicago for a litle over two weeks now. I’m here for two main reasons: to spend time with my brother Kenton, who moved here a month ago from Sioux City, Iowa, and to apply for my Z Visa at the Chinese Consulate, for my new teaching job in Suzhou. Among other things, Chicago is notable for its architecture, and for being a great food city. I also spent portions of my young life here, as a college student, and later during a transitional period in my mid-20s. The city had always held fond memories for me, and is one of those places that keeps calling me back again.
To recap my journey thus far, from Chengdu I flew to Shanghai, taking the express train the next day to Suzhou, where I’ll start a new teaching job in a couple of weeks at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University. During 2 1/2 days in Suzhou I had just enough time, in between rainstorms that alternated with sticky, hot weather, to spend an afternoon looking at apartments. I chose a semi-furnished 2-bedroom unit about 10 minutes from my new university, paid the deposit and first 3 months’ rent, then returned to Shanghai for my 13-hour direct flight to Chicago.
I had originally scheduled my stay in Chicago for 10 days, but had to change it to 3 weeks, due to yet more delays in my Chinese visa process. It’s been a long, hard process that will have lasted 3 months when it’s finally done. The main difficulty was the certificate of no criminal conviction, which still has not been resolved, either from China or from the USA. After calling the FBI branch about the status of my record, which had been mailed to China but hadn’t yet arrived, the bureau steadfastly refused to send a duplicate of the document to me in Chicago. Somehow, in a process I don’t understand, my university in Suzhou managed to put the visa request through without this document. As a matter of fact, my visa documents just arrived by express mail from China this morning. Next stop, Chinese Consulate. My return to China will then be next Thursday, August 7.
I have been through a certain amount of culture shock since arriving here, not least from the persistent friendliness of the people. The clean air was also a shock – it took about 5 days for my usual pollution cough from China to clear up. The weather in Chicago has also been unseasonaly mild, with cool temperatures, almost constant sunshine, beautiful clouds, and a slight breeze. It’s the exact opposite of the gray skies and gray air of Chengdu.
I have had have many adventures here, exploring the city by el train and bus, on foot, and by eating. I will catalogue some of my culinary adventures in another post. I’ve visited parts of the city I had never seen before, and by my departure I should have Chicago out of my system, at least for the time being.