The photo above is from our local fresh market, a great place to buy vegetables and flowers and an even better place to pick up great snacks and the tastiest morsels of fried dough you’ll find this side of anywhere.
It’s one of the perks to living here, the chance to get up early on a Saturday morning and walk 15 minutes to a 2 story open air structure bustling with people and produce, where you can buy anything from a pet goldfish to a ball of yarn to a roasted rabbit to a gutted pig carcasse.
There are other things I like about living here. I like the little bit of challenge that comes with each day. Now that I’ve come to accept most of the strange/silly/frustrating aspects of daily Sichuan life, I’ve come to find most of them amusing and entertaining in their own way. For some reason nearly getting run down by a black audi cruising down the sidewalk doesn’t bother me like it used to. Neither does the need to argue with waitresses to avoid paying for dishes that we never ate because someone forgot to tell the cook the whole order. Those are just normal things now, sometimes funny, sometimes forgettable.
I like the food, I like the pace of life. I like that there are many months in which we’ve been able to save twice as much as we’ve spent because there is just so little we are interested in buying here besides food. If I had access to fancy grocery stores or even cosmetics without weird chemicals in them I would have never found out that baking soda mixed with a little honey and lemon juice makes for a fantastic face wash. I’d have never learned to make bagels from scratch or realized how many uses there are for an empty jam jar.
There are of course things I hate. I hate the pollution, I hate that even on a “blue sky” day, the air is still thick with chemical smells and cigarette smoke because there are just that many smokers and that many buildings being torn down and rebuilt on every block.
I hate the crazy amounts of pesticides used, I hate the scary lack of food safety and the fact that not even the rice is safe here anymore (10% is tainted with heavy metals). I hate that we bought 33 pounds of watermelon last weekend only to learn that farmers have been using so much growth hormone on them that they’ve been exploding in the fields. FYI, there is no excuse for buying 33 pounds of watermelon, not even a barbecue for 45 people. I don’t know what we were thinking.
Anyways, for everything I hate about living here, there are a lot of things I like and I feel like 13.5 months in (who’s counting though right?) I’m finally hitting my groove. I have things happening here that I’m looking forward to, a long list of people I want to have over for dinner, projects I want to take on, places I want to visit. I no longer think longingly of yuppie creature comforts like Whole Foods on a daily basis. I no longer mourn the loss of my old life in DC among my ambitious non-profit peers, I find myself considering career options and projects that I may have never have thought of had I stayed in that bubble. I’m getting comfortable navigating the world of the Foreign Service, which at times feels like 1950’s Pleasantville and at other times like a “Breaking News” broadcast. It can be very aggravating but it’s rarely boring.
Which is all to say that I’m actually a little nervous to head back to the States in a few weeks.
Forget how much I’ll miss Chris for my first 5 weeks home (soooo much, we rarely go more than an hour or two without laying eyes on each other, 5 weeks sounds like an eternity), forget how much there is to do to get ready for the baby, forget what a life change that will be, I’m worried about what will happen to my recently acquired sense of expat peace with a 3 month stint Stateside.
Will I walk into a Target and just totally forget how I’ve survived the last 6 months making my own face wash and contentedly wearing all of the same clothes I’ve owned for the last 5 years? Will I get so used to having a well-stocked grocery store and organic produce again that I’ll get super frustrated trying to cook when I get back to Chengdu?
The clean air will be amazing, driving will be a pleasure, I can’t wait to gorge myself on pesticide-free strawberries and absurd amounts of guacamole, but how will I handle America again?
Or will having a baby be enough distraction to sort of avoid the whole reverse culture shock thing? Thoughts?
p.s. I owe this blog a baby update. For now I’ll just say that the 3rd trimester is exactly as uncomfortable as I was promised but I don’t think I’ve ever been more in love with our son during this pregnancy than I am now, we can’t wait to meet him.