Sunday, July 27, 2008

We're Home!

Well, we are now happily back in the states after our year-long adventure in a foreign land. We learned a lot in this short time; a lot about ourselves, others, and life in general.

Tiffany’s Prediction
Last week, while putting along in our electric tricycle through a crowded Tianjin street, dodging cars, pedestrians, bikes, and air-horn blowing buses, we reminded each other that we would be driving a car again very soon, on wonderful clean American roads. When we want to go out, we'll constrain our kids safely in their car seats (not hang on to them for our dear lives), fill our trunk with as much stuff as needed (no need to carry it in hand), and go directly to our destination with minimal effort and time. No waiting for buses and juggling kids and the elements. We remembered how orderly the traffic is back home. We remembered how relatively easy and convenient life is back home. In these moments of realization, we longed to be home, though we became well-adapted to the inconveniences and inefficiencies of Chinese life.

“How long will it be before we take it for granted again?" I asked Tiffany. "You know, before we forget to be patient and start complaining about less-than-important annoyances again?”

“Three weeks,” she replied.

Now, I’m sure she was just being facetious, though we were both maybe a little too excited to leave this aspect of China behind. I hoped that her estimated time frame would be far from reality, because I like what I had become: less petty + more grateful= happier.

Personal Contradiction
When I was on the plane, I was disappointed in China Air. I was hoping to have an individual screen to watch the programs I wanted (more airlines have upgraded to this service on Trans-Pacific flights). The plane was also old and dirty. The cheap China Air headphones flickered, making any radio or movie audio channel impossible to enjoy. My seat’s reclining button was broken, which increased the difficulty to sleep and caused a sore neck.

In these moments of despairing realizations, I remembered a Chinese phrase that I heard often in Tianjin (really an anthem of Chinese psyche): 没办法, which means pretty much “there’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t waste energy over it because it will only hurt you in the end.” This phrase helped me cope many annoying Chinese inconveniences before (like traffic, waiting in lines, personal space issues), and it helped me again this time. This phrase has made me stronger mentally, more patient and kind. It only takes an attitude adjustment! (and some practice)

However, as I stepped onto American soil (actually foreign-manufactured airport tile), it only took about three minutes before I caught myself falling back into old American attitudes. Behind me in the immigration checkpoint line were three elderly Chinese ladies also from my Beijing to SF flight. They pushed up against me with persistence, making sure that no hamburger-eating capitalist-roader American could physically squeeze between them and me (which is typical queuing behavior in China, except they are noodle-eating socialist-roader Chinese). My attitude toward their firm, yet harmless, pushes began to really annoy me. This caught me off-guard because just a few hours ago, in the Beijing Airport, I thought nothing about this kind of behavior; it was expected, so I was not annoyed in the slightest. The only difference now was that I was in the US, so now their behavior was out of the norm.

So what happened? How could I change my own expectations so immediately because my feet suddenly stood in San Francisco, even though I was still surrounded by Chinese people? Culture is not limited by geographical boundaries because people carry it wherever they go, so am I just weak, selfish, or what? I quickly caught myself and remembered the conversation with Tiffany on our tricycle, and shamefully corrected my attitude.

American Life
Not that we have a monopoly on impatience or anything, but, why is it that so many Americans are so quick to be upset when things don’t go exactly how we expect, or when we are slightly inconvenienced? Endemic road rage. Violence with little thought of potential consequences. Saying words with the intent to hurt or offend. Not stopping to help people in need though it may take only a short moment. These are evidences, to me, that we have a serious social problem, and it must be recognized at the individual level in order to be solved. Is it selfishness or are we just a little too inflexible to break from our routine, quickly becoming irritable and unreasonable?

I just heard a man angrily say, “I’ve got some nasty letters to write when I get back. You know, United [Airlines] should have a way for people transferring flights to not need to go through security again.” I thought, is that reasonable cause to write “nasty” letters? (Sir, your “nasty” letters serve only as a self-serving forum to complain, not the altruistic means to improve their business you’ve justified it to be. If you sincerely wanted to improve the system, you could write a ‘diplomatic’ letter, or you could politely use the suggestion box in the corner of the room.)

“I hate standby. I HATE it,” said an angry someone hoping to fly to Salt Lake City.

I lacked the words (or the courage) to convey to these people the miracle that a heavy piece of constructed metal would soon leave the earth, somehow fly through the air, and take them to distant places in a matter of hours. Why can’t we be more patient and grateful? Then, we will be empowered with positivity instead of negativity.

I compared these attitudes of my countrymen with that of a blue turbaned Punjabi Sikh man from a Northwestern Indian village, with whom I held a very fulfilling conversation in the Beijing Airport. He emphasized to me that we are all God’s creations containing the same blood. And as fellow members of the human race, we need to do good things for each other; we need to be kind and gracious. The way he sees it, we are all siblings. Many religions and social institutions teach similar doctrines, but do we believe it enough to do something about it? Maybe we as Americans aren’t as enlightened as we silently think we are.

If you’ve made it through this post, I hope that you will be a little more patient and flexible about any inconveniences that may happen to you today, and hereafter. You will be happier, and more people will want to be around you. We have much to be thankful for, and we don’t need to move to other countries to recognize this revolutionary principle if we will just open our eyes and think of the incredible conveniences that surround us every day (remember, we didn’t use to have all of the technology we have today that makes our lives so much easier… just think about it!). Though I don’t claim to be a master of this concept (as seen in my own examples), I hope I will never forget this principle that was solidified for me in China.

Let's be grateful. It will empower you with happiness. We have so much to be grateful for; we have much to be happy about.


blaine and michelle said...

You want to know something I'm extremely grateful for? My BFF and family are HOME!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, it's still pretty selfish, because I'm happy for me, but I really am grateful. Thanks for your insights!

Joe and Christie said...

Amen, Kyle.

Cue the shame for me as well--our car has been in and out of the shop the past week, reminding me how frustrating public transpo is. Yet I know my attitude is counterproductive. You can never count your blessings enough, especially in this spoiled country :)

Glad you made it home safe!

Amy said...

Hooray! The post we've all been waiting for. You are H-O-M-E! I loved this post. I love all your posts. So, when are we getting together for dinner?

The Country Larsen's said...

I am quite guilty of letting the little things get to me. I do try to take a breath every now and again when I realize what I'm doing. I think we all need to take a little time every day to be thankful for the litte things in our lives that make us smile. :) It's nice to know that you guy's are back in the USA! We have missed you!

Cristi said...

Welcome back to the good ol' US of A!!

liso. said...

I'm glad you guys had a safe's so true how quickly we become spoiled and take things for granted...we all need these reality checks in some way or another in our lives. Thanks for the post...

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