Our whole family is back home at last - Jamey and Jason and me from East Asia, and Grace from Thailand (she has started her own blog to tell about her summer, quite well-written, I might add, at isaiah3510.blogspot.com). I really recommend some overseas travel if you can do it sometime. There's nothing like it to make you appreciate your home, think about what is really important, and even gain some perspective on things that you/we could do differently. We arrived safely in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, July 29 after a very long flight, and took the shuttle to a hotel very close-by, where we stayed for another day to make sure that our students could finish with closure and get a head start on jet lag recovery. I have this little ritual of thinking of things that I am thankful for in the mornings, and here are my 5 items from July 30th: 1. Jamey (it was his birthday that day!), 2. Fresh air (mind you, we were right by LAX), 3. Non-smoking hotel rooms, 4. American plumbing, 5. In-n-Out Burger.
This was our third summer trip to East Asia (I will mention at this point that while we did not spend much time in Beijing, we were able to do a quick tour of the Great Wall and Forbidden City and a few other sites on our way home, since we flew out of that airport, and that is where these pictures were taken), and while I do love America, there are many things that this amazing culture does that are super impressive, like caring for and respecting the older generation, showing generosity, and hospitality. A couple of stories from the summer:
We wanted to send a few post cards out, but it is difficult when you don't know the language and the addresses must in part be written in characters. So Jamey asked a student he had basically just met if he could help him out, and that student eagerly gave up an afternoon, during his finals week, to help him (30 postcards. Why so complex? No idea. Not wrong, just different!) This same student also helped Jamey find and purchase a bike so he could get some early-morning riding in. Two of our students, Stephanie and Cassie, and I were eating lunch in one of the cafeterias, when Cassie needed to use the bathroom, so we thought we would use our newly-acquired language skills to ask a couple of students sitting by us if they could tell us where the bathroom was. Well, as often happened, they had no idea what we were trying to say (this was sometimes frustrating because these are not dumb students - Cassie goes to Cornell and Steph to Cal Poly, and we really did pay attention in our language class), so we pulled out our trusty paper of translated menu items and common phrases that some wise friends had given us, and pointed to, "Where is the water closet?" The girls read the translation and nodded, and then stood up, and motioned for us to follow (leaving their half-eaten lunches on the table). "They are going to walk us over to it because they don't speak English. How cute," I thought. Then they walked down the stairs. "Hmmm, it must be on the first floor." Then they walked out the door. "Hmmm, it must be along the side and you enter from outside. No wonder we couldn't find it!" Then we followed them across the basketball court ("Wait, where are they taking us?") and inside one of the dorms and down the hall. Those sweet girls left their lunch on the table to walk three strangers to their own room so that one of them could use the restroom. As we waited for Cassie, Stephanie and I got to look around this small room that was shared by 6 female students. Each girl had a bunk, with a mosquito net, a very small section of closet, and a shelf. But they were all there and made us feel like we were celebrities who had just shown up in their room. This is pretty much how we were treated all summer. Seriously. You could get used to that.
I also think our language teachers were incredibly gracious to us as they had to listen to us absolutely butcher their language day after day. To say it is 'complex' is a gross understatement - one student kindly explained to me that if I want to be able to read a magazine, or a newspaper, I will "only need to learn about 9,000 characters!" I'm pretty sure I won't be reading any of those items any time soon.
So, in our usual fashion, we've had an amazing and wonderful adventure, and realized that there really, really, really is no place like home. Now please excuse me while I go cook what Jason is calling our 'ordinary American dinner' of chicken on the grill, a salad, and an assortment of fruit and veggies from the fridge (#6 on my thankful list).