20 March 2007

Leaving On A Jet Plane

I’m sitting on my plane heading back to America feeling one part excited to see my family, one part sad to leave China, and three parts still shocked that it’s over. Already I’m feeling the return to the western world. The flight attendants have been insane about staying in your designated class and only using the toilets in your section, actually calling this an “FAA security measure.” So what, if I pee in first class that must mean I’m a terrorist? Then there’s the Sky Mall catalogue, full of really necessary stuff like the “Margarator,” (all one word) that solves that pesky problem of needing to make gallons and gallons of frozen Margaritas all at the same time. I’m bombarded with reminders of the world of excess from which I come, thinking constantly about those people in my Chinese neighborhood who were overjoyed at receiving a six-month old bathmat, or the look on the girl’s face when I gave her all my pocket change (around $5) on my last walk through the city. It’s like, does my cat really need the ultimate pet safety retractable travel tube, or would I rather this girl eat for the next six weeks?

At the same time I came to figure out this whole China thing. What’s it all about? Will they continue to rise or will it all go bust? Now, seven months later, I leave more confused that when I arrived, having added an additional twenty or thirty real-life variables to the equation. Yes, they’re growing at an astronomical rate, but can that be sustained? With more wealth comes a greater divide between rich and poor. Will those who are not feeling the impact of China’s opening get fed up with their place in society, demand a piece of the pie and eventually force a political collapse of the Communist regime? Is it really a Communist regime at all anymore? Everywhere I traveled, Capitalism and entrepreneurship were alive and well, from the billionaire who owns China’s largest chain of electronics stores to the man on the corner selling sugar cane. And lets not forget, the Chinese people are selfish! They want a better life! They want to reap the benefits of post-Mao, and I don’t blame them! After nearly fifty years of living under a scary Communist regime wouldn’t you want to build a better life too? Still, is it really possible for 1.3 billion people (more than the number of people in the Americas and Europe combined) to all be better off? I mean, that’s a lot of people. Right now they can afford to employ everyone for next to nothing, having people push buttons to open the elevator or stand at a store entrance to say hello. However, the more they develop and the more people at the top want to skim off the bottom, the fewer jobs there will be, which means growing unemployment, dissatisfaction and potential political disaster. People are greedy and the more money you’ve got, the more money it seems you want to have.

It’s still too early to answer any of these questions, but having some actual context from which to base my feelings on these matters is something remarkable. Indeed China is an enchanting place; ever changing, ever evolving and ever growing. It sure aint’ Kansas! I’ve survived a robbery, a mugging, being run over by a taxi, being screwed by a company, being screwed by a landlord and being screwed by cab drivers. I’ve been spit on, yelled at and discriminated against. At the same time, I’ve lived an entire lifetime of adventures and I’ve met people whom I know will be in my life forever. I spent my days teaching English to eager Chinese kids and my nights thinking about and discussing the future of China. There was no better time to be in China, both to experience the country and to grow as a person. I know this isn’t goodbye forever.

While China may have ended for now, my next adventure is just beginning! I’m traveling around the world beginning in April, so stay tuned for more ridiculous adventures, along with some incredible stories! The next six weeks will find me either on the beach in California, on the couch in California, or out with friends in Washington DC. Updates will continue, though on a less-frequent basis. I’m guessing my first few weeks back may be somewhat eye-opening (and equally hilarious). More soon, after a brief break in our regular programming. Be ready for a whole new channel, and check back often!

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