In the few days of being home, taking care of some of life's necessities, seeing friends, sharing stories, catching up with life, I have come to a few conclusions:
1. Life in China is a lot better now than it was 15 years ago. When I try to share what little I've learned about my life over the last two months have been like, some of the interesting social/anthropological issues I've encountered, I realize that I must preface it with comparing it to what I experienced when I was studying chinese over a decade ago in Xiamen. The then and now are stark. Where there were no roads, barely any infrastructure, few choices, and a lot less freedom to speak to locals, there are now large freeways, tall buildings sprouting like mushrooms, opportunity to satiate oneself with Asian and Western goods, and open social intercourse. I remember one German friend sharing her paranoia living in an industrial city fifteen years ago in the Western part of China, feeling shadowed every day, finding her things rifled. These days, the government has better things to do, and they prefer harassing foreigners by charging us fees because we are outsiders. Otherwise, it's just business, walang personalahan.
2. Fifteen years have brought changes to the cities, and to the people. They're still very conservative, mind you, and so many traditional ways have returned (or perhaps, like viruses, they were merely latent), but they are less likely to wear drab clothes - instead they've taken to shiny things like Gollum. The brighter, the fluffier, the tackier, the better! They'd paste the sequins on their forehead if they could. And for every brillo pad hairdo, there are tons more women who enjoy letting their tresses shine and glow with natural luster. We used to oggle the complicated superstructures some salesladies would twist their ringlets into, but I haven't seen any of those in a long time. The worst I've encountered so far this year was an older woman who had her bouffant teased, lacquered, and dyed; it looked like a dark blonde caramel candy bird's nest, which did nothing for the rest of her round body shape.
3. I have regular jaw dropping conversations, usually in class. It teaches me so much, and I do appreciate the honesty of those discussions. I won't exploit what the students tell me, it's not for titillation and gossip. They share because they are learning English and they answer my questions because I'm their teacher. They definitely enrich my world view, and understanding of how people think.
4. The China diet, for me, is a success. I weighed in at the gym yesterday, discovered I lost 10 lbs in 10 weeks, and that's including all the bags of potato chips (no, not the weird tasting ones) during feeling-sorry-for-myself moments. I should write a silly diet book: "Eat Potato Chips and Still Lose 10 lbs! Hahahaha! Seriously though, the biggest thrill has been the ability to wear a pair of brown pants that I thought I'd have to sell at the garage sale, I can button it up and there's a couple of inches allowance around the waist too. Yahoo! Chinese food may be one of the greatest culinary choices in the world, but the monotony of eating the same thing day in and day out will chisel away at your appetite.