Original post date
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005 19:50:51 -0800 (PST)
I find myself not wanting to send this update, and it has been sitting
in my box for the past few weeks. maybe it is because i feel
uncomfortable with both my observations or because my writing
seems to reflect my unsettled state of mind....but i have decided to
send it anyways, for good or bad. if you don't want to read it, you
can just skip to the bottom where my new contact info is... :))
I have decided to return to the US with the mindset of a tourist.
over the last roughly 10 years that i have spent living abroad and
representing the US everywhere i went, i recently began to realize
that american culture boggles my mind and i cannot answer some
questions that people ask me, such as 'how could bush get re-
elected?' and the sad answer is that maybe i never did. i have
always lived in fairly large cities in the west or east coast, and i do
not know much about the midwest or south of the country.
even rural is another world. my knowledge of history and
geography of the US is dismal, and i really have a hard time
explaining the political system in the country (ie, try explaining
the electoral college and why it exists to people in other countries).
So, here i am after roughly 10 years away, trying to learn about
what has become a strange country, and i would like to share some
of my initial adjustment 'shocks.'
i am surprised by the availability of hot water and tissue paper in all
bathrooms, both public and private. at the relative ease of doing
things, at all the 'free' things available, including the use of the
internet which i am using now. there are free offers everywhere,
and it sometimes gives me a headache to read them all, as i
inevitably do, and understand what are the conditions for the 'free'
merchandise. I love the public library system, and being on the
berkeley campus pretending to be a real berkeley student, one of
i have also been shocked at the number of homeless people who
greet me every time i leave a shop or leave the campus, some of
whom are very organized with fliers. some of whom are well-
dressed, while some are not and smell of alcohol. most are very
friendly and say, god bless, even when i don't give them change.
it has been difficult for me to ask people for favors. this is
different from asia, because there seems to be an understanding
that it will be reciprocated at some point or another. here i feel
there is not that common understanding, and things need to be
reciprocated up front, and i find myself hesitating before i ask
for something. especially when it comes to taking people's time,
which everyone here seems short of. yet this is also contrasted
by the friendliness of strangers, and unexpected kindnesses of
both good and peripheral friends.
i am shocked by the amount of waste here. the indiscriminate
use of paper towels and napkins rather than kitchen towels or
handkerchiefs for every situation. i find myself not using my
handkerchief anymore, and assimilating too quickly by
contributing to this waste.
i love the anti-mainstream culture. there are tons of community
classes teaching everything from revolution to computers to fifty
kinds of yoga. there are free-rides to using
carpooling from any gas station early in the morning, and a
pro-bicycle anti-car movement that is pretty successful. the odd
thing is that the underground culture has become kind of
i am shocked by how much time i spend alone. sometimes a
whole day will go by without me really talking or connecting to
someone. i forgot that people like to talk on the phone rather
than meet in person, and i have learned to do the opposite
from living in asia, where telecommunication is more
expensive. i have also started to realize that life here is more
lonely existence, and it is an opportunity to deal with loneliness.
these are some of my initial observations, but of course my
opinions seem to change every day. overall, i am happy to be
here, enjoying being in school, and back in the US.
in the last couple of weeks i've moved into my new
apartment, gotten a cell phone, started shopping for all the
millions of things i seem to need to get by, and orienting
myself to this new city. I am taking cultural anthropology
and salsa at a local community college, and auditing a
geography class at UC berkeley.
my new address and telephone numbers are as follows:
take care, and happy valentine's day.