CHAPTER NINE of “Commie wage slave,” in which I leave the Middle Kingdom to go home
Not a day goes by that I’m not happy to be home from China.
Every time I breathe the clean air and enjoy the blue sky of a sunny day; every time I use water from my tap without having to boil it first; whenever I wander the Internet with no restrictions, or read genuine news written by unfettered journalists, or just stand at my kitchen sink doing dishes without having to bend over because the countertop is too low: There are countless moments when I savor and appreciate everything I took for granted BC – Before China.
I expect that to continue for the rest of my life, along with a fascination for the country that developed during my year in Beijing. That year, the longest of my life, was a true character-building experience. I’ll always be glad I did it and even happier that it’s over.
Hobbled as I was by being illiterate in Mandarin and burdened by the silly suspicion that Americans were spies, it wasn’t possible to get close to any Chinese. A few of my Chinese co-workers, however, went out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. A couple of them even had me to their apartments for dinner or for a lesson in making dumplings.
The latter was truly humbling. My hostess and her friend deftly filled, shaped and crimped shut dozens of dumplings in little time. My few, misshapen, lumpy and leaking, looked like things that might come out of an occupational therapy class for people with numb fingers.
The biggest difference between Chinese and Americans is attitude. The Chinese, after the national traumas of invasion and occupation, revolution and civil war, political terror, starvation and oppression, have no idea how good life can be. They know too well how bad it can get, while Americans are clueless about how many blessings we enjoy that aren’t obtainable in many countries.
My year in Beijing allowed me to pay my mortgage and save up a year’s worth of income. The money saved up turned out to be especially important, a fact that became brutally clear as soon as the customs agent in the San Francisco airport asked, What is your occupation?
“Unemployed,” I had to answer.
But that didn’t stop me from going straight to a concourse restaurant and happily spending $20 for a genuine cheeseburger, fries and a beer. The next day I’d start practicing frugality, but that day, I celebrated with guilt-free indulgence I’d spent a year earning.