Mama, We're Coming Home

Trip Start Aug 20, 2011
Trip End Jun 29, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Friday, June 29, 2012

I understand the time has managed to lapse on this final entry. I guess we needed some distance between our experience and being home to make it actually hit us that we were no longer in Asia. A lot happened to us while we were there-some good, some great, some bad, and some just plain crazy. We understand that many people back home were almost immediately exhausted at our stories and comparisons-but tough! Go through something that only a small amount of people go through and then try to come back to what everyone else expects you to consider as "normal." At the end of the day we would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Now, that we are back in the States and have a different outlook on so many things, and of course, we are in the safety of our freedom of speech government; we are posting some added pictures to really exhibit our daily lives we had while living in China.
As we began packing up our dorm to prepare to come back to the U.S. we couldn't have been more excited. That is until we learned how many bags we could bring back and how much it would cost. YIKES! Get it together United States Airlines. There is no charge for the majority of Asian run airlines and they supply food and drinks. Anyways, since we had constantly bought souvenirs and gifts on top of the items we had brought with us, we gave away a ton of stuff to students and staff. They loved it. Even gave away some vitamins. It said made in the USA so they loved it. We did give aways some items that we brought with us from America but it said Made in China. They thought that was funny and didn't seem so happy to take those. hmmm...
 Students began bringing us gifts and stopping by to say good-bye to us weeks before we left. It was a range of emotions that final week. We were so excited to go home and see everyone, but it was a strange feeling to be leaving the students we had come to love. A stranger feeling to think of living a life where you turned on the faucet and could drink it, have hot water, and not have the water shoot out onto your bathroom floor. How did we take a shower before we came to China? How did we cook? Do you really need anything else than one induction burner and a wok? Interesting. If we wanted to go out to eat, how did we leave? How did we communicate with people to tell them what we wanted? Maybe it seems like odd questions to most people, but when you become so accustomed to having to put so much thought in your daily living, the conveniences of America become a distant past memory in no time.
To go back home, we each had two large rolling suitcases, a carry-on, and Debbie's purse. Everything weighted down to the max. We were taking a bus from Jieyang that crossed the border straight into Hong Kong. From there, the next morning we would be taking a plane back to Chicago. Usually, we would have to take a bus to Shenzhen, the bordering city of Hong Kong. Then we would have to go through many lines and hauling our stuff through the distance between the borders would be very difficult. Without heavy items, it usually took an hour.  After we would cross into Hong Kong, we would have to then take everything on the subway system for about an hour and change to 3-4 different trains. So, we were thrilled to take the bus that crossed over the border and would drop us very close to our guesthouse in Hong Kong. We only had to haul our stuff a few minutes through the border and get back on the bus. This was not very fun, but a lot better than the alternative. As we officially crossed into Hong Kong the last time, Debbie became a little emotional at the thought of going home. Of course, we both looked behind us one last time and felt relieved. We made it.
In natural Chinese expectancy, we learned that our flight the next morning was already going to be delayed by 8 hours. The next morning our flight was delayed 14 hours. Thankfully, we were in Hong Kong. There is a lot to do so at least we ate good food and saw some more cool stuff. To top things off, as were leaving for the airport, there was a typhoon headed for the island in a few hours. We just prayed to get on the plane before it came. Luckily, we not only made it on the plane before the storm, but we got a bag checked for free. Once safely in the air, we figured nothing could go wrong since it was a direct flight. Well, welcome to United Airlines Hell. We were forced to land for over 2 hours in Minnesota because they thought there was bad weather in Chicago. They never told us on the plane what was going on, and never updated the times for our poor family members waiting for us at the airport. We finally landed, and then waited over an hour for our bags to arrive on the baggage claim belt. Ahhh....horrible flight, but we went home and ate steak burritos at 4:30 in the morning. We smiled and said "now we are home."
The first couple of weeks seemed like the ever famous saying that you hear everywhere in Asia, "Same Same, but different." Everything was the same from before we left, yet everything felt so different. I can't explain the elation we felt when we had a surprise visit from Debbie's sister from Kansas and her husband show up at our doorstep, or the feeling when we saw our exhausted parents's faces holding signs welcoming us back to America at the airport. It was so awesome that we got to see and spend time with Steve's father and younger brother from Arizona. We got to have a real BBQ with steaks and everything at Debbie's brother's house. A real BBQ with a solid hunk of steak. Oh how we missed it!! But then some things were strange. The first shower I (Debbie) took at home I tried to kick off my shower flip flops before realizing that I didn't need shower shoes at home. When I washed my face, I almost freaked out when water got in my mouth, before realizing the water was safe and would not make me sick if ingested. A normal daily routine just seemed strange and way too easy. Where were the old people in the park doing Tai Chi and Kung Fu? Where were the children squatting and peeing in the street? The sounds of bells every hour to tell you where you are supposed to be, and the children running and chanting in the early morning? Why am I able to simply turn on the TV and things come on that I understand? I think some people could possibly relate to what it feels like. One thing became clear to us. We needed to make sure we continued to live our lives to the absolute fullest extent. People have different opinions on what this means to them. For us, it meant to live our dream. We moved to Raleigh, NC within a month of being home. Steve will be pursuing his education toward the path of Food Science and Debbie will be continuing the path of School Social Work.
We have had some personal and professional hiccups in this decision, but we are happy with our decision. If there is one thing that we took away with us from our experiences in China is that we take many things for granted here in the U.S. It used to anger us so much when we would ask students about dreams and goals they had. IF they actually had something to look forward to, they would end their detailed dream  with "maybe one day if it is my fate." Most of them will never see anything beyond thier own city because of various reasons. We left China understanding that we are all so small in a really big freaking world. It seems silly for us to have dreams and goals and do nothing about it. How do you know unless you try?
So here we are. Some days we romanticize China and kick ourselves for not taking the 3 year contract we were offered in Guangzhou. We can now laugh at the times when we were unable to be understood by people and had to act out what we needed. (Note to everyone out there: Be sure to learn Toilet in any language and learn it well. Acting it out is pretty embarrassing.) But mostly, we understand that it was a learning experience and at many times, quite difficult. We really miss Asia in general and cannot wait to get back there. I think it will still be some time before we put China back on the list of "must sees" but the long list of other destinations we would not have even known existed until now is endless. We wouldn't trade this experience for anything else in the world.
Thanks to everyone for following us and thank you for your support while we gone. Thank you even more to those who decided to still support us when we returned. We love you all. This was truly our excellent adventure.
Peace out.

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