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Home Sweet Home: China in Minnesota

05 Nov

All the pictures and words and emotions regarding China came to an end, folks. This post is about my arrival back and experiences being re-introduced to Minnesota.

I left Zhuhai on an unusually clear, beautiful, warm, sunny day. The car ride to the airport featured lush green palm trees and bright blue skies that lit up the brand-new housing developments being erected along the highway. It was a helluva lasting impression, and it kind of made me sad to leave. It always is a little hard and weighty to leave behind a place and the people you may never get to see and experience again, especially after being there for a while.

From the little Zhuhai airport I flew to Shanghai. A couple hours in the Shanghai airport had me wandering around looking for food that wasn’t silly expensive. I talked to one tall, red-headed American/German girl who just had the time of her life working in Shanghai for the summer. She’d probably be the envy of many-a-situated adult in America who wished they’d studied/worked abroad in a land so different and freeing. Heck, I envied her with her care-free spirit.

Finally I left Shanghai (and China)—on the day my visa expired—to Chicago. The American flight differed from the ones I was used to in Asia. Food was worse and flight attendants grumpier.

Lastly, it was a jaunt in the air from Chicago to Minneapolis.

I was home.

My brother picked me up from MSP. (He also dropped me off here 11 months prior.) I saw his car approach and his face behind the wheel. He stepped out. What do you say when you haven’t seen someone in a while? There’s always that neat reunion vibe.

Driving out to his house in Buffalo, MN, it struck me how everything looked the same back here in the Twin Cities. China was always building. My brother, Jerald, responded that China is developing and America is developed. I suppose he’s right, but in the coming days and weeks, I’d feel the lack of growth-energy here in America.

A box of Grapenuts, which I missed so much in China, was waiting for me at Jerald’s house. He’s awesome. I had a bowl that night and stayed up much too late as it felt like the afternoon hours to my China bio-clock. I then got up (at 5am) and did my tai chi routine established back in Hubei province.

This first, fresh morning where I practiced some calming, meditative exercise revealed the stark contrasts between American life and that which I was used to in China. It was the clean neighborhood—which seemed sparkling; the single-family homes—which seemed luxurious; and the quiet environment—which seemed silent.

Not only were these attributes exaggerated because, in significant ways, China is the opposite. They also seemed sharp because being away awhile allows for fresh eyes upon return. And this is what this and next week’s blogs are all about—a revelation of the life here in Minnesota.

I’d spend the next few weeks visiting my family around the state and documenting the culture I grew up with—but perhaps didn’t see so vividly as I did being re-introduced.

So for you readers living in Minnesota, enjoy the fresh view yourselves. For my readers in China, it’s time to turn the tables and let you experience a different land and culture through the lens of New Plateaus.

:)

And perhaps especially for my Chinese readers this post will be fun because I unexpectedly (though life is reliably cheeky) had pieces of China retain their place in my life even here, on the opposite side of the world.

I settled into a groove at my brother’s place in “suburban-like” Buffalo, Minnesota, a small town 45 minutes west of Minneapolis:

map

He lives in a development of three-story single-family homes. A neighborhood like this is a rare site in China where almost everyone I met lived in an apartment complex.

I admit it was nice to feel the space.

Though affordable in America, it doesn’t come cheap. Debt is the key word as Americans live on borrowed dollars and are contented (and motivated) to put in long days and nights working to stay above the red. I don’t think people back in China know this kind of lifestyle so well. Nor am I sure they’d want to.

Different folks, different strokes.

One thing I can say, though: it’s nice to have nice things. And it’s nice to provide a nice home for children:

My nephew, Robert, and a lovely pair of twins that my sister-in-law babysat.

Getting outside, I visited the local coffee shop, “Buffalo Books” where I’d write and observe:

'Your move, Ted.'

Seeing the foundations of a community in most places in the world is sort of challenging because you’ll have to dig deep. But in America nothing’s too old, and downtown areas of any town–particularly smaller ones–are not too different than the ways they were erected 150 years prior. One-story, uninterrupted buildings line the streets and house small businesses such as bakeries, bookstores, and hardware shops.

Here’s a view of my hometown, Blackduck, Minnesota:

Indeed, a “3-D” view of a town (the history recognized) is quite doable and refreshing, for it provides an understanding that normally goes unnoticed when caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily living.

As a matter of fact, I headed up to Blackduck a couple weeks later to visit family. And it was way up here, of all places, away from the big city, that some residual “Chinese” experiences occurred. Here’s a map of Bemidji, Minnesota, the biggest town up there.

map

My mother and I decided to visit Itasca State Park on a Saturday. It’s beautiful nature reserve full of lakes, hills, forests, and most notably, the headwaters of the Mississippi River:

headwaters

That’s right. That’s the “mighty Mississippi”. All mountains start with a slight incline, all fires with a spark, and similarly, the Mississippi with a creek:

Go ahead and cross the river for fun.

Others enjoying themselves:

Mom and I

We started driving home, but decided to make one last stop to enjoy a beautiful view over a lake. Walking down the path, I heard some talking. It was definitely foreign yet strangely familiar. I caught a word or two and thought, “that’s Mandarin Chinese”. We encountered three folks from China along the wooden walk-way. A middle-aged woman who works for 3M drove up this weekend to see the park. With her was a friend and her son who studies in London:

Son took the picture

I gave them my blog address and hope they checked it out, perhaps are even reading this one: )

That night, I sought out another China interaction in northern Minnesota by getting a taste of the local American-Chinese food:

I entered and greeted the host:

host/owner, perhaps

It’s a wonderfully typical American-Chinese restaurant: Chinese inspired art, family-style restaurant layout, and of course, as much yummy, goopy food as you can stand:

Though Americanized, the food is still the creation of home-grown Chinese-folk. None of the employees knew English, but these two did:

While I ate, the fella and I spoke. He’s been in America for quite sometimes—was originally in New York City. He came to Bemidji several years ago for another Chinese restaurant. He doesn’t like the cold, originally being from SE China (as are the employees), but as happens in life, in any country, his children and wife keep him grounded.

How interesting to go from place to place, country to country to find people of all colors in “each other’s” countries aspiring for the same goals in life. (I met Americans settled down with family in China, as well.)

Being in China all those months, there were times I longed for the chance to eat “normal” food, see the things I was used to, and be around “my people”. Now that I’m back, I’m excited to say “Ni hao” to Chinese people every chance I can. :)

And I look forward to next week’s post where I share with you some pure, untainted northern Minnesotan culture: county fair and demolition derby!

until then,

and to new plateaus,

-Brandon

 
 

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  1. Hao Hao Report

    November 5, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

     
  2. Maggie Ferdig

    November 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Look! My son’s famous! Just to let you know, I am the one who bought the Grape Nuts!

     
  3. Eva

    November 7, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Ni hao,mei guo peng you! I have read all of your articles. I like all of them. It’s my habbit to check your blog and read it every day. Looking forward to receiving new articles all the time. Thank you so much for sharing, my freind! Btw, your mom is young and beautiful. Your nephew and nieces are so cute. Happy to see you have a nice family!