First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Travelogue Epilogue

Wow. Time flies when you’re getting back into normal life. I’ve been home almost two weeks now, and today was my third day back in the office in Minneapolis. I’m right back in the mix – I’m out to LA for a presentation next Tuesday, have a pitch a week later, and I’m working on a site that’s in a ‘sprint’ process, which essentially means build and design on the fly and fix it later. We had a fair amount of turnover in the creative department – 4 departures, 5 hires, so a busy summer.

Took me about 5 days to get over my jet lag. Fortunately I had the week off, so I could kind of adjust naturally. Been reading a lot, doing some lawn care, long walks with the dog (she was very excited to see me), spending time with Shannon (I was very excited to see her), had a dripping faucet repair project quickly spiral into a three day crisis that involved replacing all but one pipe under the sink, went to a noon Twins game last Wednesday, and just generally got back into the swing of life stateside.

Of course, everyone has a ton of questions about China, and upon a little reflection and constant retelling, I can say this was one of my top experiences ever. I’m glad I got to go there, and I’m glad I got to go now. Beijing at this moment in time is unlike anything ever before or since; in 2 years, I would have a totally different experience.

I will miss and treasure the experience a LOT, but to be honest with myself I have to say I handle settled environments better. I can deal with crisis and fluid situations, but to be at my best I need to have traction, which is hard to gain in a shifting landscape. I really admire the people I met who can roll with the punches while jumping through hoops, an ability that comes in handy in Beijing.

I learned a ton about my industry and about myself, so I guess that makes it a successful exchange. I only hope the Beijing office and my new friends got as much out of me as I did out of them. I haven’t been good about writing since I got back, but I will keep in touch – thank you, instant messaging!

People ask what I missed, if it was tough to readjust. You know what? Not really. I didn’t come home craving anything except the ability to speak the language, but that quickly becomes routine. Driving is fun (it cost about $300 to get the car in shape – new tire, new battery and some engine tuneup.) The air is cleaner here, and I really notice that.

People ask about the Chinese government and what it’s like in a Communist country. To be honest, on the one hand, you can’t tell. People are basically the same the world over, and for the most part people are far more worried about everyday life than who’s in charge – sound familiar? – and as a rule people are decent, honest and hardworking. Jerks exist in about the same proportion wherever you go.

Nobody talks about the government, at least not to me. My family talked with some Chinese on their tour who said most older people are just happy for stability – live through a few revolutions and anyone who keeps the peace is A-OK. The younger generation, I surmise, knows opportunity when they see it, and they’re more than happy with a system that gives them access to everything they need, the creature comforts they want, and constant opportunity for advancement. And who can blame them? How many of us in America really look any deeper than that on a day to day basis?

On the other hand, yes, I could tell it was a different system. We complain about our media here in the U.S., but when you come from America and read Chinese official news, you can tell the difference. Good news is everywhere. Bad news is couched in the assurances that it isn’t THAT bad. Honest analysis is very hard to come by.

And the scary thing is, no matter how cynical you are, it’s easy to not notice what isn’t called to your attention. Just a lesson for y’all. A lot of ugly stuff comes with a fairly free press, but the alternative has its own issues.

I had to be on file with the local police. When I casually made conversation like ‘Have you been to [name of place outside China]?’ to local Chinese, there would be an awkward silence, then ‘Well, it’s not easy to leave.’ Even though the Chinese government isn’t omniscient, certain topics – Tiananmen, Taiwan and Tibet, in particular – only came up furtively and in places like moving cabs, and only with other expats. Little things like that say a lot.

In fact, I’m pretty sure this blog was read by officials (censors, maybe?) in Beijing – I watched the stats, and despite being blocked in China, I would get a couple people who would consistently visit from Beijing every few days. Must have been government to be outside the Great Firewall.

But this is not meant to be a critique. It’s a different system and certainly was the only way to get China where it is today as quickly as it’s grown. Will there be repercussions? Probably, but I’m not going to place ANY bets on what they will be.

Probably the number one thing people ask about is the food, and despite the fact that I enjoyed 90% of what I had, they only want to hear about the other 10% - the chicken feet, the cow stomach, the century eggs. Human nature, I suppose.

In the final analysis, I guess I can only speak for myself, and I can say I loved it and I hope to back someday. So take that for what it’s worth.

Thanks for reading along! It’s been fun! In a few days, I’ll probably reverse this blog so it reads from beginning to end. If you enjoyed this, check back every now and again – if I start a new blog abut my continuing adventures, I’ll link to it from the top of this one.

Until then: Zai Chien!