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Home Sweet Home: China in Minnesota

Posted by on October 27, 2012

All of you who’ve read my posts are awesome. Thank you for following along. While I’m sad to see this journey end, I’m excited with anticipation because this was just my first try. I’ll be writing many more travel-inspired pieces as I explore new parts of the world. (Next on my radar is East Africa.) Also, this blog was just a rough draft. A more complete, polished effort is being tailored presently: a book (and a flashy eBook) of all the pictures, footage, lessons, insights, and emotions China provided. Expect it to be available this winter!

Since you won’t be hearing from me any longer on this blog, allow me to keep you in the loop of my travels and book release. Just leave a comment below or follow me on one of my social media or simply visit my blog, New Plateaus, to stay up to date and able to read all my non-travel articles–many of which are being featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and MPR.org!  :)

Let us now proceed with this final chapter: my arrival back and experiences being re-introduced to Minnesota. (And how China was back home waiting for me.)

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 wonderful lasting impression; it 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 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 too crazy expensive. Near our gate, I talked to a 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 care-free spirit.

Soon I left Shanghai (and China–on the day my visa expired) en route to Chicago. This American flight differed from the ones I was used to in Asia. Food was worse and flight attendants grumpier. Finally, 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. We greeting one another and drove out to his house an hour west in Buffalo, MN:

map

It struck me how everything looked the same as I remember 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.

It wasn’t just the environment that clashed, but the lifestyle. A neighborhood of three-story homes is a rare site in China where almost everyone I met lived in an apartment complex. 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 around in the days to come, I’d make my way into the heart of Buffalo. Seeing the foundations of a community in most places in the world is challenging because you 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 housing small businesses such as bakeries, bookstores, and hardware shops.  This “3-D” view of a town (the history recognized) is quite doable and refreshing.

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

‘Your move, Ted.’ Not too much of a clash here, actually. Brought me back to my Zhuhai neighborhood where old folks would play cards ot their own board games.

After a couple weeks, I headed up to my hometown, Blackduck, to visit family. 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

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

These are the headwaters coming out of Lake Itasca.

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:

After a year of black hair everywhere, these kids were decidedly Minnesotan.

We started driving home through park, 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 friend and son who studies in London:

Son took the picture with the two Chinese women, my mother, and myself.

They were surprised to find an American in rural Minnesota who knew some Chinese. I was surprised to find Chinese people in a place about as far from China as I thought I could get! I told them about my year in Zhuhai and we shared a nice interaction.

I wanted to keep the theme going, so that night I sought out  a taste of the local American-Chinese food:

I entered and greeted the host:

host/owner, I believe

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:

None of the employees knew English, except these two:

While I ate, the fella and I spoke. He’s been in America for quite sometime—originally in New York City. He came to Bemidji several years ago to open his restaurant. He doesn’t like the cold, originally being from SE China (as were the employees), but as happens in life in any country, his children and wife keep him grounded. (I had met Americans settled down with family in China, as well.)

This day was a strange and pleasant bizarro experience of the few Chinese in rural Minnesota.

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 back, I’m excited to say “Ni hao” when I can. :)  It’s a fitting gesture, representing the lasting impact a trip abroad can have on someone, displaying the eagerness with which I want to share my experiences, and a continuing to live a bigger life open to those who I wouldn’t have interacted with prior.

Unfortunately, with this newfound openness, it’s also time to close the story that is this blog. I’ll say “Zai jian” or 再见 or good bye. It was a blast sharing my journey with you; I hope you got something from it as well.

 

-Brandon

But don’t think for a second this means an end to our interactivity. We just need to change venues. Comment below and I’ll contact you when I start a new travel and when my book is released!  Follow one of my social networks or come visit my main blog, New Plateaus to be notified of goings-on but also to catch a drift of all my latest writings.

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