Many, many moons ago, I wrote about my impending China Day last fall (read about it here). Around the same time, the possibility of me returning to the US to attend a cousin’s wedding presented itself. I had a home-leave plane ticket that I didn’t use this summer, a national Chinese holiday was coming up (no school for the girls and Jamie was off of work), and by having a crazy double-cousin thing (my mom’s brother married my dad’s sister), which meant I would see family from both sides at my cousin’s wedding, it was too perfect to miss.
I floated the idea past Jamie about two weeks before the wedding, he gave me the go-ahead on a Wednesday, we booked my ticket on a Friday and I flew out the following Wednesday. After 10 months, I was going to Illinois (alone)!!
I texted Jamie as I was waiting to board my flight in Shanghai... “I know I’m in the right place, I’m surrounded by middle-aged business men”. It was very crazy going from being surrounded by Chinese conversations, to waiting to board a plane and suddenly being able to understand almost every conversation around me.
I was looking forward to sleeping on the plane and maybe catching a movie. The only problem was, I really wasn’t familiar with any of the movies playing...first clue that I was a little out-of-the loop! Thankfully, I do try to do “extensive” research on American culture through my frequent reading of People magazine (hey, a girl has to have a few vices!) and I had at least heard of Rock of Ages. So, as we sat on the tarmac for 1-1/2 hours, I was able to watch my first movie. Half-way through the flight, the off-duty pilot sitting in my row by the window seat got up to move to the cockpit, so I had three seats to myself (I know, I could hardly believe it myself!) I curled up and slept like a baby.
The landing was smooth and I felt pretty refreshed when I got off the plane. I was looking forward to “Welcome home” from the immigration officer (like we had heard at Christmas-time). Instead, in a very straight face, he asked me why I was in China, “because I live there,” why are you there, “because my husband works there”....and then a very looooong pause as he is processing my paperwork. I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and bluttered out, “And I just shop”. He never cracked a smile, but I did see the left-side of his mouth make an upward twitch! He let me through, thankfully.
The plan was for me to rent a car at O’Hare airport and make my way to Joliet to spend the night in a hotel. Again, controlling my tongue was a problem because I really, really wanted to announce to everyone at the Enterprise that “I haven’t driven a car in 10 months,” but I was afraid that they would take my car keys back! The second time I felt out-of-the loop was when I was trying to start the car...I had only been gone 10 months, not 10 years and somehow my car had no keys, just a key fab. Had things changed that much?! An Enterprise lady in the parking lot walked by and asked if I was okay. I admit to being too proud to admit that I had no idea how to start my rental car. Eventually, I got it all figured out and made my way to the exit.
|My friend Julie's cutie-pie girls. I got|
to go and have lunch at the local
elementary school with them.
I don’t know if I can adequately explain the sensory overload I felt driving in Chicago. I went from a country where it is easy to block out the conversations I don’t understand, the billboards I can’t read, and the songs I don’t know the words to and then, BAM!, right into Chicago rush-hour traffic. The lights! The noises!! The WORDS!!! It was almost too much, but I reigned myself in and made it to Joliet. I was also overwhelmed with the feeling of driving a car. It’s so big and has so much power behind it (I don’t remember having these same feelings when I was 15!).
As I was checking in to the hotel I asked the clerk about dining options. I could see a McDonald’s down the street, but since that was the last meal I had in China, I wanted to explore my other options. The woman was filling me in, but I decided to cut to the chase, “Do you have an Arby’s in town?”
She had good news for me, they did! On the way to Arby’s I spotted a Wal-Mart and decided I should jump into American culture with both feet, or maybe I should say with my sweatpants laden legs. What’s up with all the sweat pants and pajama bottoms in America?
As I was wandering around Wal-Mart (is there any other way to shop there?), I received a surprise call from my friend Cathy who had recently re-patriated (meaning, she moved back) to the US. I enjoyed chatting with her and I grabbed things for Halloween to take back with me to China. Just because it is made in China doesn’t mean that it is easy to find here! And, I don’t ever want to hear about how narrow the aisles are or how busy the store is...please read my post at the Wuxi flea market about my experiences!
I made it out of Wal-Mart (and including the next day, I shopped at three different Wal-Marts within a 12 hour period) and successfully went through the Arby’s drive-through. My relaxing evening included munching on a roast beef sandwich and watching a ground-breaking must-see show called, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo With that, I had to end my evening!
Another culinary must-have was a good doughnut...China just cannot do that right (or at least I haven’t found it yet). So the next morning I crossed that to-do off my list, cranked up the podcasts and headed to Washington. The first place I drove by was our house (which is being rented and looked great!) and then I headed up to the Washington square to buy a few hair bows and headbands for Christmas presents. The store that I usually frequent was no longer there (how dare things change while I’m gone!) and walked a few stores down instead. As I was chatting with the woman, China came up in conversation and she said she knew a family that just moved to China. Hmmm, I started asking a few questions and yes, it’s a family that just moved into our building!
|My beautiful niece Ali who drove|
2 hours to spend the afternoon with me
while I drove around doing errands.
|My friend Cathy who has now repatriated to the US. |
She is the first person I talked to about moving to China
and her positive attitude made me so excited about living
in Suzhou. I can't wait to see her back in Peoria.
I moved on to the local coffee house and picked up some of Jamie’s favorite coffee and chatted with the owner. I’m so glad that she was there and we could catch up! Then I was off to East Peoria to meet a friend for lunch. Since I was going to arrive a little early, my friend Cara (yes, there are a lot of C/Karas in my life) suggested I visit a shop down the way from Panera. Little did we know we would have our reunion “moment” in the shop. I cannot imagine what the women there were thinking as they watched us cry and hug, but they were so gracious and suggested we sit down on their couch so we could extend our “moment.”
|It's hard to see, but the leaves were just starting|
to turn and the drive crossing the river was beautiful.
I had so many other highlights of my trip: surprising the women at our church ladies night. It was a Pinterest-inspired night, how could I not go? Spending a day shopping with another friend and helping her overcome her fear of The Buckle! Seeing my grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins and their wives over the weekend and even making it out to my grandparents’ farm. Jamie’s cousin Jennifer got up well before 6 am so she could drive to Springfield to have breakfast with me before the wedding and I always enjoy our time together (we’re both future adoptive mamas and we have a lot to talk about). I had dinner with friends at Biaggi’s and the night went too quickly, hanging out at my friend Julie’s house just like we always did...sitting on the floor with kids running around, lunch at the elementary school to see Julie’s oldest daughter, an afternoon with Jamie’s niece finishing up last-minute shopping, meeting up with “China Grandma” (Cathy, my friend from China now back in Illinois) at a McDonald’s and a few nights crashing at my friend Shanna’s house. It was so short, but so perfect. My friends and I kept commenting on how “normal” everything felt and to me that is the biggest compliment and blessing. Our friendship can span half the globe and when we get back together pick up right where we left off. I also experienced overwhelming gratitude to my friends’ husbands who willingly watched children, took off work and made other heroic efforts to give their wives and me time together.
|Some hugs from my friend Shanna|
|A little love from my friend Julie|
I ended the trip at the Peoria airport at 4 am to catch my flight back to Chicago and then to Shanghai. But...I was fulfilling my promise to my girls to bring back some grandparents! More on that trip in the future.