May 11, 2008

Harry London, 1922 - 2008

Today's Sunday, and I'm in Maryland. On Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM, I got a call that my grandfather had passed away. Five hours later, I was on a flight from PVG --> ORD --> IAD and now I'm home in MD, thanks to the wonders of technology and this semi-flat world we live in. He was a wonderful man, in every way imaginable, and will be sorely missed.

Being back in the US is far less strange than I'd anticipated. Perhaps it's the comforts of family and/or the familiarity of the place where I grew up and spend 18 years of my life (22 if you count my time in VA before I moved to Austin). About the weirdest thing I experienced was realizing that I could drink the tap water and use it to brush my teeth. And buckling my seatbelt when getting into a car. And driving! And seeing flowing, green, manicured lawns accompanied by two-story houses, leafy trees, and spacious streets not clogged with traffic and insane drivers. And stores where you don't have to shove past people to get to the products you want or to get in and out of an aisle. Such are the trappings of suburban life in the US.

I also think that being home is not so strange because I had literally no time to, you know, build up to the fact that I'd be leaving China. It was like, phone call, and then thirty seconds into it I knew I'd be coming home. No time to wonder what it'd be like or worry about driving or jet lag. I just booked the tickets, ate lunch, and hopped on the plane. If I'd had a long time to think about it, like the several months I'll have before I'll be back again, I think it would have been stranger. Because then I would have gone over it a kajillion times in my head.

I also think that it would have been much stranger to back to Austin first instead of MD.

I've enjoyed the chance to speak Chinese twice since I've been back. Once to one of the ladies at the hair cut place on Saturday. I don't think she understood me too well, or I misinterpreted one of her questions, but the general idea was "hey, hello, I live in Shanghai ... etc.". But the women at Hunan Manor understood me perfectly when I asked for three pairs of chopsticks, said that I lived in Shanghai, and said there are a lot of people there. I also understood her when she said she'd never been :-)

I've been here since Wednesday night and I'll be leaving on Wednesday morning, so that's about a week. My jet lag is still present but going away slowly, as evidenced by the fact that it's 10:30 PM EST and I'm still awake. And also that I woke up at 6 AM this morning instead of 1:30 or 3 AM like the previous nights.

In addition to everything else that's going on over here, I also had a chance to buy some new books and upgrade my camera like I'd planned. So that's good.

I have been voraciously looking for anything on China that I can read about. Fortuantely, I don't have to look very hard. I picked up a copy of the latest Economist while at O'Hare, specifically for its cover story on China. And each day's Washington Post and Baltimore Sun are full of stories. The New Yorker had a small bit on an authentic Chinese restaurant that serves mapo doufu, chou doufu, and mala tang. And the latest Newsweek has one that quotes a study from Jiaotong University. When I read that, I was like -- "I've been there!!" Even a Vanity Fair at my aunt's house contained an article about weather in Xinjiang.

(Jeez, I just realized that you can tell a lot about me and my family by what reading materials we have lying around ...)

Funny, right now I'm looking at a map of the world, circa 1980, on my dad's wall. I see Shanghai, but also Hangchow (Hangzhou?), Ningpo (Ningbo), Chengtu (Chengdu), Chungking (maybe Chongqing?), Tientsin (Tianjin?), and Sinkiang (Xinjiang?). And of course Peking. Without doing much research, I'm going to assume this is Wade-Giles spelling since that was the dominant form until the late 20th century.

And I can hear dad practicing his tones in the next room. Awesome :-)

I understand that I picked up some new readers of this 'ol blog and met a couple of you in person. Thanks for all your kind words, your interest in my China adventures, and for the support you showed my family during this time. We really appreciate it. I look forward to making Grampaw proud by continuing my adventures in China for as long as I get the opportunity to do so :-) Since he was instrumental in my decision to go, I'm going to assume this is one of the best ways to honor his memory ;-) Funny how that works out, eh ...


bluegiraffe said...

Thank you, Ryan. For this posting, for coming home, for everything.

R_D said...

Oh no, I'm so sorry :(

I'm glad you were able to go home though.


jactressk said...

i am sorry to hear about your grandfather, i dont think i mentioned that before. but i am glad you were home safe. i haven't heard from michael alpert yet (rachel's brother) who is also over there.

Aunt Ilene said...

Ryan, your coming back for Grandpa's funeral and the days thereafter helped our family begin to heal...Love, Aunt I.

Lisa said...

I've been back-logged on my readings and am so sorry to hear about your grandfather. I hope you are well and am glad to see that you are safe and that you didn't get involved in that earthquake!

Stay safe and keep writing.

Lisa (texansasha)