The Land of Stuff

The Land of Stuff

Once again, John’s company called him back to the States. Another urgent project deadline was approaching, but John was stranded in China because he had lost his passport, which also contained his precious Chinese visa. Yeah, that incident happened weeks ago, but I’ve kept it out of the blog. No need to freak people (i.e. parents) out, right? So John had to reapply for his passport through the US Consulate in Shanghai. Took about 10 business days to get it back. The process wasn’t too bad– the main crisis regarded his Chinese visa. Because neither of us is sponsored by a company in Shanghai, technically, we can only obtain a tourist visa. Last February, we went to Hong Kong to obtain 1-year, multi-entry business visas. That really hooked us up, but apparently, once you lose your visa, the Chinese government will only issue you a 30-day max tourist visa: you have to get out of the country and reapply for your visa. A huge tedious pain in the ass. To top that off, US-China relations are in the dumps these days. The Chinese are angered that the US government has required all Chinese applicants of the US visa to get fingerprinted. In retaliation, China is tightening its issuance of visas to US citizens. Damn Bush! He’s single-handedly ruining the reputation of Americans overseas.

In a way, it was good John lost his visa. We had forgotten the toture of getting things done through the Chinese government. We had forgotten about the archaic, disjointed “computer” systems; we had forgotten about the long lines, the running back and forth to show documentation to various departments. It was a real joy going through the process again. We relearned the emotion of anger.

I guess things worked out somewhat. John had to get out of the country, and fortunately, this timed well with work. Also, several of my students cancelled class in June, so I too, was able to get away. For me, this is the first time back in the US in six months. My first impressions? Big. Everything is huge– the roads, the cars, the homes, the people, the food portions. The US is truly the land of excess. My father used to say to me, “You just don’t know how lucky you are.” Back then, it was a seriously broken record. I thought I DID know, but honestly, living out of the US, particularly in a developing country, you really come to understand that statement. I’d venture to say that even the poorest of Americans do not know the abject poverty that exists elsewhere. The magnitude is astounding. China has a population of over 1 billion people. The majority are rural dwellers/peasants. Poverty has driven many into the cities, to take on manufacturing jobs– jobs for which there are no worker unions, worker rights, OSHA regulations… but when these workers and their families live on the brink of starvation, such issues are really of little concern. The struggle for survival makes all those things that we Americans find so intrinsic to human rights, sound like fluff. Being in China makes me appreciate my extreme good fortune in life. I really have had the freedom to make choices about my life and how I want to live it. That doesn’t exist in as many places as I had originally thought. There are a lot of great comforts in the US: central air/heating, cleaner air, plenty of food, etc… But I miss Shanghai and want to go back already (after just a week in the US). There is something to be said about gaining this new perspective. We still live well in SH, but our life is less about accumulating stuff and keeping up with the Jones’. In that sense, we feel even more liberated than we did living in the “Home of the Free.”

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