Stream of Consciousness
Comments 3

Upon returning home from abroad…

G. K. Chesterton once wrote (actually he wrote it, in various forms, many times) that the only way to discover one’s home was to leave it; that once he had become habituated to the point of no longer being able to actually see it the only cure was to go away on an extended vacation (or holiday, as the Europeans like to refer to it), for the express purpose not of seeing new places but of rediscovering an old one. It was only after having immersed himself in a different environment that he was able to see his home with fresh vision, as it were… He even based a substantial portion of the book Manalive upon this theme… It is an intriguing notion, but one that many Americans will have trouble relating to. Chesterton’s holidays (as a journalist, he was able to work while on ‘holiday’, posting his columns from as near as a village outside of London or as far as Bruges or Germany) consisted of from one to several months at a time traveling across Europe, each country of which can be different enough from the previous one as to be almost like a different country altogether… As Steve Martin once said, it’s like they have a different word for everything… Americans, on the other hand, if they get a vacation at all, might get two weeks. That simply isn’t enough time away from the habitual to allow one’s self to rediscover the familiar. And the vacations are usually limited to distant family, other parts of America or those foreign ports close enough to make it worth while going in the time allocated, as long as you’re going at a “full-tilt-boogey by golly if I’m going to come all this way I’m dad-gum gonna see everything”, such that one often feels the need to return to work in order to get some rest…

Having just returned from two-plus years in Macau, China, I find myself in the rather enviable position of seeing every dear and familiar thing with an almost startling newness, as if seeing things for the very first time. Imagine, if you can, how so very pronounced this experience would be if I were not completely gobsmacked by a pernicious case of jet lag, such that I know where I am, but am completely at a loss as to when I am… I have once again found home, who had thought it was lost…

Lest you think me just plain silly, or under the influence of some narcotic (which I vehemently deny) or the deprivations induced by the lack of sleep (okay, I’ll give you that one), I wish to present a short list, by no means inclusive, of the things my addled, fog-shrouded brain have allowed me to see in the few days since I arrived back home…

DINER’S – Diner’s… What a marvelous creation, what a mind-bogglingly brilliant example of the human spirit and what it can achieve when it is hungry… A diner, for those of you who reside in the stone age, or China, is like a restaurant, only more so… Now, China has restaurants… Lot’s of them, and some of them are really quite good… I suppose… I never really found one of those type, but in a country of close to two billion people, there must be, oh, I don’t know… let’s say at least three and a half good restaurants… And in a Chinese restaurant you can get… Well… You know… Food indigenous to China… To the point that I don’t think I shall want food indigenous to China until at least… oh, never… But in a diner… Ah, that’s where you can find almost anything you might wish… True, the quality of the various offerings can and does vary, but it’s usually within a fairly well defined range. Otherwise, you go out of business, on the low end, or you get your own show on the Food Network (or at least Bravo), on the high end… The obvious American fare is on ample display, as well as Italian, Greek, some of what passes for Mexican but is really a regionalized American version of food found south of the border, Cajun and I’ve even seen a smattering of Asian cuisine at some dinners… If you go down to the lower east side of Manhattan, you can find the eastern European version of a diner, with all of it’s hearty and tasty varieties of food native to that part of the world, along with the usual American fare. And in line with my original premise, if one want’s to re-experience what a great meal breakfast can actually be (the American version, not the continental style, where you can get anything you want as long as I don’t have to cook it. Here, have a cold sandwich… We call it lunch), then eat breakfast at any time other than when you get up in the morning. And you can do that at a diner… Try doing that at a restaurant in Macau… You’re lucky if they serve breakfast (such as it is) at all, much less right up to the time when they tell you it’s no longer available… My personal favorite time to eat breakfast is around one or two AM, at the end of the day, but that may just be perversity on my part. What is not a perversity on my part is the joy at rediscovering a sausage to actually be a sausage, not a hot dog moonlighting as such and fooling no one, except for close to two billion people… Cakes, and pies, and puddings (the American version, not the English version, please and thank you…) and there’s always room for Jello, and COFFEE…

COFFEE –  Oh my stars and garters COFFEE, coffee that’s made from water you can drink… Not water that one person from Canukistan described as ‘pond-y’, if I knew what she meant (I did)… That’s if you can drink it at all, without boiling it, putting that through a strainer, a Brita water filter, adding purifying pills and then boiling again, leaving it to bake in the sun (SUN…? What sun…?), boiling it again, re-filtering, irradiating it with the cosmic remnants of a distant dying dwarf star, boiling once more and then throwing it away and going to get some bottled water that someone filled from a tap in an alley somewhere, which means that you have to boil it, filter it, etc., etc., etc., ad naseum… Coffee, that most excellent and noble of beverages, that gives one the fortitude to conquer worlds, envision bold new advances in civilization and stay up all night studying for a Psych 101 exam… Or write a blog entry… Coffee… I will sing of thine raptures to the heavens (and I’m sure I’ll be singing to the choir), and it will be through the good graces of this bounteous beverage that said choir will be able to stomach listening to my singing… And refills… FREE refills… Who has ever heard of such largesse, such all encompassing generosity…? It’s as if Hestia herself, in all her virgin glory has assumed the guise of a common (common…?) ordinary (ordinary…? HAH!!!) waitress or waiter, welcoming one and all to the hearth with the celebratory cup of emperors…  Now that I think about it, that would explain the to-go cups… Those of you in New York City know what I’m talking about… But I digress… Or… Do I…?

SALT – Having spent the last two-plus years in China, plus having traveled around SE Asia, I find the concept of a condiment dispenser that, when tilted towards one’s plate and shaken moderately, actually provides salt (without first having to perform major surgery to the top with a toothpick, paper clip, ball point pen or some other small but hardened pointed singular implement obviously designed for almost anything but what you are currently using it for, or the alternative method of removing the top and wiping both inside and out ((if you can find anything to wipe it with other than the roll of toilet paper that passes for a napkin dispenser in that part of the world (((does anybody else have a problem with that…?))))) [I’m confused… Should there be a few more parentheses in there…?] and then performing major surgery because the wiping method hasn’t a frozen rain drop’s chance in the nether regions of actually returning said dispenser to a level of functionality that can be remotely called anything approaching satisfactory, OR the method of slamming said dispenser on the table top in the forlorn and futile hopes of dislodging the offending congealed particles from their hard-won fortress of solitude before you either a) break said dispenser, b) break said table top, c) annoy the proprietors of the establishment to the point where they rather huffily bring you a new dispenser and rudely remove the old one from your hand in mid-swing ((which, by the way, will be in a state of uselessness equal with or surpassing the dispenser you were working on, to the point that you now have to begin the entire process anew, which is a type of newness completely different from the type I started this blog entry talking about)), or d) annoy so many people at the various other tables, rooms, restaurants, municipalities, counties, provinces and/or localized astronomical neighborhood that an entire country decides to take over the worlds’ economy ((beggaring every other country in the process)) in retaliation for a type of rudeness they hadn’t thought of before you got there but if they had it would have been elevated to an art-form that would leave you shaking your head in abject admiration) to be both a completely new and delightful experience and a highly localized but pointed example of what can be achieved in a country where the air conditioning* actually works…

*(See below… Or above… What do I care…?)

 None of the above sentences (nay, paragraphs, for they are at once both a sentence and a paragraph; in these troubled economic times, one must economize where one can), nor any other sentences/paragraphs either above, below or currently being read, may be reproduced or re-transmitted in any form without the express written permission of Major League Baseball, nor can they in any way be attributed to the fuzziness brought to you by Continental Airlines, nor should they be laid at the feet of any of my well meaning but providentially powerless past English teachers… It is not Mrs. Stapleton’s fault… Nor can any editorial oversight be laid at the feet of the faculty advisor of my college newspaper, of which I had the honor of being the editor for several years. Miss Hunt would probably take the above mentioned gobsmacking and smack my gob for much, if not all of this post… Punctuation errors I blame on the weather… Or the Red Sox… Take your pick…

* That’s if there actually is any air conditioning in a country where the average daily temperature hovers somewhere near that of fresh lava and the relative humidity isn’t actually related to anyone but is somewhere around seventy-eleven squillion percent… If there isn’t… well… you’re on your own… If there is… well, there actually isn’t, is there…? You see, in China it seems that the air conditioning will either cool the air (cool… HAH!!!) or de-humidify the air, but it can’t do both at the same time… Now, I have friends who told me that the air conditioners in their apartments (or flats, as those perky Europeans like to call them, although some of them were actually not at all flat but quite tall so the word flat doesn’t really apply here, does it…? Flats would be apartments for earthworms…) did both operations at the same time, but they lie… I had to have air conditioners and de-humidifiers running at the same time in my apartment, because the air conditioners couldn’t do both. If they could, I wouldn’t have been able to solve China’s drought problem simply by turning over the water from my de-humidifiers each and every day… Which I did… Turn over the water… And did I get any credit for solving the drought problem…? Nooooooo… But, I never had to pay for water (See above) the entire time I was there… Not one cent… And I got as much free Chinese food (See above) as I wanted… Electricity…? That’s a whole different story… And don’t even get me started on the…

BATHROOMS/TOILETS/HOLES IN THE FLOOR(GROUND/FIELD/INEFFABLE ETHER)/WHATEVER IT IS YOU WISH TO CALL THEM

(See belo…. Oh, never mind…)

P.S. I think I’ve sent the grammar function of my spell checker right off the deep end…

I blame the Red Sox…

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3 Comments

  1. I don’t know whether you’ll consider this a legitimate comment or not. I just wanted to say that I’m happy to see that the first three things you noticed about the United States are all food-related. In my family it was always an assumption that Americans can’t do food and that you have to go to Europe to get real food. As an adult, I’ve concluded that while the Europeans may do impressive-looking food, Americans have perfected the art of giving the tastebuds what they want, in quantity, at decent prices.

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    • Actually, food wasn’t the first thing I noticed… Mostly it was the light, and how much more light there is here, even on a cloudy day, than there is in Macau.
      The overwhelming humidity of SE Asia, coupled with the pollution rolling in from the mainland, combine to reduce the amount of light substantially.
      Yet, because of all the particulate matter in the air, which what light there is bounces off of, the light they have is VERY contrasty…
      Makes photography rather difficult…
      I had wanted to write something along the lines of a Chestertonian bit about the glory of the light, but couldn’t manage it, what with the lack of sleep and all…
      I hope to get to that as the fog recedes from the brain.
      But I agree as to the quality of American food. I have missed it terribly…

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  2. Curious as to how the comment function will notify me when there actually is a legitimate comment. Not that I would comment on such mindless drivel…

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