We slept on air mattresses in our new house last Monday night. We had two air mattresses already, but we needed to purchase another one. It brought back memories of when we needed to purchase air mattresses for our first night in our new apartment in Guangzhou, four years ago.
We didn’t know where to buy an air mattress. An acquaintance told us where we could find one, but then our driver couldn’t find the store. After driving in circles for an hour, we arrived at the store, but we didn’t know how to say the word for air mattress. We had already tried to get our translator to tell the store employees
what we were looking for, but she had never seen nor heard of an air
mattress and couldn’t figure out what we were trying to say, herself.
So, there we were, on our own, in a store where the people had no clue
what we were looking for, and trying to communicate.
One can always tell the seasoned expats, because they are masters at the art of pantomime.
Somewhat at a loss myself, I look over towards David about 15 feet away, and I see that he is pantomiming. There is a group of store employees all clustered around him, trying to be helpful. As they’re watching, he pantomimes blowing up a big balloon. He had a dictionary, and he was showing them words for "bladder" and "air". (Remember, this guy’s an engineer.) In the end, we found what we needed by wandering around and looking. By that first night in our home in Guangzhou, we did have air mattresses with sheets and bedding. As a matter of fact, I think we just gave away those lime green sheets with the little lamb on them, just as we were leaving Guangzhou.
Similarly, in our first night in our new home back in our home town, we also had air mattresses with sheets and bedding, but it was so much simpler to find it here! We knew which store to go to, we knew how to get to that store, and we knew how to say the word for "air mattress". I’d say, that no matter what challenges we’ve encountered returning, it has been nothing compared to the challenges of moving to a foreign land where we didn’t know the language! At times, as this story with the translator shows, the cultural barriers were so immense that we didn’t even have any common vocabulary. Our translator had never heard of an air mattress, but even if she had she’d never consider sleeping on one. One time she said to me (when I was asking where to find a softer mattress than the very hard one supplied by our landlord), "You Americans want everything too soft. It’s not good for you!" Because Chinese people think that hard is better, and most Chinese mattresses consist of a thin pad laid over top of a firm board.
Well, what the mattress story goes to show is that, among the things we’ve learned in life from living abroad, one of the things is how to be flexible, patient, and to roll with the punches.
The other night, we ran across some women whose car was stranded beside the road, and they were waiting for their roadside assistance to come and pick them up. We waited with them while the driver arrived, but they were angry that he was taking so long. He had gotten off at the wrong exit, resulting in a slight delay. Rather than being grateful that they had roadside assistance, the women were griping and complaining and being angry. I don’t know if this reaction was typical of all Americans, but I don’t believe a Chinese person would have reacted in the same way. In China, you simply accept things the way they are. If you are told the train is delayed, that’s simply the end of the story. There’s no sense getting mad about it. You may or may not be told why the train is delayed, and if you are a foreigner who doesn’t understand the language, you certainly won’t know. You’ll just be told to wait, and wait is what you do.
I guess it’s because I’ve become accustomed to a higher level of challenge in my daily life, or maybe living in a culture where things are just taken more for granted, I find myself able to manage any challenge here more easily. If we hadn’t found air mattresses, we would have made a pallet on the floor. We’ve learned to be more patient, to take things more in stride, to be less demanding and more forgiving (mostly anyway) both of ourselves and others. My impression of the week, seeing Americans in various places and overhearing numerous conversations, is that they are so driven, so demanding, and so prone to being angry about one thing or another.
It makes me reevaluate myself, because being angry and frustrated all the time is not a very nice way to live. Seeing this trait in Americans (and of course, being American I guess I share this trait), makes me wonder if I could be a bit more flexible and forgiving of others, myself. I’ve been making more of an effort to be kinder, both to myself and to others.
My word for the day is, "CHILL!" Yep, the house is now full of boxes. Our stuff from storage was delivered, we’re now sleeping in our own beds (wow, so nice after four years!) and there is so much left to do. Boxes and boxes to unpack and sort. Our shipment from China is now in U.S. Customs, so it will arrive here sometime in the next few weeks, and I hope to have the things from storage sorted before the China shipment arrives. Doubtful! But somehow I have faith that we’ll get through it and that things will be okay after all. And hey, that sky is still blue, blue, blue. It’s hot as the dickens, but I’m still really enjoying that blue sky! Coming home hasn’t been nearly as challenging, physically or culturally, as moving away was.
Now, for that big glass of lemon iced tea. Chill. Life is good!