28 June 2008
I need to create a new category called "repatriation"! I feel a bit like the guy landing with a parachute and we need to learn how to manage the landing so that feet touch the ground running without skidding along on our knees a bit.
I knew there would be adjustment challenges, but I didn’t know exactly what they would be. Basically, there’s always a tiny bit of culture shock no matter which way one flies across the pond. But add this in to the fact that we’re in a hotel and functioning without some basic infrastructure, and then add in that we are making big decisions on a short time frame, and therein lies the nature of my feeling like I’m trying to land with feet on the ground running rather than just bump or be dragged along by the parachute.
The two biggies, of course, are that we need housing and transportation. At the moment we’re in a long stay hotel and have a rental car, both of which are quite expensive. So, we need to make other arrangements as quickly as possible. David’s personnel manager had arranged for us to move into a short term, furnished apartment on Tuesday, but here’s where the culture shock part came in. The very first thing I noticed about that place was that it depends 100% on automobile transportation for almost every aspect of daily living. It’s not close to anything that one can walk to, except that it’s next to an elementary school. But even the walk to the school is across a weedy, vacant patch of land. To get to a food store or really to anything at all, one would have to get in a car and drive. Even if things were within walking distance, there is no sidewalk or other way to get to it without walking along the grass in the roadway. They had a children’s playground, but to get to the playground the children would have to walk through a parking lot, behind the parked cars. And of course I could never let my child go outside there, anyway, for fear of kidnappers. I took one look at it, and it just was so out of sorts with what I
wanted long term that I just asked for some time to find something
else. Looking back on it, this wasn’t really rational. It was just for two months. But I didn’t want to live there, so they agreed to let us find something else.
So we got in the the car and drove around, looking for housing. It’s all more expensive than I had realized. And I don’t have a cell phone to use to call when I see place for rent. So, I figure, I need a cell phone first thing. But the choices are overwhelming even in cell phones. Here’s another culture shock thing. In China, it’s so simple. Here, there are all these different companies, and they all want a two year contract, so it’s a relatively big decision which carrier and which phone to go with. I also really resent it that they lock my phone down. In almost every country in the world besides the USA, you buy whatever phone you want, and you buy a SIM card separately and put your own SIM card into your own phone. If you want to change numbers, you just change SIM cards. We’ve had our China SIM cards four years now, they’ve outlasted several phones, but whenever we travel we just buy a SIM card for the country we’re in and wa-la, we have phone service in that country. But here, no. The companies have somehow beguiled the American market into accepting less than full ownership and control over their own, very expensive, and low quality cell phone service. Well, I recognize that at some point I’ll have to break down and do homage to one American carrier or another, but in the meantime I’m not ready to make a decision about that, and I do need cell phone service . . .
And there is such a thing as prepaid service, so I decide to just go get a prepaid phone from Wal Mart.
So I go inside Wal Mart, and even among the prepaid phones there are about six choices to choose among. It was overwhelming, so I left the store without a phone. Of course, later when I couldn’t make a phone call, I was kicking myself for not buying a phone. So I asked Clarissa to get online and research cell phones. On Friday, we got ourselves collected enough to go purchase a SIM card and prepaid service — $50 per month for 400 minutes, but no long term contract. A "Go Phone" from AT&T. So now I can make a phone call. They gave me a "free" phone with the SIM card. It’s such a horrible little thing that my four year old Nokia runs circles around it.
In the meantime, I realize we’re supposed to turn in our rental car on Sunday night (today), so while Clarissa researches cell phones, I research cars. We’ve been out of the USA so long that I’m not even aware of what
models there are. Not quite sure what our needs will be this fall, and
trying to anticipate what kinds of needs we’ll have for transportation.
I know we need at least two cars; we have four people in our family who are all needing to get to different places; and in the USA things are set up so that one really needs a car to get anywhere. I have seen just a few city buses this week. They are a rare sight and look terribly inconvenient, dropping people off on the corners of the busiest roads, where there are no sidewalks or places to walk. They don’t seem to go anywhere that I would need to be in my daily life. Designed rather, it seems to me in my cynical thoughts, only to provide the most basic service to bring housekeepers from poor neighborhoods to some location from which they could walk to a rich employer’s home. The run down appearance of the buses, sparse service, and poor dropoff locations seem to send the message (in my cynical mind): "you people who use the bus are poor, we don’t really care about you, so we’re going to give you really lousy service." Correct me if I’m wrong. But I don’t see anyone clamoring to use the bus who has any other choice.
So, I get online and ask Sarah (my family car guru) to help research cars.
In the meantime, there’s still no house. The rental houses look too small and / or too run down. They have yards that need to be maintained, and the yards all look as if they haven’t been maintained. The houses in the downtown neighborhoods I had fantasized about are either too small (I wonder if even one piece of our furniture would fit in one room), or they are in a school district where I couldn’t send my child to school. For the sad fact is that schools in the "Deep South" are deeply divided by race. Munchkin is my third child, and we’ve many years of experience in public schools. As much as is made of "racism" by Whites against Blacks, and as deplorable as that is, our experience has been the reverse. My children (and I) have often been the subject of Black against White racism. I’m not going to put Munchkin in that situation, so our choice is limited to just a few school districts. I had a fantasy of living close to downtown, in a location where I could get everywhere by bicycle. But the closer we got to downtown, the more the racial profile of the schools shifted to where Munchkin would be in a minority and therefore the object of racially motivated hatred. Rule out those neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods where the racial balance was more even, the houses got smaller and smaller, to where I doubted that our furniture would fit in the rooms. So, we went back toward suburbia a little ways.
We didn’t quite succumb to the worst of the white flight impulse and the schools and neighborhoods that are ten miles out from the city. I view development fueled by "white flight" as being like ringworm. And it affects most cities in the USA, not just cities in the Deep South. (For instance, look at the growth patterns of Detroit with the nice "upscale" contrast of Ann Arbor; or look at Los Angeles and then San Bernardino.) Does anyone know what ringworm is? It’s a fungal infection of the skin. It starts as a spot on the skin and then spreads in a larger and larger circle, creating the appearance of a ring. And it gets larger and larger. That’s how I view suburban sprawl. Fueled by cheap gasoline and motivations to get away from "undesirable" others, everyone wants to build a larger house, a newer house, to be in a less diverse school, so the new development spreads outward from the city in a ringworm-like pattern. As the new development spreads, it leaves behind blighted areas — the areas that were hot new developments ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. Fortunately, not everyone thinks this way and abandons their houses. We found a nice rental house in an area that was in the suburbs maybe in the 1960’s but which is now securely somewhat of a "midtown" location. I can still bicycle to everything, we just won’t be quite in the heart of the city.
So, I found a house. Our furniture will fit in it. Munchkin can go to the public school with no worries. There’s plenty of diversity, but she won’t be the only child with light skin. Now to narrow down the field in potential automobiles … a blog entry for another day.