Category Archives: Repatriation

I’m Famous!

2 November 2009

Actually, another busy lawyer just wrote a very kind write up in the blog of the S.C. Women Lawyers Association, about my brand new, solo mediation practice. 

Repatriation is the end of a journey.  Or is it the beginning?  When I went to China, I was a particular person with thoughts, hopes, and dreams.  China changed me.  Living overseas, in a different culture, does that to people!  I imagine that the further we are, culturally, from our home culture, the more changed we become.  When we return, however, we find that we have changed but our native culture has not.  We must learn a new way of fitting into it. 

When I returned from China, I knew intellectually that this would be the case, but living through something is different from knowing about it.  I’m glad I was aware ahead of time that it might be a challenging adjustment! 

I decided to take my time and be very "intentional" about my next move in life.  I wanted to do something that was fully in keeping with my values and goals.  To make a long story short, I decided to devote my time and energies to peacemaking.  (Unfortunately, my new blog devoted to peacemaking   is not accessible to my friends in China (because blogger web site is blocked), but I usually cross post, so you won’t miss too much!)  As a practical manifestation of work as a peacemaker, I decided to work as a mediator in my professional life. 

Click HERE for the article about my new mediation practice, written by Eve Ross of McNair Law Firm, and contained in the blog of the S.C. Women Lawyers Association:

It’s very interesting to begin a solo practice.  I’m drawing on experience that I never realized would ever be beneficial in my future life.  For example, when I graduated from college I worked at a newspaper for two years before I went to law school.  Long story, but I worked in ad layout and design, and guess what:  Businesses need logos and marketing materials, so thirty years later here I am looking at fonts and layouts!  As a young lawyer I was always the "computer guru" in the office, the first lawyer to type their own work (advised not to on the basis that it might cause me to be viewed as a secretary), the first lawyer in the office to do research on the web or to create a web page for my office.  Then, blogging for three years while I lived in China taught me a lot (though my old blog looks rather dated now).  So now, I’ve just done my own web page for my business, which I’ve named Just Mediation, LLC (on the web at! 

I enjoy being creative, even if it’s not as slick and professional as it could be.  It’s my goal to bring a degree of professionalism to my work that is very evident, a tangible difference.  Peacemaking is serious business!  Now that I’ve jumped off the high dive, here’s crossing my fingers that I’ll find the wings I know are there.   😀 


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My Other Two Blogs

25 September 2009

It has taken awhile but I’m finally getting my feet back nestled into the earth of living back in the USA.   When I went to China, the very helpful book The Expert Expatriate talked about how repatriation was harder for expats, in some ways, than moving to a new culture in the first place.  This is very surprising.  You think you’re coming "home" so that everything will be easy, but it’s not.  You have changed.  It’s one thing to know intellectually that this will be challenging, something entirely different to live through it! 

Well, when I came back I knew there would be challenges, and there would also be opportunity to start a new life.  I decided to take some time, as much as possible anyway, and to choose just one thing to focus on.  I wanted to choose the one thing I am most passionate about, to focus on that and to feel that my life and my work count for something good. 

Some months ago, perhaps a year ago, I decided that my next primary focus in life would be Peacemaking.  I’ve written a lot on this blog about peace, nonviolence, ethics.  But this blog is really about China and cross cultural things.  In June, I started a new blog devoted strictly to Peacemaking.  I named that blog "Peaceworks" for two reasons.  One, because I am working for peace.  But two, because peace does work.  Here’s a link to that blog: 



But that’s not all.  I believe that peace among nations begins with peacemaking at home.  One thing I can do, using skills I already have, is to be a peacemaker among people who are experiencing conflict.  A concrete application of that is through a new field called Alternative Dispute Resolution (or ADR).  One of the blogs you can look at to learn more about this field is 

I’ve been volunteering as a mediator for a few months, gathering experience, and now I’m opening my own mediation practice.  I named my business Just Mediation, for two reasons.  For one thing, there is the link to Justice.  Mediation is a way for people in disputes to find a fair and just way to resolve that dispute.  Secondly, I want to convey the idea that mediation is what I do.  It’s not a sideline to a law practice.  I am a peacemaker, not a litigator. 

With all that said, here is my new web sit.  Take a look!  And please, do me a favor ….  both blogs have places where you can leave comments.  Please leave me a comment and tell me what you think!   If you think I should change something, let me know that, too.  Does the page load too slow, or contain something that offends you?  I need to know these things because you are the only people who will tell me.  And also, dear readers in China, does your country or city have anything like mediation as a way of resolving disputes?  I never saw it or heard about it while I was there, but I recently ran across an article called "Mediation in China".  Unfortunately I forgot to bookmark it, but I will try to find it and post it soon.




Thank you very much for reading and following my blog!  Don’t forget to leave me a comment!  🙂  


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Boxes and Boxes

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! 

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Still Jet Lagged?

I’m still waking up at 5:30 AM.  Could it be jet lag, still, or is this early morning wakefulness instead coming from anxiety over all the stuff I need to do?  Believe it or not, I think it’s still jet lag.  Some times it takes longer than others, and this year is one of the longer ones. 

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Chinese Americans

One day this week, we were at Lowes (a store that sells hardware, building materials, and things like paint for houses which is why we were there).  Munchkin saw a guy walking by.  To my surprise, as he was walking by, she stopped him and says, "Where are you from?" 

Uhm, in the USA this is highly out of the ordinary, and he was a bit surprised.  One time many years ago, one of my other children had gone up to a man in a wheelchair and asked him why he didn’t have any legs.  I was embarrassed then, and I was slightly taken aback this time as well.  But, in both cases, the men were very kind and answered the question.  

This man, startled just a bit, replied, "What do you think — Mexican?"  Because where we live, there are a lot of Mexicans and one hears a lot of Spanish spoken. 

He looked Chinese to me, but looking at him I could see how people could mistake him for a Mexican.  He was about five feet tall, had relatively dark skin, black hair, brown eyes.  A wide face and a big smile.  So then, Munchkin replies to him in Chinese, "Wo juede ni shi Zhongguoren."  (I think you are Chinese.)  He was floored, because she was right, and he understood what she said. 

After that we had a nice (though brief) conversation.  He said he came to the USA in 1982 from Fujian Province (which is directly across the strait from Taiwan and is known for its tea production) and that he had brought all his family here.  He’s heard that China has changed a lot.  He said that when he came here, things were very hard there and he imagines they must be much better now. 

As we spoke, the language kept reverting to English, which is different from what we are used to.  Most of the time, we are used to speaking Chinese with Chinese people.  Even when we struggle with the language, the language used typically doesn’t switch to English.  In a taxi or on the street, it’s because the person doesn’t speak English.  With my Chinese friends who do in fact speak English, it’s because they understand we need to practice our Chinese and they coach us through the rough spots.  So, we are used to repeating ourselves and struggling along even when the going gets tough in Chinese.  But not so in the USA.  Here, the language switches to English much more quickly.  So, much of our conversation was in English.  We would speak Chinese, and he would reply in Chinese, at first, but if we struggled the slightest bit he would explain himself in English.  Or if we asked a question in Chinese, he would answer us in English. 

I got the impression that friend was more comfortable speaking English.  Indeed, he explained to us that he wasn’t used to speaking Chinese.  It was at about that point in the conversation when he told us he had been here since 1982 and that all of his children had been born in America and raised here.  So, it has been 26 years since he’s been immersed in a culture where everyone speaks Chinese. 

Yep, Munchkin was lucky that she didn’t offend someone.  A lot of the time, when one sees a Chinese-looking person here, that person does not in fact speak Chinese.  In such a case, they are likely to be less forgiving of a question like "Hey, where are you from?!"  Mommy will have to talk with Munchkin about that.  And about talking to strangers in general.  Folkways are different here.  In China, everyone spoke to Munchkin.  The Chinese love children and dote on them.  It is nothing for a stranger to speak to a child or for a child to speak to a stranger.  They would have been surprised or offended if she failed to reply.  Here, it’s the opposite. 

As we parted ways, walking in opposite directions, our new friend called back to Munchkin, "I was so surprised to see a beautiful little American girl speaking Chinese!  I’ll have to tell my family about that!"  He was smiling broadly. 

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The Power of Wind

The highlight of my day today was to dig an electric blower out of the filthy, dusty crawl space and use it to blow away all the dirt and spiders that had accumulated on the porch of our little cabin during our absence of 10 months. 

I started the job, sweeping with a broom;  but even after the porch had been swept twice, there still seemed to be a layer of dirt that just wasn’t brushing away. 

When I arrived at our little cabin last Thursday, the repairman who had been doing some repairs had not yet completed the work.  The house and its surroundings looked like a construction site, filled with power tools, construction materials, several inches of sawdust, paint cans, screen, and incomplete projects.  The repairman had been sleeping here, and we had two choices.  Send him home and live with the house the way it was, or have him stay and finish up the projects that had been started but which weren’t complete.  The latter choice seemed obvious.  So he stayed downstairs while we stayed upstairs. 

Three days later, when he left, there was still sawdust everywhere.  And stuff.  And the house has a lot of old stuff in it that was left by the previous owners. The sawdust had gotten into everything.  All that stuff and bric a brac.  And on top of the dust, the house had general dirt on the outside which had accumulated over ten months of absence.  And spiders.  They love this place.  Little ones in the eves, crawling down the walls.  Fortunately, my mom and sister had already sprayed and vacuumed once, but we’re in the woods and we get the forest critters:  deer, bears, raccoons, oppossoms, rabbits, snakes, and lots of creepy crawly bugs that would love to be invited indoors.  Living in a wildlife sanctuary has its advantages, and disadvantages!  We love it. 

But, so much can go wrong when one is returning after a long absence. 
Things are so chaotic and in disarray . . . and the house is dirty.  And in the business world, there are always glitches.  Minor details related to buying our car, renewing our P.O. Box, renewing services like phone and propane gas.  Wondering how long it would be before we could unpack our suitcases. 

So much to do!  

Did I remember to buy shelf paper to line the dresser drawers?  Oops, all these light bulbs seem to be burned out.  Wow, I forgot to buy more milk.  Oops, the flashlight doesn’t have a battery.  Gee, these towels look really dingy.  In fact, everything looks dingy and dirty.  Hmm.  Did this laundry on the clothes dryer sit out all year?  Does it need to be rewashed?  Wow, the vacuum cleaner wasn’t assembled properly and all the internal filters have to be replaced … and they’re only available from a store 20 miles away.  Hmm …  I didn’t plan for those few errands to take four hours.  Do I have time to get much of anything done today at all? 

Enter the POWER BLOWER.   Suddenly, armed with the POWER BLOWER, I was in control of my life again.  When I say, "move," things really MOVE.  If they don’t, all I have to do is point my power blower at them, and the wind takes care of it all for me.  Here is one thing that, finally, produces results that are tangible, visible, fast . . . !  What a nice contrast to the rest of my life that is so . . . complicated. 

I’m still living out of a suitcase, Munchkin is still sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, and my bedroom is full of sawdust, still can’t drive the car, can’t move into the house we’ve rented, can’t cook because there’s no propane yet  . . . but by golly the front porch of our little cabin has now been de-dusted, de-spidered, there are lanterns out front, and there are rocking chairs!  This evening, we ate supper by light of the lanterns in the peaceful atmosphere of our little spot here on the mountain.  Tomorrow, the humming bird feeders will be filled and put out for our little friends. 

Live is improving! 


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First Impression

Did I say my first impression upon getting off the airplane and through immigration in Detroit?  Clear Sky!  Big Sky!  We are still marveling at it. 


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Not a Meltdown

Driving in car today, on a beautiful country road, through lush hardwood trees, freshly mowed hay meadows, and rolling hills: 

Person #1:  "I wish I were back in China." 

Person #2: "Why?"

Person #1: "I don’t know.  China is just so unique.  It has a very unique culture." 

Person #2:  "America has a unique culture, too.  You just take it for granted because it’s your own culture." 

Person #1:  "Yeah, right mom.   America has a very unique culture!"

(Then hilarious laughter from both of us, because just as I said that, we were driving past a house with about sixteen broken down cars in the front yard, and then moments later — while we were still laughing —  we drove past a bar which had a gas pump outside, had a whole bunch of pickup trucks in the parking lot, and was named, "Good Ole’ Boys Bar N Grille".   "Very unique culture," indeed!)

Then, person #1 adds: "Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect!" 


In the grocery store this evening, I couldn’t find my favorite crackers.  It’s the second grocery store I’ve tried to find them, so I guess they’ve been discontinued.  In the meantime, there were so many other kinds of crackers that I didn’t know what to pick.  Many new brands.  Same with my favorite salad dressing.  It’s not there anymore.  Then I went to the bread aisle.  There were so many kinds. I couldn’t remember my favorite brand, and I didn’t know what to pick.  I couldn’t even decide among the various grain combinations.  And then to the paper towels and the toilet paper … wow, so many choices!  I think it was that confusing when I first went to China, but now I know what brands I like and so going to the grocery store in China is somewhat routine.  Not so here, anymore.  I found myself reading labels but still not really able to figure out what I needed.  I didn’t expect a simple trip to the grocery store to be so bewildering! 


As bewildering as it may be, at least we speak the language and understand some of the culture.  So far, while there is culture shock, it’s far easier than the initial move to China, when we found ourselves in far more bewildering circumstances.  It wasn’t just a matter of choosing which bread, it was a matter of finding where to buy food at all, let alone bread, and then where to find bread, and then which kind of bread, all when we didn’t even know how to say the word for "bread".  So really, there’s no comparison.  

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Landing With A Skid

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.

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The Plane Trip

June 24, 2008

Wow, it’s a long flight.  This is about the 10th time I’ve made the journey halfway around the world.  This time, we left our hotel at 6 AM, were in the air or in airports about 30 hours, and then arrived in our hotel in the USA at 2 AM about 32 hours later.  Everybody has different ways of coping with this type of travel.  I mean, some people fly first class or business class.  That makes it easier, because one can stretch out a bit more and can actually sleep.  There are also different strategies for coping with jet lag.  I’ll share what we do. 

First, be sure to pack your carry on luggage right and wear the right clothes and shoes.  For clothing, remember that it will be cold when you’re flying at 40,000 feet but there will also be times and places when it will be hot.  So, layer with some lightweight clothes underneath and a jacket or overshirt that can be put on or taken off as needed.  It’s a long time sitting in the same crowded seat and cabin, and the angle of your leg sitting in a seat and lower than the rest of your body is not great for circulation coming back up from the feet towards the heart.  Some people’s feet swell so badly that they can’t get their shoes back on after they take them off.  So, wear loosely fitting clothing, carry some loose socks, and wear loose, slip-on shoes.  Carry some slip on slippers (like they put in hotel rooms) for wearing during the plane ride, and change into the loose socks as soon as you are on the plane. 

I think I can count six different times that we went through airport security checks.  At each check, we had to remove our shoes and belts.  So, it’s best to wear slip on shoes.  As your bag may be searched, it’s also best to pack small items all in a plastic baggie so they can easily be located and also so they don’t fall out all over the place as you empty your bag for the security officer. 

As odd as it may look to bystanders, I also try to find some discrete way to exercise and elevate my feet during any long layovers.  For instance, in the Tokyo (Narita) airport, there is a great lounging area on the downstairs level.  In contrast to the main level, it’s remarkably un-crowded.  During a multi-hour layover on this trip, we were able to find some benches to lie flat on for awhile, but then I also lay on the carpet and did some leg lifts as well as some other floor exercises.  Yes, I’m sure it was a unsightly, but my body thanked me very much.  Some people take advantage of massage outlets in airports; I guess that depends on your budget and time.  (In terms of time, be sure to schedule at least a two hour layover when switching flights in an international airport or switching from international to domestic and going through immigration and customs!)

Your carry on should also include a toothbrush and washcloth so that you can freshen up in airports or in the plane.  A very small hand lotion and lip moisturizer can be nice.  The smallest sample sizes are allowed in your carry on but not anything big.  A change of underwear in case your bag gets lost. 

To reduce swelling in your legs, be sure to get up and walk around the cabin now and then.  Exercise and stretch as much as you can, even at times when you don’t feel like you need to.  It’s easy to just sit there on the plane, but your body will thank you later if you move around and stretch and exercise all your muscles from time to time.  Your tummy will also thank you later if  you keep meals light and reduce protein and fat consumption.  Just say no to alcohol, as well, and you’ll feel better in the long run.  Drink a lot of water — drink more than you think you need.  I don’t even try to understand why.  Various reasons that come to mind are dry cabin air, sitting a long time, immobility, altitude.  But a flight like that affects basic metabolism; and the more water, more exercise, and less heavy food, the better. 

The other big issue is jet lag.  What works best for my family, in every trip, seems to be to sleep as much as possible.  On every flight over the ocean, a meal is served.  We wait until they begin serving this meal (because we don’t want to get sleepy and then be waked up and not able to go back to sleep), and then we  take an over the counter, mild sleeping pill (e.g. Tylenol "Simply Sleep").  Then we try to sleep as much as possible on the flight.  (We carry our pillows on the plane, and use them, too.)  We all find that the more we sleep during the trip, the better rested we are when we arrive, and then the better we do overall.  Some people say to try to force yourself to stay awake to get on the new schedule, but we don’t try to do this.  We sleep at every opportunity, we take the approach of "be kind to your body" and follow the signals of our inner clock as it readjusts itself.  You can count on an early evening "crash" time when you find it very difficult to stay awake.  So plan on it and just nap a bit then.  Also, plan ahead for quiet activities you can do at 4 AM if you wake up then.  Expose yourself to plenty of natural light, especially early in the morning, plan on sleeping early or taking a late afternoon nap each day, plan on waking up early in the morning, and adjustment comes very fast. 

We had a good trip over.  We were all able to sleep a lot on the plane.  We had some good layover time and were able to find comfy chairs in the airports where we could elevate our feet and rest our necks by getting a bit more horizontal than the airplane seats allow.  We arrived feeling relatively well rested, have slept enough here, and believe it or not feel almost normal in terms of being on schedule here!  It’s been a good landing.  Just about the time I go home is when I’ve finally figured out how to do it! 

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