Written from New York City on my first evening back to the US after one year.
Due to my “cheap” flight arrangements, and before transiting through China, I had had some visa issues. I didn’t realize that I needed a visa, given that I only wanted to transit. When I originally went to the airport with my ticket purchased some three months earlier, I was not allowed to check in. When I tried to get a visa in one day, I wasn’t allowed to apply. But one and one half weeks later, after successfully obtaining a visa in the regular four working days, I was able to board a plane for Kunming. Based on my short visa experience, admittedly I was somewhat biased as to what I might find.
I arrived in Kunming around 10 PM. Since I now had a visa and about 24 hours I decided to venture into the City. At the airport, I went to exchange some money and was advised by the attendant, that she would have to charge me $10 and that I should try an ATM. She also recommended a hotel and told me how to take the bus, rather than a taxi. I was told by numerous people before I came to China that hardly anybody would speak English, and this made me a bit anxious, although given my four years of living overseas, I felt that I could overcome any language barriers.
Everything was incredibly organised as I paid for and found a seat on the bus, which was fully air conditioned, had a television, nothing different from anything that one might find in the States, and possibly even better. The number of people helping/directing was astounding to me.
As we left the airport I again noted the orderliness and how the highway resembled what one would find in the States. The last stop was the hotel. It was now after 12 and there were no rooms. The one employee who spoke English said, “follow me”. We went through some alleys and made our way to another hotel where we were told again that there were no rooms. A third hotel, nearby, bore fruit.
The employee took me to my room, opened the door and even made me a map of how to get back to his hotel in order to take the bus the next day. I was amazed by this employee, seemingly going out of his way to help me. The customer service was excellent and I felt as if I was in the “West”. As he left my room he said, “Welcome to China”.
The next morning I ventured out, walked a bit, found a lovely little restaurant and was able to explain that I wanted vegetarian dumplings. I was astounded by the number of technology related shops in a small city area. I was very pleased to see fully accessible sidewalks, large streets, many trees, bicycle lanes and cars and buses following traffic signals. In terms of infrastructure, I was already in the “West”, maybe even better.
On Sunday afternoon I arrived in New York City and went directly to clear customs in the US/green card line. What I observed astounded me. In this line there was literally a United Nations, with so many variations in skin tone and a plethora of languages. My ride on the subway to my relatives home reinforced this feeling.
One of the reasons, as to why I’ve wanted to live overseas, was to gain a greater appreciation for the US. The “UN observation” gave me one of those moments, as I’ve been used to seeing so much more homogeneity in my brief time in India and Nepal. This also made me wonder what it means to be an American?
All in all it feels good to be back in my birthplace, but also knowing that a larger world has always been available.