It's fascinating how quickly one's environment becomes a part of oneself, how quickly we absorb our surroundings and the way of life and thinking around us. After just one week in the U.S., Thailand already felt like a distant memory, a hazy dream. Now, after three weeks, it's almost as if we never left. The people who rode on a scooter with the wind in their hair, traveled to islands and other countries on weekends -- they seem like other people, living other lives.
That's not to say, of course, that we have slipped seamlessly back and that coming back here and re-establishing our lives hasn't been difficult as hell. Our first week back, while staying with my parents, I tried to shield myself from the outside world as much as I could. The only places I went to were the library and the playground. I didn't watch TV, read the newspaper, go through the mail, or expose myself to any kind of media. It made coming back less overwhelming.
But I could only hide for so long. We had apartments to see, cars to test drive, appointments to make. The minute we started this process of repatriation, things got stressful. Quickly. The problem is that no one gives you the benefit of the doubt here; no one gives a crap. No one is watching out for us to make sure everything we need is taken care of, is resolved. There is no human connection; it's all about business.
The other thing is where we have come home to. I've always detested American suburbia. To me, the American suburbs are devoid of personality, soul-less, indistinguishable from one another. Over time, I had gotten used to these types of surroundings, and it helped that we had pretty easy access to all that Washington, D.C., has to offer. However, coming home to the suburbs again after two years abroad, living in a country full of life and character, has only highlighted how mind-numbing the 'burbs can be. Even driving down streets I used to think were picturesque, past houses I used to consider charming, I feel boxed-in and claustrophobic. Everything is just too clean, too sanitized, too quiet. Too organized, too controlled.
It's funny, too, watching the people in this area -- everyone speed walks, purposefully, as if on a mission. Even during the weekend, in the supermarket, out at the playgrounds, everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere. I remember feeling frustrated when I would be stuck behind students walking to class on campus in Thailand. The students would walk slower than snails move, as if they had all the time in the world. Now I wonder what the rush is. Now I'm the one sauntering.
I feel even more weighed down now that we have begun acquiring the material possessions necessary to live here -- cars and furniture among them. I've never been one to accumulate much in the way of material possessions, but now they feel even more limiting and restricting than before. And even though we are lucky beyond belief to have so many of the conveniences, creature comforts, and options that so many in the world don't have, I no longer enjoy them. Instead, I feel these amenities only serve to complicate life and enable me to "participate" passively in life without doing much, making me lazy and complacent.
Of course, coming back has its advantages -- we're much closer to family and friends, we've been able to visit the library almost every day, we've visited the free museums in our area. And I've certainly come to appreciate the level of intellect that exists in this area; the depth, independence, and strength of many American women; and the freedom we have to express our opinions and thoughts, and to disagree with each other and our government. Still, I do feel the stress of daily life here creeping slowly back into mine. If only I could export the best of this country abroad, life would be grand!