During my first week back visiting Seattle, I bought two boxes of Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix from the grocery store and each day for a few days, I would sit on the floor of the borrowed bedroom that I’m staying in, pick up one of the boxes, and stare at it in wide-eyed wonder daydreaming about bringing it home to China and making everyone’s day (or week) with the simple ecstasy of artificially-colored indulgence.
Two boxes. And by the time the cake mix was in my possession for 24 hours, I began to worry. Maybe I just need one box, I thought. Two boxes is kinda extravagant for something so silly. I imagined baking one of the cakes while still in America. No. No, no, no. That won’t do. Here in America, my baking a Funfetti cake would just be another part of another day in the grand scheme of an American life. Only if I save it and bring it to China, only then will it truly be magical.
That’s the magic of China- the fact that so little can be so much. If someone sends you a box with coffee and books you’re over the moon for a week. Discovering that you can make a perfect batch of coconut yogurt is enough to make you feel like Russian royalty. I live in a world where an expensive lunch is $8 and I’ve never spent $50 at one go in China without thinking, whoa, go easy girl. Tampons do not really exist in my part of China. Sprinkles or vanilla extract or food coloring must be ordered online. Whiskey is a luxury item, and the same goes for beef, chia seeds, pesto, ice cream, fresh milk, raspberries, artichokes, and the list goes on and on and on.
I’m visiting home for the first time since summer 2015. A year and a half is actually not very long in the grand scheme of expat life. I have many friends who haven’t been home in half a dozen years. But for me, 18 months is the longest I’ve ever gone and it’s been one wild ride back.
Of course the question you always get in these circumstances is, When are you moving back? I’m doing my best to try and not sound in sufferable when I answer, Certainly not anytime soon.
I’ve never been a minimalist. Ask any of my previous roommates. But the truth is, I love living where a box of Funfetti cake mix has value.
Being in America has been overwhelming for me. Last winter, I backpacked across Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and on one of my last days in Bangkok, I went to a huge international grocery store and walked around like a maniac looking at all the Western delicacies. But almost every store I’ve stepped into since being home has as much or more good stuff than that one giant store in Bangkok. I could pack 7 suitcases and still have room for one more bottle of balsamic vinegar glaze or one more box of granola or one more pound of coffee.
But the sick American irony is that the more stuff I cram into my suitcase to take back to China, the more that what I have loses value.
Most of my American friends are at least a little bit unsatisfied with their lives. There’s this slight, not-too-obvious-but-still-certainly-there sense of ennui which pervades our coffee dates. I can’t say that the same feeling doesn’t exist in China, because I know it does. But it’s not the same. In China, my friends or my students have dissatisfaction for what seem to me to be legitimate reasons. Maybe my American friends have reasons that are JUST AS LEGIT but for me it’s hard for to see them because I think, wow no, you have freedom and loved ones and even if things are tight, you still have tons of cheeeseee….
So, that’s basically it. I’m visiting America and I’m seeing so many of my amazing friends and family and I’m buying Funfetti cake mix and Celestial Seasongs Lemon Zinger tea and I’m NOT TELLING my people that they’ll be a LOT more satisfied with their lives if they just get rid of everything and move overseas BECAUSE UNSOLICITED ADVICE IS FROWNED UPON IN AMERICA but I’m thinking it and so I’m writing it on this blog where that’s okay.