Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bringing Our Chinese Lifestyle Back To America...

...Is turning out to be anything but an easy thing to pull off!

There is no doubt that, in certain respects, our lives in China were less healthier than our lives in the United States. I was out for a run the other evening, and three things struck me from a sensory perspective.

What did I see as I kept my eyes on the sidewalk in front of me? Actually, the question to ask is what I didn't see. There were no gobs of spit to dodge. There were no puddles of vomit. There were no piles of dog you-know-what. Just clean pieces of concrete.

What did I smell as I ran along? Well, I didn't catch a whiff of exhaust from a bus as it rumbled by. I didn't pass stinky trash heaps full of the remains from last night's dinner. No, it was just the sweet smell of freshly cut grass that greeted me as I passed by.

What sounds did I hear emanating from the neighborhood around me? Other than the chorus of cicadas in the trees, there was nothing. No horn beeping. No announcements from street merchants blaring through bullhorns. Wan bao! Wan bao! Wan bao! Wan bao!

Then there is the other side of the story. We have certainly fallen right back into habits that are less healthy than the routines that characterized our everyday lives in Beijing.

To go pretty much anywhere, we essentially have no choice but to walk out our front door and hop into one of the minivans. There are no six flights of stairs to walk down. There is no neighborhood to walk through on our way to the nearest restaurant or bus stop.

From a personal perspective, I get my walking in every day, from home to the Glenmont metro stop, and then from Farragut North to campus. But, for the family as a whole, there is a lot more sitting and a lot less standing.

And so, the other night, we decided to walk up to the Aspen Hill shopping center. Although it's only a mile and a half away, this probably was the first time we, as a family, made the trip this way. What was normal to us in China actually felt a little weird to us here in the US. What will the neighbors think?

And then there are the dietary changes that have inevitably happened. How does one transition from the land of fresh vegetables and tiny slivers of meat to the land of carbohydrates and big patties of meat? Sure, we can take more control over our diets, by shopping with purpose and preparing our own fresh and healthy dishes. It is just that it requires much more time and effort here to eat in the ways in which we have become accustomed to over the past year.

And that's kind of the lesson we have learned at this point in our reentry process. Yes, we can restructure our days to bring back changes in lifestyle we acquired by spending time in a different society. But implementing these changes requires a lot of effort that will in all likelihood be very difficult to sustain over the long haul.

How will we know if we are succeeding? Will we still be walking to Aspen Hill when it is cold and dark in the dead of winter? Will we still have a refrigerator full of fruits and vegetables when school starts and the pressures of society really kick in?

~Steve

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