As the days and hours fall away until repatriation, it’s time to take stock of what I’ll miss about life abroad.
No where else in the world makes me as happy with its use of color as an adornment as India. The people possess no fears whatsoever of color. Color is painted on their foreheads in the form of bindis or tikkas, their hands during wedding season in the form of henna tattoos, their clothing, said to be most brilliant in Rajasthan, though I was already swimming as if in a Chagall painting. Then there’s the color of Lima. More a spectrum of jewel tones the color of the locals’ clothing, food, landscape, and architecture quickly won me over. Nowhere had the landscape colors of Shenzhen, though. Truly one of the best landscaped cities of the world, the city rarely let its 15 million inhabitants forget that nature came before cement and skyscrapers.
Watching– and listening to– the peacocks on the University of Piura campus has filled me with hours of entertainment and awe. I’ve watched them go through their annual cycle from when their babies were just born and through to the mating ritual. Throughout the year I love to hear the males calling out to the others as they all prepare to bed down at night. From November through January it was the men howling out for mates. They were loud enough to interrupt my classes with a noise somewhere between a cat being strangled and a man being castrated. Now, after mating season, the peahens are doing most of the screaming. I like to imagine they’re yelling at the men to hurry up and feed the kids.
Lack of Vanity
In no other culture have I witnessed a prevalence of unadulterated vanity. Sure there are symptoms of its creeping, especially in certain districts of Lima where the newness of local plastic surgery leads some people to look more like lizards, less like humans, but overall there isn’t a high concern for bleached teeth, self-mutilating starvation, excessively expensive brand names, overly made-up faces. People in the East, and especially in South America, are far more modest and far more respectful of the physical variety that nature intended. That leads to a tremendous acceptance and lack of judgment of others.
Not Carrying Car Keys
I loved driving in the US, but living abroad meant no parking hassles. It meant hailing a cab rather than calling. It meant no insurance policies to pay for, no gas prices to bemoan. No maintenance or car washes. No accident worries. No depreciation concerns. No speeding tickets (which I used to get a lot of in the US, what with my lead foot) and never, never, never a question of driving after I’d had one too many. I have no idea what’s in store for my life in Arizona but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can use public transit and/or a Vespa.
South China had the ultra fast, ultra efficient, and generally clean Metro. India had ricks, taxis, and a train that seemed to come from two centuries before– all of which I enjoyed. Hong Kong has fantastic trains, the fairy, and buses. Lima had taxis, combis and buses, and now a train. And how could I not miss the motos (like India’s rickshaws) of Piura?
Easterners are a more reserved lot, of course, but once the Chinese get to know you they’ll invite you to meet their family and take trips with them. Such was the case with my ESL students and the architect I worked for in Shenzhen. Latinos are immensely warm. They’ll drop everything to help with a simple task, to talk, to share a meal, to go on day-trips. Event the baristas at Starbucks give me hugs and make me feel like Norm on Cheers. Indians? Well, my three months in Mumbai weren’t exactly stable, and I found the people to be quite distrusting, but once they open up, a handful of Indians helped me with I was cash-strapped, when I needed work, when I needed shelter, when I needed to learn the shopping customs. Amit, Asad, Guarav, and a smattering of others helped in ways too great and varied to list in this post but in ways that I will forever sustain those loving feelings I have for the country.
Speaking Another Language
I attempted to learn Mandarin when I first moved to China, but didn’t do anything more than learn to parrot a few essential phrases during my two years there. What a bloody tough language! It is delightful, though, to even exchange a few well-wishing sentences with people such as the women who worked in the convenience store in my apartment building.
I moved on to Hindi toward my latter days in China, knowing that someday I’d live in India, my favorite country. Because it wasn’t necessary, it proved more fun. Then my teacher got romantic notions, Indian turmoil ensued around us, and the whole thing turned into a big mess. Fortunately I did move to India shortly after that. And I did use the Hindi I learned. “Bharat mataji!” or, Mother India.
Finally it was on to Peru. My dad always tells people I’m fluent but I’m certainly not. If I were I’d be able to talk about existentialism and the constellations. I can get by, though. Easily enough to travel throughout the country without a hitch. It’s a lot different speaking an intermediate level of this language than speaking a modicum of Mandarin. In China the language was easy to tune out; in Peru, I’ve heard and understood random snippets of conversation that left me as perplexed as a right-winger hearing bits of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
I started wearing bindis more than a decade ago, and salwar kameezes became a part of my wardrobe after my first trip to India. But how lucky am I to have the ability whilst abroad to shopping local markets for these things? One of the most amazing clothing experiences was going with two new friends to have quipaos made in Shenzhen. These didn’t look like they’d just come off an assembly line. These traditional Chinese dresses were hand crafted silk radiance, but bloody hell they cannot be worn in temperatures past 20 degrees Celsius. It’s been an interesting lesson to notice how greatly I favor Indian or Indian-inspired clothing though. I’ve purchased paisley and salwar kameezes and bangles in every country I’ve lived in, and I’ll keep doing so. Though lately a streak of Mexicanista has entered my life, which looks as foreign to the locals here in Peru as do my Indian clothes.
What do you miss about your travels upon returning home?