January has been a month of catching up with family and friends in my hometown. Right before New Year’s, I flew home to spend some time with loved ones. Some things have changed, while other things have stayed the same. Read on to see what surprises were in store this month.
Successfully completing an international trip is no small task. After traveling from my Chinese city to my hometown by bus, plane, and car, I had been on the go for 24 hours. Technically, coming from Asia to the Americas is like going back in time. But the 15 hour flight was quite grueling. Sitting beside a friendly passenger helped to make the trip easier. And of course, being laid over in Shanghai for a few hours gave me a chance to visit some American shops.
Upon arrival to the Columbia airport, I got to see my family. It had been nearly a year since I had left home (but it felt a whole lot longer). My parents greeted me joyfully. We were so excited to see each other that we were all talking at the same time. The next day, we woke up early, packed our things, and headed to the beach for the annual winter family vacation.
Myrtle Beach is one of the best cities South Carolina has to offer. There’s all sorts of outdoor activities. People are friendly and just glad to be enjoying beach life. Even in winter, the beach is lovely as waves lap upon the coast at an even, methodical pace.
As usual, my parents cooked a delicious traditional New Year’s dinner. Just as the Chinese believe red brings good luck, my family believes a stomach full of good food is the right way to start the New Year. Collard greens bring dollars and black-eyed peas bring pocket change, and so on. All week long, I expected to enjoy the sun rise over the ocean, catch up with my uncles and aunts who joined us at the beach, and eat tasty food. What I didn’t expect was not to be able to eat as much as I wanted. I absolutely could not eat all the tasty foods I love! For some reason, all of the heavy Southern cuisine was giving me a hard time. My mom said the travel and sudden change of food did not agree with my stomach. I also came to the conclusion that after eating North and Southeast Asian dishes for a year, my body had become accustomed to very healthy, veggie-based foods. In the Southern US, however, the vegetables have usually been fried or dunked in fatback grease. Simply put, my stomach was not having the chocolate coconut pecan pie after macaroni and cheese!
Fortunately, by the time my Mom’s birthday rolled around, my stomach had settled a bit. Mom loved her chocolate layer cake and ice cream. She was also happy with her gifts. I was really glad to have made it home for her birthday this year.
After a week at the beach, I took a weekend drive to the low country. In Charleston, I saw some old friends from my college days. It was great to catch up with them at the coffee shop and over Southern Barbecue. I even got to see my old neighbor on Dingle Street! She still had the same Jeep, the same house, and the same well manicured lawn. Driving in my car around Mt. Pleasant, Downtown, West Ashley, and North Charleston gave me some serious nostalgia. After living in a place for seven years, you have some fond memories that you always remember.
After a couple days in Charleston, I headed up to Charlotte to see my old college mentor. Long overdue for catching up, it was great to spend some time with my old advisor and friend. She and her husband gave me a lovely leather wrist purse and a beautiful Swarovski crystal pendant. For them, I brought a local gift from China and a basket from Ghana I had been saving forever. We talked for hours over lunch until it was time to hit the road and head back home.
Many people don’t think of going to church as a treat, but for me it was. Once again, I was right at the year mark for attending Sunday service in my own little country town. The church I attended in Korea was nice, but churches overseas are never like the church you grow up in. And finding an English-speaking Church in a rural Chinese city—well that’s easier said than done. Walking in the sanctuary and feeling the warmth of the sun through the stained glass windows brought a flood of relief. Sitting in the old wooden pew, and kneeling at the mourning bench gave me a great sense of calm. The inspirational choir sang beautifully, and everyone told me how they had been praying for me. It was great to be home.
Returning home is a funny thing. Buildings, your car, the big oak tree in the back yard, even the family dog, all look the same. But when you walk in your childhood bedroom and look in the mirror, you realize you’re the one who has changed. And many of the people around you—loved ones—with time, have also changed. You become relaxed, yet more alert, as you remember the circle of life is churning on.