Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Little Pink Houses
"The government lets you paint your house any color that you want?" asked C. "Cool!"
We were in my brother-in-law's car on the way to his place in Syracuse after spending two nights in Brooklyn. She'd noticed several abodes, some more brightly colored than others during the drive. It had never occurred to me in China that house colors were regulated -- an entire country of covenant housing regulations -- but that's a little of what the trip back here has done for me. It's had me looking at China anew as well as my native land, mostly through her eyes.
The trip has bordered on minor surreal at some points. After about 20 hours of flying and a numbing 6 hour layover in Seoul, we decamped from JFK airport straight to a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn where we crashed in the basement of a kind, enthusiastic friend of my son's, Nate, who is going to NYU.
It was culture shock redeux, coming straight from Hong Kong to Little Poland. Someone plunked down with a transporter beam with no warning might well mistake it for a slice of Warsaw, excepting the architecture and vehicles. Polish was what was largely being spoken on the streets, even by the kids in their hip-hop thuggery attire. The older folks all looked like they're straight out of Central Casting as grim, hardened flinty, squinty eyed Eastern European steel and dock workers and pictures of the late John Paul II are pasted everywhere along with notices in near-all consonants for shows featuring "Jkresky Swrblzwg Plka Feztivalz!"
C was surprised and a little amazed to find another college friend of Nate, a woman named Julie, who speaks near-fluent Chinese and rapidly fell into a several hour Chinese chatfest about the two countries and guys. She got a taste of Manhattan courtesy of Nate who squired us patiently around Washington and Union Squares, NYU, SoHo shopping, a mile or two of Broadway and a slice of Central Park.
"I'm never going home," she joked several times. "Where can I apply for political asylum?''
Me? While recoiling from the shock of viewing daily TV reinactments featuring lookalike actors reciting from transcripts of the Michael Jackson trial and paying $6 a pack for cigarettes, I answered a lot of questions, some about menu terms like "premium" for alcohols, "chimichaungas," "enchiladas;" Some about outmoded home entertainment appliances - "turn table" - ("Oh! My parents had one. But why do they have that but also a modern refridgerator?") and house paint colors. Currently in Syracuse where after a day of touring the 1,000 Islands Lawrence River area bordering Canada I've just seen C off for a business-related flight to LA for her company for a couple days.
I'm marveling at grocery store aisles wide enough for four people and their carts, the heady smell of freshly mown grass, the sight of greenery and dandelions pushing themselves up to greet the sun, comforting, wide embracing blue skys, my nephew playing Little League, and the sound of rapid-fire Spanish being spoken by blacks and Puerto Ricans.
It's good to be back, even if it is on the wrong side of the country. Thanks for having me.
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