My first week in the States has rode on by. It's a strange feeling being back. Nothing's changed. Really. It's almost as if Taiwan was just a creepy forgotten episode of the Twilight Zone. And I'm back in Suburbia where the neat little boxes are lined up in rows, hedges clipped clean and SUVs parked on the driveways, hubcaps aglow. Reverse Culture Shock? Maybe.
I'm still readjusting to the sights and sounds. Yesterday, I met a friend at the mall for dinner (we had the Korean BBQ, I used my pocket chopstick set). Before arriving on Taiwan, a mere 53 weeks ago, I lived another life; 90% of it, in that mall. Not all of you, dear readers, know this about me, but allow me to air some dirty laundry: I used to be in management at a dual-gender fashion retail store.
I spent a lot of time in that mall. A lot of time. Most of my meals were spent in that same food court, breaks spent walking the halls. It was strange being back.
This week, I'm fixing up the car I left behind, and will soon be driving - for the first time in a year. Also, I went out and signed up for a cell phone plan. I cringed at the one more added expense, and the first time it vibrated in my pocket I clung to the ceiling fan like a cat in a Looney Tunes cartoon. But I guess now I can blog while driving up the 5-North.
It's weird for me to think I survived without these modern "necessities" for a year's time...but I did.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of my week was coming home to the Welcome-Home Party (that I planned...). After a full night's rest Saturday night, I woke up and spent my day with over 50 of my favorite friends and family. It was an incredible experience to see and be with the faces and people I've spent a year without. Our time was spent recapping our year and recounting our journeys.
From time to time, I would tell a story and someone would say "I remember reading about that," (all my best stories are on the Drift), and each time it warmed me all the same. It was encouraging to know these key strokes I'm sending into the abyss of cyberspace have been read and noted and remembered.
I've said it before, but the Drift has been crucial to the process of this Journey. I love that a community has formed here on this site, and I hope it continues.
That Sunday, I was able to extend the Drift's virtual-community to the "real world". Early on in my driftings, I came across a blog filled with pictures of an old stomping ground of mine. Being a lonely solitary expat in Taiwan, seeing familiar sights was comforting. A comment an email, and a year later, Don and I have still kept in touch.
I'm no stranger to meeting "online" friends "offline", but there's always that air of apprehension wondering if your perception of them will vary in 3D. This wasn't the case with Don. I felt as though I didn't so much hear him speak as I did read the words leaving his mouth. Talking to him was like reading the latest entry he's posted.
As we were bidding our farewells, he reached behind the front door for his shoes. Glancing at the unintelligible heap on the other side of the entry way, he said "I'm a man who lives off the beaten path," just as I was thinking, that's so like him. It was a great experience being able to make that connection and solidify what the Drift has been for me this year.
I'm looking forward to further reunions with my friends and loved ones - and on a deeper level than a 50-person-thick get-together.
Slowly, I'm starting to find my barrings again in my hometown. My equilibrium has settled as I've fought from leaning too far in any one direction. Balance is essential. It's as essential in re-entering a country as it is to riding a bike. But, as they say, old habits die hard. And though it's been awhile since I've rode around the streets of suburbia, I'm pretty sure it's all coming back to me now.