A series of books about China by Peter Hessler have been good for me. Hessler is an American who lived in China with the Peace Corp several years ago. He has a way of writing that helps me process some of the many feelings, impressions and misunderstandings I have living as an American in China. When talking about traveling out of town and then coming back “home” to where he lived in China, he said, “I always returned to a changed city. Once, I came back from a reporting trip and went to my favorite noodle restaurant in a neighborhood near my home, only to discover that the whole area had been cleared away to make room for a new apartment complex. Beijing homecomings were jarring: a month-long journey could make me feel like Rip Van Winkle.”
After our summer in the US this year, we returned to an again, changed city. In a taxi riding home a couple nights ago, I mentioned to the driver how our little area of the city has changed so much in the last three years. Ten years ago, he said, this was all countryside.
On Veteran’s Day we are reminded to be grateful for our veterans. I’m lucky to personally know a few men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. I am grateful for those who have served and those who are still serving our country in this way. I can’t help but wonder about the changes they came home to. I admire them for their bravery in facing and adapting to what they found on returning home. They are my heroes in more ways than one.
Over our last two years of living in the apartment we live in now, we’ve gotten to know a family (last name Ma) who owns and runs a noodle restaurant outside our apartment complex. We were excited to return to their restaurant, talking during our months in America this summer about going back to the Ma’s noodle shop. We bought some little things for their son, who used to come play at our home, and some American candy that they love. A couple days after returning this Fall we walked up to the noodle shop with our gifts only to find new owners there. The noodles weren’t quite as good, or maybe we just missed their company. The new owner’s “ganban” noodle dish I loved wasn’t anything like the Ma’s was, or maybe it was. Maybe I was just sad. The Ma family were the closest thing to friends that we have here with our limited language. She’d helped me understand the Chinese dosage directions on a box of medication. Their son had played often in our home. They’d taken our kids to the circus. They’d done laundry at our home when their water was turned off. Our kids always knew if they had an emergency when Dan and I were gone they could go to the Ma’s and they would take them to the hospital or help them with whatever they would have needed.
We haven’t gone back for noodles since we first got back this Fall. It’s just not the same I guess.