The New Yorker for April 19, 2010, has a piece by Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) on his return home from China. Peter and his wife Leslie Chang decided to settle in a rural Colorado, both of them strangers to America. Peter writes, “Neither of us had much experience as adults in the United States. I had left after college to attend graduate school in England, [he was a Rhodes Scholar] and then I travelled to China; before I knew it I had been gone for a decade and a half … Leslie had even fewer American roots; she had been born and brought up in New York, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she had made her career as a writer in Shanghai and Beijing.”
They met in Beijing where Leslie was a reporter for the NYTIMES and Peter, after his Peace Corps tour, found work.
It is a lovely piece and one to which all RPCVs can relate, having come home themselves with new views of the world, and how we do things differently at home in America.
The article is entitled, “Go West” and here is the abstract from the New Yorker’s website.
PERSONAL HISTORY about the writer’s return to the Unites States after living in China. Writer describes the movers who packed up the possessions he and his wife Leslie wanted shipped from Beijing to the United States. Neither the writer nor his wife had much experience with the United States. The writer describes the way the Chinese see the United States. In China, the writer came to think of the U.S. as essentially imaginary: it was always being created in people’s minds. After years of standing out as a foreigner in China, the writer liked the idea of rural solitude and anonymity. He and his wife looked for a small town in the Rocky Mountains where nobody knew them-that was their own Chinese version of the American Dream. Describes house hunting in Colorado. They signed a one-year lease on a brand-new house in Ridgway. Setting up their phone service, the writer was told that there would be an extra fee for an unlisted number. He opted for listing the number under his wife’s name: Peter and Leslie Chang. Tells about telemarketing calls they received from China, including one woman who gave a pitch for a vacation spot in Wai Er Ming (Wyoming). Describes the arrival of their possessions from China. The writer says that it wasn’t until he moved back to the United States that he realized how much he had missed the way Americans talk. People in China didn’t like to be the center of attention and they took little pleasure in narrative. They rarely lingered on interesting details. In America, there’s no reliable small talk; at any moment a conversation can become personal. Describes a religious rally called “Cowboy Up for Christ” and tells about a telemarketing call from the National Rifle Association. The writer entered the Las Vegas half marathon, which he won after faster runners missed a turn on the course. He was interviewed on local television with a racer dressed as Elvis.