Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Through My Eyes--Part 2

The differences between places is incredible. I remember trying to describe “autumn” to a bunch of my Papua New Guinean friends.
The view from my parents' house
“Oh yes, the leaves...they change their skin. The colors turn bright red and orange and yellow—like fire. Yes, red trees! And then, all those leaves, they fall off. And die. And then the trees are just bare sticks...until they grow more leaves.”

They looked at me incredulous and marvelled at the photos. Orange trees? How odd!

To some people, its normal and to others, it is bizarre...but the differences aren’t qualitative. A red tree is no more “tree-like” than a green one and buying vegetables in an open air market versus an air-conditioned grocery store doesn’t settle into some sort of hierarchy of “good” or “bad.” They are just different.

So, here’s Part 2 to finish up my list of 10 things I found to be different in unexpected ways!

6. Red, Orange, and Yellow
Even though I told magical stories about the gorgeous fall colors to my Papua New Guinean (PNG) friends as if it was normal, now that I’m getting to experience it again, I’m struck by the wonder of it all! The woods and outdoors in Minnesota is worlds away from the tropics of PNG, and I’ve been loving it! For example, in Minnesota we have wind, and light-filled forests (rather than struggling beams shut out by the thick tropical rainforest), and the word dusk actually has meaning (in PNG, dark falls within 15 minutes or so of the sun setting...but in Minnesota we can have hours of that glorious grey in-between time).

7. People Going Places
Whoa...there are just a lot of people in the US (a lot of white people, to be precise...after sometimes being the only pale person for hundreds of miles around, it’s a little shocking to see so many blonds and brunettes in one place!). And not only are there a lot of people...but they move really quickly, speak really loudly, and sometimes, they have some very creative fashion tastes (with sometimes a whole lotta skin...eek!).

These are People who Go Places and Do Stuff. They don’t sit around and just wait for time to pass them by (the doom of the oncoming winter might have something to do with that)—they are busy, connected individuals who have Agendas and Schedules, and it’s rather intimidating for those of us who have been living in a land that is more like a lazy river than a rushing, tumbling waterfall of rapids.

8. Independence.
Independent. Free. Self-sufficient. Americans love these words. And, I admit, after living so closely connected with people the past couple of years, I’ve been really enjoying getting to use public transportation on my own (or even driving my own car) or safely leaving my house at night or once again allowing my gender to fade into the background compared to the importance of my occupation or my abilities or even my personhood. But, I do find it strange too—after all, people in the US live somewhat separated in their own houses—in rural Papua New Guinea villages, the house is only for sleeping—you generally even cook outside. But here, in the US, in order to visit, you have to ring a friend up and plan days (or sometimes weeks) in advance. There are bigger distances between friends—it’s generally not just a five-minute-walk, and you won’t necessarily see everyone you know at the grocery store, the post office, or Sunday morning service. It can feel somewhat isolating, all this hard-fought independence, for those of us who must live so inter-dependent across the ocean.

9. Church
The first time I wore nice dress pants to church this time in the US, I felt rather scandalous—to think that I wasn’t in a skirt! Then, when the pastor suggested the congregation follow the church on Instagram and post their photos of events on Pinterest, I knew I was in a strange world. Not knowing 2/3 of the songs (and getting caught off guard when I discover that the current All Creatures of Our God and King is not the same as the black-printed hymnal) adds to the rather surreal feeling.

But having solid teaching in my own language is pretty awesome, I must admit. After all, even missionaries need the Bible and encouragement and teaching in their own heart language!

10. And all the rest
Of course, I can’t forget to mention the baby-smooth roads with all their striping and no potholes and the sidewalks and stoplights and stop signs and all the cars (so many cars!) and in a wide variety of styles. But, just as exciting, are the soft, supportive mattresses on the bed and the plush carpeting in the house! Sizes are truly super (portions! capsicum! clothing!) and it’s fun getting to read restaurant menus in English (instead of guessing the Thai or Chinese words) A couple years ago, I went to Australia on a holiday and noted many similar observations that still ring true—you can find that blog post here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Through My Eyes—Part 1

I couldn’t find any matches.

I had offered to make dinner, just a simple stir-fry, but when it came time for me to light the burner, I was perplexed. No matches? And how did Celsius convert to that other one? How....?

Ha! Welcome to the Land of Strange Convenience! As turned the dial and delighted at the strong, even, plentiful flame (oops! cooked them a little too long...), doused my veggies with spices (a little too much...I forgot that they are more pungent here), forgot to remove their sticker labels (stickers on vegetables? how odd) and then tried to pick them out of the frying pan... and then shouted with joy when I discovered that cling-wrap actually clings (what gloriousness!), I realized that some of the things that I initially marvelled at might also amaze some of you!

This is a two-part series of seeing the US through my eyes, based on a journal I kept during the first couple of weeks I was in the US. Enjoy!

1. Wide Aisles and other Store Stuff
I’ve talked about the lush choice offered in stores before, but it’s so shocking that it bears repeating...and to have wide, well-lit aisles set far back from the door? Well, that just makes the shopping an extra big treat. But, apart from the gargantuan numbers of choices of brands and styles (and then the shelves stocked to bursting with 50 of each option), the other major surprising thing for me has been how sweet everything tastes to me now. Cheerios, yogurt, ketchup, sauces, and other “plain” foods seem like they’ve been frosted in sugar or dunked in syrup.

2. Computers in the Windows and Stuff on the Car Seat
When I first stepped out of the Sydney airport, I gasped in shock when I saw a 5-story building arrogantly display a computer monitor in every (unbarred) window before I realized that such things aren’t as big a concern in the 1st world. Still, old habits die hard, and those first occasions of leaving purchases visible in the backseat of my car (and not needing to knot the bags so stuff didn’t fly out) or walking through the local farmers market without clutching my purse and imitating Jason Bourne were a bit tricky.

3. Sensory overload
Transiting from a high speed culture (like the US) to a slow culture (like PNG) is hard, but moving from a slow culture to a speedy one is like trying to jump on a bullet train. Just trying to keep up is intense! Walk into a store and suddenly your senses are bombarded with background music and beeping machines and flashing TVs and rotating screens and signs shouting GO HERE and RIGHT NOW and words, words, words everywhere!  Not only that, but I can, for the most part, understand everyone around me—and it feels like eavesdropping!

Electronic price tags. Weird.
4. Vents are Open, Windows are Closed
In Papua New Guinea, the barrier separating the inside from the outside is rather thin...and our windows let in air even when they are closed (good ole louvres). Climate-controlled buildings feeling extraordinarily stuffy to me, and all that air conditioning or heating or venting not only feels odd  but is really noisy!

5. RoboWorld
I told you about my smart-phone shock in Australia, but really, when I walk into Kohls and all the price tag signs have been thrown out for electronic screens? And my mom’s car syncs with her phone and the kid is playing with an iPad...When you add in the scary, talking self-checkout machine at Walmart, it’s enough to make a missionary from the jungle think she’s arrived on another planet.

Check back in a few days for Through My Eyes—Part 2!