Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bicycles and showers, the curious culture of my new home.

 (This post is part of a series on bicycles and sustainability; although I have a feeling food will become very much part of the topic. I apologize for the disconnected segments, but it's mostly because I have not figured out how to write the whole thing yet. Stay tuned.)

Click here to see the first part of this series.

When I first moved to the US I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment on Lowell Street in Cincinnati. On the night we arrived from China, my dad had made stewed chicken wings in a wok spiced with packages of those Ramen condiments that came with the noodles. Having meat at a meal was a sort of celebration to us, and having nothing but chicken was a rare treat. I still remember vividly my father’s proud justifications for moving us across the ocean:

“In China, we eat chicken on New Years Eve; here we have it every day, every day is New Years Eve.”

It wasn’t until later that I realized he felt guilty for moving us, but he had quit his job with the State's only medical research institute and that meant he had to find a way to make it outside of China. No one quits the State back then but my father was an idealist. He had always wanted to cure cancer through genetics and he turned away from practicing medicine to be a “pure scientist” – the noblest of profession by his standard. 

I stop blaming him for leaving China years ago but I’m still trying to reconcile with the whole thing. I still remember that night when we arrived in a new country; full of people I could not understand; filled with many strange things like supermarkets and shopping malls. I constantly think about that first meal with my family in a new land.

My first curiosity was why there were so many chicken wings. I’ve never seen any sort of “packaging” in China, and chickens are mostly bought from farmers with boxes of live chickens strapped to the back of their bicycles. That night, having that many chicken wings meant my father had to kill almost half a dozen of chicken; and where are the rest of the chicken? Where are the delicious hearts and gizzards?

My second curiosity was the bathroom. In China, we had a squatting toilet in a small room the size of a closet with a porcelain hole in the middle of the ground. The “plumbing” came with a hanging flush system. There was also a small floor sink next to the door for washing hands and feet when you leave. Later, my mom rigged a hanging bucket shower system that required boiling water on the stove. My new bathroom in the US had a sitting toilet and a shower and bathtub; the whole floor is also tiled, not just a concrete slab. I took my first shower with what seemed unlimited hot water, and I was addicted ever since.

Back to bicycles and showers, I’ve gone from needing a bicycle daily and showers weekly to wanting a bicycle occasionally and needing a shower daily. Leaving China all those years ago and learning to become American in the last twenty years has trotted me from a low impact boy to a high impact man. I can’t seem to find my way back to the days when I knew little but positively contributed more. As I got older and more “educated,” I seem to have gone backwards in my relationship with the ecosystem on this planet. That is my third curiosity, one I cannot live comfortably by: why is it the older I get and more prospers I am, the more expensive I am to Earth?

More to come . . . 

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