After Asia – Adapting to America Once Again

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

23 December 2018

The changing sights, sounds and smells….

As I pick up my mail from my PO Box it suddenly strikes me that I really no longer have a formal home of my own. I’m staying at my mother’s apartment. Even though I grew up there, it doesn’t feel like MY home. It’s not my furniture or my design or my style. I can’t put my feet up on the couch without that voice in my head making sure I first take my shoes off. I can’t put a glass on the table without making sure there’s a coaster or paper under it. I miss “my stuff.” I keep visualizing my old living room, all the colors, everything set up as I liked it. But then I walk by the ginormous building that obstructed what used to be a beautiful view and I am glad I got out when I did.

My water buffalo friend.

Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

I haven’t been in cold weather in almost a year. Since January. I can’t say that I missed it. It feels strange to be wearing so many layers, and a big coat and feel cold after so many months of sweating through t-shirts. 

“What a shock to realize there are traffic lights again…”

The biggest shock comes at the crosswalks. In Asia I kept stopping and waiting for the motorbikes to stop to let me cross. Then I realized they wouldn’t stop and made my way across, carefully. My first few days in New York I arrive at a crosswalk, check for traffic, and if no cars are coming, cross. One day I suddenly have a “doh!” moment as I notice there are traffic lights and remember I’m supposed to wait for the green light!

Crosswalk in New York.

Photograph by Heather Markel

Sticker shock settles in as I pay almost $10 for a tuna sandwich which is the same price as a 3-course gourmet dinner, with wine, in Hanoi. I’m back to public transportation and that seems ridiculously expensive, too. I’m still sporting my Vietnamese mani/pedi – they HAND-painted it on, using gel. It took over 2 hours and cost about $20. I know that just the manicure alone in New York will be as, or more, expensive for something that’s one or two colors, boring and takes 30 minutes. 🙁

Strangely, I find myself missing the tuk tuks. I even miss the crazy flow of motorbikes. I especially miss the Asian Uber equivalent where most of my taxis across town and beyond were under $2. I know the subway is faster and it’s a bit cold for an open form of transportation, but I really miss those motorized benches. I tried to cook the Tom Kha soup and Pad Thai I learned in cooking class in Thailand. Epic failures on both counts. That full range of robust flavors is impossible to get with local ingredients. 

Each time I see a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant I run over seeking the menu options I had in Asia, and walk away doubting I will find the savory blend of flavors that greeted my mouth with each bite.

I have a new fascination with anyone Asian now. I feel a special connection with them. I appreciate their culture so much that each time I see someone that looks Asian I want to know what country they’re from. In fact, I realize now that someone I see could be from one of so many different amazing countries. I don’t know why this didn’t really hit me before, but I see them now as Thai, Korean, Cambodian, etc. rather than “Asian.” I want to connect and see if I can even practice my “hello” phrases in any one of the wonderful countries I visited. I joined a Vietnamese cooking group on Facebook. I want Vietnamese coffee, I want a Cambodian heart-felt greeting. And so, once again, I am straddling two worlds even though physically in one.

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