I had a dream the other night, one in which I had made my way back to the United States, only to find myself bound by an inexplicable disappointment. I can remember, in the dream, standing in my house thinking “is this it?”. The problem with it all is that I haven’t been able to find anything that I was dissapointed about. A piece of the equation was missing. I woke up confused, and questioning a number of feelings that I have had in the recent weeks.
I have been back at home for a few days, and the sensation of return is still quite fresh. The weeks leading up to my return felt as though they had been suspended in time, soaked in the same lethargy that characterized my last days in High School. Yes, friends, this is Senioritis. You don’t want to move, but you can’t sit still. You have tons to do, and yet you can find no way to start. It was obvious that I was ready to head home, if only for a short time, and it is nice to take a moment for a reality check.
I am aware that a great change has occurred in the way that I perceive my country. China has made me, by and large, far more patriotic than I was at any time prior. I sometimes hear people listing the negative qualities of your average American. In some cases, I try to disagree with them. At other times, I can’t help but acknowledge that they are completely on point. Five months on the far side of the rock has given me a heightened awareness of some of the shortcomings and misconceptions that so many Americans (myself included) have about the rest of the world. There are times, looking back on my life in the U.S., when I feel as though I have stepped off of an island.
I was at a party a few weeks back, surrounded by Koreans, Chinese, a Belgian, a girl from Holland and a few others. If you really want to hear it straight, go to a party, wait until people have had a few drinks, and ask them what they think of your country. I started with the Belgian man.
“Oh, well you guys are like superheroes to us.”
I was a bit shocked by this answer, following it with a classic “wait, really?”.
“No, we fucking hate you guys”. I don’t remember the precise words he used following this statement, but long and short was that we are loud, trot the world in a single bound and still manage to know nothing of the places we see. But then, for the second time, he said something I wasn’t expecting.
“We really do admire the way in which Americans are able to follow their goals. This is something we could really learn from.”
This is a statement that I have heard more than once when asking this question. Sure, Americans are loud, and yeah, we are frequently blind to the real nature of what is happening around us. On the other end of that stick, however, we retain an ability to go after what we desire. I have yet to meet a person who denies this capacity of ours, despite the fact that it is the source of so many of our other shortcomings.
I started this post with a strange dream, and before I totally loose track, I’d like to look at it once more. This idea of the American as the world’s greatest dream chaser has plagued me for some time. I have tried on so many occasions to give a single, strong identity to my country, and each time I feel that it ends up lacking the essence which makes me American. I do love the idea of myself as following a dream. I came to China looking for something, chasing a fascination that appeared to have no source. Standing here, having completed one of the largest and longest goals I have ever set, I find myself fascinated with my own people. I realize, more and more, how much of an anomaly the United States really is. We are the awkward kid on the playground who, instead of confronting his own strangeness, decides it must be everyone else who is out of place. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country. I love the fact that my country affords me the right to speak my mind, to point out all that I feel is amiss, and still be just as much the American that I was before. This is not the case in China, and the tensions that result are dangerous. I have spent the last month counting down the days left before going back to New York, which is why my dream left me confused. Sitting back in my kitchen, once again on the right side of the globe, I find myself still wondering what it all meant.