The sun is slanting at an angle through the large, tinted Illinois Terminal windows. It’s a cool 64 degrees here in Champaign, Illinois. China, with its heat and humidity, is becoming a distant memory. I’m on my way to Chicago to give a reading tonight at Hopleaf Bar, part of the Tuesday Funk series. I’m honored to be reading with Aleksandar Hemon, whose new memoir, The Book of My Lives, was released in March by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux .
It’s been exactly a month since I came home from China. A month since that 24-hours of hellish travel through connecting flights and long layovers in distant cities. It’s odd to be back in a travel zone–I’ve already forgotten the odd folks who show up to travel together. There’s a young black woman with a shaved head and a tight shirt raised high enough to expose her belly sitting in the row of chairs near the window. She’s talking like she’s on a phone, but there is no phone in her hand, no earpiece connected to her head. A guy several seats away, sporting a yarmulka and a wedding band, is staring at his iPhone with earbuds loosely in place. Several Asian students and older couples are scattered throughout the waiting area, as well as an Indian couple and many pairs and singles of caucasians and African-Americans. Ah, diversity. One of the questions I got from a Marxist scholar in China was how to reconcile diversity and integration. Curiosity, I told her, and tolerance for the discomfort that can come with difference.
I’m keeping this post short because my train will be here soon. There are still so many things about China I’ve forgotten to write about: night swimming in East Lake beneath the bats and the star-filled sky; sleeping in a hotel room with a young Chinese girl I’d only met hours before; fresh-made yogurt with raisins and honey; a late-night foot massage in Shanghai with my husband sitting in the chair next to me, his masseuse nodding and winking, hinting to us in his limited English that massage is an aphrodisiac.
We had lunch recently with Chinese friends we met years ago when my husband taught ESL in a public school. Eating with this family helped me see how much of China I’ve already lost, even though it’s only been a month. I’ve lost the few words I knew in Chinese, the weight of the damp heat, the rhythm of how to navigate Chinese streets and sidewalks. All I have now is a warm, fuzzy nostalgia for China, for all the things I loved about China despite its many challenges. And a longing to return.