A lady was killed around the corner from my office this morning. She was a waitress at a Mexican restaurant that I went to a few days ago for lunch, and her military ex-husband had an argument with her in the street then shot her three times – so I hear. Imagine waking up one day getting ready for work, eating breakfast, enjoying the cool morning, and then walking into a situation that will end your life in less than ten minutes. Poof. It’s over. Plans gone, future remaining imagined, the only thing left of you is what is kept in the memory of those who knew you – or in my case heard about you. Update: Here’s the story
They don’t deal with senseless death the same way here. I saw a Blackberry photo of her lying in the street, legs in the shadows, grainy upper body in the sun, a couple policemen milling around the taped area. Another Blackberry photo of the security guard who restrained the shooter, posing like a U.S. Marines commercial, and a story about one man’s father ‘heroically’ helping the security guard. It wasn’t even the talk of the office all day, forgotten amongst the opening of the Christmas season festivities and work duties. The Life in the Dominican Republic.
Let’s talk about los Estados Unidos today, I haven’t really done that in a while (admittedly I haven’t done much of anything here). I’ve mentioned having general feelings about going back, excited about seeing specific people, doing certain things – but not really about the reverse culture shock phenomenon I anticipate seeing first-hand. As I’ve talked about before, adjusting upon arrival stunted what could have been trepidation/fear/what-the-hell-is-going-on-ness, but what’s going to happen when I leave this place I’ve gotten adjusted to? I’ve brought a few notes, so follow along as I prognosticate.
Lay it on me:
Weather: I love the weather here. I missed autumn in Boston, which is truly something, but the bad spells here are fifteen minutes from absolute bliss. It’s only getting better, as I’m starting to turn off the fan at night and letting the cool breeze come through the open-air bedroom, waking up and actually needing to put a t-shirt on due to the chill. Yet, sometimes I mentally smell what it was like to walk down the street on a football Sunday to Conor Larkin’s Grill & Tap or snowfall in Seattle, and I crave it. They put up a fake Christmas tree in my office this week, and it smells nothing like the real thing. My first weather of any kind will be exhilirating – I can’t speak for the second.
American Girl: Less the girls in general, but more the lifestyle of interacting with them. Maybe the fact that I’m out of college now and it’s going to be a second different ballgame anyways, but the form of meeting or interacting with the opposite sex is a completely different experience here. Men and women (boys and girls) operate very defined roles in this culture, and the mixing is far less casual.
Ease: I’ve planned out the first few meals at my little plateau East of the Emerald City, and salivate at the thought of everything else I’m going to eat out there. Yoko9 Teriyaki (spicy beef with brown rice, taro bubble tea as well, thanks), Dick’s Drive-in, Costco chicken bakes, Stan’s Bar B-Q, I-have-to-stop. I’m excited to at least know I have the option of a certain meal if I desire, not just the grocery store or Yum Brands fast-food chains that I pass by every day (and never enter).
Another aspect of ease is doing transactions. If I had lived here my whole life, I wouldn’t even realize how getting things done here is…done. It’s the same with the United States. People do things in their own country without thinking of whether it’s going to work, how much it’s going to cost, and how long it’s going to take. Interacting back home will probably seem colder and more institutionalized, but I know how it’s going to turn out.
Secularize Me: It’s been real here. This is what it’s really like to live in a pious country, what I knew I was getting into T-Minus-Eighty-Days before my arrival. I imagine this is similar to living in deep Alabama or Utah, except the juxtaposition of so much that seems against the professed religion. I don’t necessarily get bothered by it here, as I don’t with the lack of food options, but it will be a respite when it’s not a factor in what I think about when saying or doing anything. Off-color jokes, rebellious activity, being able to find something to do on a Sunday are all going to become normal, and my psyche is ready for it.
Friends/Family: This is what dominates my mind when I think about going home, because really it’s all that matters. There’s no ‘shock’ when I see them, I grok them and them to me, and it’s going to be what it is, without fail. Therefore it’s kind of off-topic in this post. Just want you to know you’re on this list, too. In having the people I look forward to seeing being the main reason I sometimes on occasion half-paying-attention maybe count the days, they hide everything that makes me think about why I don’t want to head back. Speaking of,
Not so heavy on the…
Weather: Whoa, trippy. It’s in both places! I’m heading back first to New York City for a December day with a rain jacket and a workout pullover, which will be shrivel-factor of 4 cold, but really cool at the same time. Then back to Seattle where it will be 20 daily hours of darkness surrounding a couple hours of gray-blue twilight, with shiny roads from the day I get there to the day I leave. As of writing, this is exactly what I want – fresh air, some climate, a system shock. Following a month of that with the East Coast where I’ll be intermixing fluorescent sanitary air with bitter bitter cold and wind for the next few months (or…Texas) will force me to learn deep Zen meditation techniques and bring myself back here. The grass is always greener, isn’t it?
Transportation: Unless one’s in an urban area in the United States, getting around is dependent on your tendency to own a personal mode of transportation – usually a car. It looks like for the next 2 years I’m going to be living in “outside-of” cities, maybe they call them suburbs or exurbs or something? Anyways, I expect them not only to be frustratingly homogenous and boring, but a pain in the ass to get around. I really really (really) don’t want to deal with insurance, payments, emissions checks, titles, repairs, deeds, tickets, fuel, and all other costs associated with it. I don’t want to become one of those people dead to the world commuting everyday in their own isolated bubble. Ugh
Materialize Me: Here, God is God. Up there, “cool” is God. I consider myself a super-cool chap, but also a little cynical about the way American culture works. I’m a bit of a luddite, and hate how smartphones are dominating inter-personal relationships, to the point where they get just as much attention as real people even out at restaurants or clubs. Over the past six months, as penetration has increased, I assume this trend has infiltrated even more. I think I even heard of a church service in the states which displays live-tweeting on a screen during service. In my view, it only lowers attention spans, de-personalizes relationships, and damns people out of the loop. I’m not immune to it, but being cynical and resistant to it is a tough spot to be.
On a side-note, I lost my phone here last week. It was just a brick, no big deal, but a pain that I lost all my contacts. I’m borrowing one from a summer intern’s stash, which only works with the headphones in and has a terrible keypad. It’s bad enough that I barely bother remembering it most days, perfectly fine with me. It’s amazing how much communication now happens over the internet, and the ‘phone’ function is becoming obsolete in itself. I value the power of the voice, though, and a phone call is the quickest, easiest, and most complete way to solve the majority of situations one can find themselves in.
Confronting Post-College: On May 6, 2011, a great big pin was pulled in Boston’s North End. The grenade was TD Bank and my friends and I were the shrapnel. For some reason, because some of my friends are quite smaller than me, I got flung the furthest, impaling the coast of the Dominican Republic. The North Atlantic Current will eventually take me back up to the “corridor”, but things will have changed by then. The other pieces of shrapnel will be stuck in high-rise buildings in Manhattan, middle-of-nowhere-Pennsylvania, across the river from Northeastern’s campus, and strewn elsewhere across the continent. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never be able to reconstruct the grenade, and finding my nomadic way through that realization is going to…..suck.
Cinematic Adventures: A movie costs about $3 here. It costs $12 over there, $9-10 if they believe my high-school photo on my Husky Card. You do the math.
Buying soap, not friendliness: I hear (or maybe just constructed it in my mind) that the daily interactions between strangers is going to be different back in the States, more stale. I’ve never really been one for ignoring salespeople or behind-the-counter workers, because I’ve been all of those. I understand what being a good customer can mean to the minimum-wage earning kid on an eight-hour shift that includes cleaning bathrooms and dealing with returns and just overall crappy, petty people that should be worried about their crumbling depression more than the fact that there’s lettuce on their sandwich (see: Materialize Me). It’s not really that hard to make conversation with those who serve you, so be nice and curious, and it will make a difference for the next customer and end in a sing-song crescendo through the whole mall at the end of the holiday season. Think ending of Slumdog Millionaire.
Exchange Rate: Here, it’s 38 pesos to one dollar. Over there, it’s one dollar to one dollar. That’s a load of crap considering the economic state that the one dollar is still just a dollar to the dollar. How am I going to deal with that. Plus, now I’m going to be pulling dollars out of the ATM? How am I going to pay in pesos?
Aguacate! Aguacate! Aguacate! You will never know how much I’ll miss you, fruit.
Learning: Still plugging away at techniques and chord changes, and a little ‘Blackbird’. What turtleneck-wearing loser would I be without a disjointed performance of ‘Blackbird’ to annoy you with at your previously-peaceful campfire?
Reading: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. I had to quit Righteous Victims because it was the same war/cease-fire/war/cease-fire/ story for 350 pages and I knew already that I wasn’t going to come across a solution in the next 300. So now I started a 1,000 page beast, and am 100 pages into it in a frame that would get me 15 pages of Israeli/Arab conflict. It’s immensely enjoyable.
Dominicanismo: Eres una cosa seria – “You’re a serious thing” – Colloquially, it’s comparable to You’re a piece of work. Obviously, this has never been directed in my direction.