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Thoughts on Returning: Part One

by Going Slowly

Today marks one week since our return to America. Unsurprisingly, we're still wading through a gamut of conflicting emotions about our re-entry. At the moment, we're regularly vacillating between a feeling of being perfectly at home, and a sense of complete displacement, wondering if the world around us has gone insane. In this journal, we've tried to capture a glimpse of the culture shock we're experiencing.


We're out for a walk when I see something rustling in the bushes out of the corner of my eye. Immediately, I assume it's a chicken, and the thought makes me smile. A split second later, I remember where I am: in the middle of Oakland. I feel a twinge of grief when I see that the "chicken" is actually a plastic bag.

I miss the rooster that used to go tight-rope-walking along the power lines in our Bangkok neighborhood, the kids walking their sheep in urban Tunisia, the cows roaming in the streets in Romania, the stray dogs and cats everywhere. Where are the animals that were a normal part of our every day life in so many other countries?!


I can scarcely believe that we've completed five errands in the span of two hours this afternoon. We picked out new Keen sandals, purchased replacement cables and housings for our bicycles, tried on running shoes at See Jane Run, went grocery shopping, and found a post office to mail some things.

It's really incredible what one can accomplish with a few hours in a major city with a car and GPS. The simple fact that shops are open during regular business hours is a revelation. Even better, they are mostly staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people—and they actually have the things we're looking for in stock!

We're at a grocery store, overwhelmed while pushing a metal cart through the aisles, eyes bugging out of our faces. Where are the animals? Where is the blood? Where is the dirt? Why is everything so sanitized and and sterilized and lifeless, so disconnected from its origins? Why do so many things have to come pre-portioned, pre-flavored, and pre-cooked? Why are we so throughly occupied that we can't cook for ourselves?

Why is our society such that so many people are required to spend so much time working that they don't get a chance to live?


I've never given it much thought, but since our return I have become keenly aware of my need to be alone, to be quiet, to disconnect, and to write. It feels as though our lives are being swept up in a giant, uncontrollable wave.

All of the socializing we're doing is exhausting. I'm enjoying myself, but there is so much going on I don't have any space to think. Honestly, I may have talked more in the last week than I have in the past two years! I miss spending time alone with Tara.


Sometimes, I feel at ease here in a way that I didn't experience anywhere else in the world. Is it because everything is familiar? Because I can speak the language? What is the character that makes a place home?

At the same time, I feel alienated, disillusioned, and disoriented. Has my worldview changed so irrevocably that the home I once knew will never feel right? There doesn't seem to be any going back to the person I was before, and I'm not sure that I want to. It's a vertiginous sensation.

Flying home, buying a used car, getting insurance, and signing a cell phone contract cost as much as our daily expenses for an entire year of travel.

Going into the suburbs is really unnerving. The streets are filled with garish signs and advertisements in literally every direction. WalMart, Target, Best Buy, KFC, Bed Bath and Beyond, Burger King, Office Depot, McDonalds, Old Navy, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, TGI Fridays, and more.

It's the same stuff over and over and over again. At the moment, we don't really know what to make of it. All of these places are a part of normal life for many people, but for us, one thing is becoming crystal clear: we don't belong here.

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Tara at Chez Panisse


hey guys... don't worry. i'm thankful for the DXF you've mailed over.... and yeah. being stuck in singapore city is no fun. all the same manufactured kinds of entertainment... that it reminds me of the imagination that the whole planet earth, and whole solar system... is in some giant's hands as a plaything.

take care!
Posted by sehsuan on July 11th, 2011 at 3:50 PM
Don't worry sehsuan, we're not worried!

If you manage to get those CAD files to a fabricator, we'd love to see a photo or two of the results!
Posted by Tyler on July 12th, 2011 at 9:13 AM
yup, i'll keep you posted! currently i'm "stocking up" on additional outdoor/cycling gear... i'm a mountain biker with longer range yet too slow to race ;-)
Posted by sehsuan on July 12th, 2011 at 9:34 AM
This post reminds me of the last chapter in the book The Sex Lives of Cannibals (the title catches your attention! But doesn't really do the book justice) - its a travelogue about an American couple who spent two years living on one of the Kiribati islands.. Needless to say, they certainly experienced culture shock upon returning! It's a humourous and entertaining easy read.
Posted by Jackie on July 12th, 2011 at 10:29 AM
Thanks, Jackie, we'll have to check out that book!
Posted by Tara on July 16th, 2011 at 11:32 AM