Jet lag, culture lag

By Alex McNab

I was the kid who spent his recesses desperately scraping at the ground hoping to one day see a dragon or Mulan popping out of the sand.

Now, with the help of the high school foreign exchange program School Year Abroad, I have finally made it to China.

At least, physically I have. It is as though my mind is in one place and my body is in another.

 I feel like I am at Magic Mountain and my stomach is still waiting in line while the rest of my body is about to complete the second drop, but I am dropping so fast that the queasiness, the homesickness, hasn’t had a chance to catch up with me.

Up until recently, the only birds I had seen in China were those in the Angry Birds commercials, but even the Angry Birds here are different. They all have bunny ears. I’m not exactly sure why they are avian-rabbit mutants, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the horrible air quality.

As soon as I got off the airplane, it smelled like I was in a Las Vegas casino or like the most recent count on the “Smoking Deaths This Year and Counting” billboard on Santa Monica Blvd, was blowing its cigarette in my face.

The air quality and lack of real birds are all in addition to the fact that I have migrated from the freedom-loving Obama nation to a communist country. The November elections are just another odd American custom like using our hands to play football and eating Panda Express.

So far, I have had only one encounter with the differences between the democratic and communist lifestyle. Our resident director, Hilde Becker, a short-haired, smiley, German woman with a pleasant accent, asked me to step outside the other day so that I could have my picture taken.

I like taking pictures, so, naturally, I consented until the thought struck me, “why would Becker want my picture?”
“For the police,” she said.

“Oh no,” I thought. “It’s only my first day and I’m already a felon. This is terrible. The last thing [middle school attendance coordinator] Brenda Simon told me before I left was, ‘Alex, try not to get arrested,’ and, now I am at school having the resident director take my mug shot.”

I began to wonder what it was I had done wrong. I thought that everyone had been staring at me because, with my dark skin and puffy hair, I resembled Afro Samurai. They must, actually have been glaring at me for breaking some strange communist law.

As it turns out, it was my Angela Davis-esque hairdo that was causing them all to stare. Apparently in China, the police require a picture of every foreigner.

But despite these differences, S.Y.A. China is, in many ways, very similar to Harvard-Westlake.

For example, S.Y.A China has a lot of stairs. My one year at the upper school ensured that I am one of the few students who hasn’t broken a sweat after hiking up the six flights of stairs to the S.Y.A. section of Beijing Middle School #2.

The time when I most completely forget that I am no longer in America is actually when I am sleeping. In bed, my head is in America and on America. As I lay my head against the small, red, white, and blue U.S.A. towel my host parents have thoughtfully placed over my pillow, I dream of all sorts of things. So far, my dreams have stop at Aug. 26, the day before I left for China.

I suppose, when I start speaking Chinese in my recurring dream where I skillfully glide like a peregrine falcon, I will have begun my  gradual transformation.

I will no longer be a hamburger-hoarding, too busy with school, sports, and friends to spend time with my family American man, but instead a chow mein chomping, let’s-all-eat-dinner-at-the- same-time-and-place Chinese man. I can’t wait.                                    

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