Shortly after arriving home in Buffalo, NY, two and a half weeks ago, I visited the hair salon.
It had been more than six months since my last haircut – a dire affair conducted at a mall salon in Penang, Malaysia. The stylist, a young Chinese-Malaysian girl who looked all of twelve years old, had approached my naturally curly hair as one might approach a wild boar (should one have the pleasure of coming across a wild boar… while at work… at a hair salon) – with the scissors angled defensively at my head and a diffuser held in front of her as a kind of shield.
The end result was a hairstyle that would have looked right at home in, say, a pom-pom factory or maybe a Pomeranian farm… but looked a bit misplaced on top of a human head. While I was leaving the salon – my hair ballooning out around my face in a way that suggested I had recently been electrocuted — the young stylist yelled out after me that I might want to pick up a nice hair clip or maybe a headband on my way home. (I was thinking something more along the lines of a ninja hood, but I respected her ability to admit defeat.)
As my stylist here in Buffalo snipped and clipped and scrunched my hair (and didn’t once get the look in her eye that I had come to recognize in the eyes of many a hairdresser in Asia when confronted with my curly hair – a look that says “Oh God. What is that?”), I recounted the tale of my last haircut.
This, of course, involved my having to explain that I had spent the last few years living and traveling in Asia.
“Why?” she asked.
“Why what?” I responded.
“Why do you do that?” she wanted to know.
I didn’t know what to say.
I was tempted to just say something flippant like, “Why not?” and then move on to the good part of the story – the headband part. (Sheez, didn’t this woman know that I was in the middle of a story, here?)
But, the fact is, she had a pretty good question.
Why do I travel? Why do I live abroad?
After the last couple weeks of being back in the States, I’ve been wondering this question myself… like a lot.
Asia is great and all.
But, man, home is pretty darn great, too.
If Asia and home were to have a Which One is More Awesome War right now, I’d be putting my money on home.
You see, Asia has lots of cool things like friendly people, interesting cultures, beautiful nature, millions of kinds of dumplings and fruit-flavored Pringles.
But home has:
Buffalo chicken wings!
And Pretzel M&Ms! (I didn’t even know these things existed until I came home this time. Now, I’m starting to wonder how my life had any meaning before.)
Home has stores that sell pants in my size — which, frankly, is bigger than I remember it being last time I was here. (But it’s common to gain ten to fifteen pounds while crossing the International Date Line, right?)
Home also has cable television and lots of fantastic new reality TV shows. (I am happy to report I have finally seen an episode of Jersey Shore so I can understand what all the fuss is about… okay, maybe not understand. But, ummm, at least, I know who Snooki is now.)
Home has couches.
Home has cute haircuts.
Home has men who flirt with me — like on purpose. (Although I’m slow at these kind things and don’t realize that men are flirting with me until after I’ve done something to make them stop flirting with me – like fallen off my bar stool or challenged them to a thumb war.)
Oh, yeah, and home has my family and friends and all those good things.
Home has really got it going on right now.
So why would I ever leave this?
In fact, I’ve been wondering if I really do want to leave home — at least so soon. In a week and a half, I’m supposed to board a plane for China to start a new job teaching English at a university near Shanghai.
I’m really looking forward to going to China, as it will be my first time there. I’m even looking forward to going back to work again — and not just because of the paycheck. (Okay, so the paycheck thing is pretty awesome).
But I’m also really kind of enjoying Pretzel M&Ms and hanging out with family at the moment. And I’m looking forward to the Season Finale of Top Chef (which I will, unfortunately, miss seeing as the uncaring executives at Bravo have so rudely scheduled the finale for after the time I leave).
But, I will get on that plane.
I just need a little push… a little reminder, if you will, of all the reasons why I travel and live abroad.
So, here they are:
1. I get paid to do it.
Don’t get too excited.
I have yet to figure out how I can get Nabisco to fund my current Oreo-fueled Asian adventure. (Dear Nabisco Executives – If you are reading this, I’d like to let you know that I’m a big fan of your products. In fact, should the old adage be true that “you are what you eat,” I practically am your product. Please send me money. And cookies. And more pants.)
Until I have secured snack food company funding, I do have this pretty sweet gig as an English teacher (or, ahem, relapsed English teacher). Not only are there more job opportunities for me abroad, but usually these job opportunities include perks that teaching jobs in the States would not – like free or subsidized housing, airfare to and from my country of residence and paid vacation time. Plus, I can get away with making the students dance the “Hokey Pokey” during their Academic Writing Class and claim that it is a valuable lesson on American culture.
It’s a pretty sweet gig, really.
(Until your students complain in their semester-end evaluations that the Writing Class had “too much dancing”… and then another student sprains an ankle while you were supposed to be reviewing five-paragraph essays… and administration starts asking a few too many questions.)
2. It gives me something to write about.
You may not know this, but I used to consider myself something of writer back in the day. I even got my undergraduate degree in literature and creative writing, so that means I learned a thing or two about how to write stuff. (Now, I consider myself a blogger – which is almost like being a writer but means I can publish my writing myself… whether it really deserves to be published or not.)
One of the things I learned back in my hey-day of college creative writing classes was that you should “write what you know.”
So what did I write about?
And circus clowns, arsonists, Elvis impersonators, beauty pageant contestants, alien abductees and, ummm, Guinness Book of World Record holders.
Do I know any dead babies or circus clowns or arsonists or Elvis impersonators or beauty pageant contestants or alien abductees or Roy C. Sullivan, the man who is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being (Seven times, people! And they say lightning doesn’t strike twice! Ha!)?
But they all made for pretty interesting stories. (And made for comments from my classmates like “Well, that was… umm… bizarre” during writing workshop days.)
The problem with writing about stuff you have no clue about is that, well, there’s a limit to how long you can write about it — unless you have a really active imagination or, you know, you’re willing to do research.
So instead of writing dead baby stories and poems about circus clowns, after graduating from college, I started to write about something I actually knew about: ME!
Unfortunately, I don’t serve as the best writing inspiration – I don’t date much or do much or even get out much.
The only way I become an even remotely interesting subject to write about is when I move abroad. Sure, I spend a lot of time watching crappy TV and eating cookies –- but I do it while living in Asia! (Oooh, ahhh. Exciting, right? Much more interesting than circus clowns, huh? Okay, maybe not…)
3. It helps me appreciate home more.
Sure, I’m really enjoying eating Pretzel M&Ms now, but I’m sure if I had them available to me everyday, I’d get bored. (What? What am I even talking about? Bored of M&Ms with little bits of salty, crunchy pretzels inside? Impossible! But, whatever, you get the point, right? Ummm, wait, what was my point?)
Every time I return to the United States after being abroad, I’m charmed by all those things you don’t really notice while living in this country — the conversations in English, the comfort of being surrounded by friends and family, the snack products. (Okay, so I do notice the snack products while I live here… but, again, I had a point… now what was it?).
Distance does make the heart grow fonder… even of those things you weren’t even that fond of in the first place. When I left Buffalo four years ago in the middle of a freezing February, I vowed to never return in the winter. I was sick of the snowstorms. I was sick of ice. I was sick of having to wear snow boots well into March (and I’m not talking cute fashion boots but the big, clunky, puffy ones that make you look like you’re about to walk on the moon or steer a dog sled or something).
Yet, here I am, in February and it’s pretty freezing, right now. And, man, are my boots ever ugly. But, I’m loving it — especially all the hot chocolate! (Goes great with Pretzel M&Ms! Yes, I’m a woman obsessed.)
4. It’s in the stars.
Not to get all New Agey, mumboey jumboey on you, but I was actually born to travel!
You see, I recently asked a friend’s astrologer boyfriend to read my astrological chart, and it turns out that “the Ruler of my Ascendant is in the Ninth House — the House of Travel.”
You know what that means, people?
Nope, neither do I!
But it sounds pretty cool, right? And, hey, this Ascendant Ruler Guy sounds serious – so if he’s telling me to get out there and travel, then who am I to argue with the dude?
And, in case your wondering, my astrological charts also say: I’m a born leader (uh huh!), I’m easily likeable (yup!), I’m an intellectual (check!), and I have absolutely no Venus action and no hope for a love life (Say what? Stupid astrological mumbo jumbo! Obviously this stuff can’t be right — aside from all that travel stuff and that stuff about me being a super likeable, smart, Potential World Leader Person!)
5. It’s just what I do.
When I was a kid, I assumed that when I grew up I would find a job, get married, buy a house and have kids.
That’s just what people do, right?
When you get a job or get married or buy a house or have kids, nobody asks you “Why?”
But, when you don’t do those things people have a tendency to ask questions.
In the past ten years I have been asked a lot of questions like this: “Why aren’t you married?”, “Why don’t you have kids?”, and “When are you going to settle down?”
And each time I’m asked these questions, I really don’t know how to answer.
(Of course, now I finally have the answer to that pesky “Why aren’t you married?” question. It’s not my fault, people. It’s simply because I have no Venus action! Blame Venus! I do! Surely, this can’t be my fault!)
I’m happy my life has ended up the way it has.
But I don’t know why my life has taken this course.
I don’t know why I travel.
It’s just what I do.
I mean… Why not?