Friday, June 10, 2011

The Beans and Buns (Mental) Breakdown

Today we leave for a camping trip. For those of you who've ever gone on any adventure in the mountains, you know how much preparation it takes to make it successful. Grills must be cleaned and packed, coolers must be washed out and filled, boxes crammed full with foods that can be cooked over the fire, fishing gear restored and purchased, suitcases full of both summer and winter wear because who knows what the weather will do 1.5 miles up in the sky. And then all of this must magically fit into the trunk of a car that will also hold 4 people and two dogs.

We're getting around that impossibility by taking three cars. Yes, three. It has something to do with needing the truck to haul the stuff but the sitting room for more than two people and someone needing to leave early.

Anyway, back to the story.

Yesterday, my mom and I went shopping for all things needed to make it a successful trip (except we forgot like 20 things so someone (me) has to go to the store before we leave and re-shop). My mom thought it would be easier for us to get it done if we split up the work. To make it even easier, she made a list. A typed up list. A typed up list with each item in order of the aisle they are found on (picture taken of said List because it was oh-so-awesome...but not included on this blog because transferring it from camera to computer is too difficult at this time of morning (5am) while everyone is still sleeping...except me. Curse you jetlag!).

The List in hand, I left the car (after a short banter about who should be locking the car, the one with the keys or her) feeling quite confident of my newly given task. Mom took one side of the store, I took the other. I started with soda- Diet Coke, Fresca and Diet Pepsi (who are these people I call family?). Check. Easy-cheesy.

And then at this point things started to get a little tricky. You see, when The List said "Triscuits- Garlic flavor", I was good to go. Precise, simple. When it said, " 2 cans of Bush's baked beans" one had to wonder...original, spicy, southern, mesquite, southwestern? Small, medium or large cans?  Will the small be too small? Will the large be too large? What if I get the medium but Mom wanted the large...make a decision!!!! Okay, one large, one small, both original. Crisis diverted. Barely, but diverted nonetheless.

As I moved on to other items, the same cycle occurred over and over again- the questions, the debating, the overwhelmingness.

At one point in the bread aisle, trying to choose what type of buns and loaves, my mother appeared and it was like a hand reaching out to a drowning person...I yelled for help halfway across the store and she, with precision and clarity, yelled back, "Two hamburger buns. One hot dog. A wheat loaf. Cheap." Salvation.

With The List being rather vague and the options being so diverse, well, you can imagine my horror when I got to the last item on my list: coffee. "1 can of store brand coffee". Are you kidding me? There were 32 types of store brand coffee, flavors and sizes...begin: meltdown. Tears welled up, the brain shut down and I was done. D-O-N-E done. I found my mother and let her know that she needed to get the coffee.

I live a very simple life in China. When I go to the store, I buy things based on what I hope they are, something that usually involves a lot of staring, shaking and sniffing before I make the final decision. My choices are at best very limited and at worst, the item isn't even sold in country. In my apartment, I'm alone and therefore don't have to worry about starting or not starting a load of laundry while someone else is in the shower. I don't have a car so things like accidentally leaving a light on and running down the batter or misplacing my keys isn't even an option (yes, I've already done both). I don't actually have a working TV at home. But here, I have a big screen television, with 500+ channels to choose from (how will I ever decide what to watch?). It even has DVR and a bunch of free movies too. My cell phone is the cheapest one sold in China, very basic. I can call and text. That's it. I'm now using a magical phone that has GPS and wi-fi and a touch screen. Very cool. Very complicated.

That's America. Very cool. Very complicated. Lots of choices, lots of extras, lots of stuff.

Reverse Culture Shock? Check.

I'm hoping my time in the mountains, surrounded by simplicity and beauty, will give me a chance to process and evaluate all this. Maybe take some time to consider what's important to me, how much I want to get caught up in all this American awesomeness, where I fit into this country and all its complicatedness.


Anonymous said...

You have the same reaction Jonathan does when I send him to the store with a list. I started giving him retail packaging colors to help after he kept buying the wrong cat food.

But, don't worry, I caught your message too. The power of consumerism masterfully complicates our lives...

Enjoy the mountains. - Christy

Jen said...

Oooo, color coding would be so much more helpful.

China is vastly expanding on it's own idea of consumerism. I just can't really take part in it because of the language barrier. Because I can't speak or read the language, it vastly affects my ability to participate in shopping and buying. Don't get me wrong, I still participate but it's definitely limited.

So really, my talk about American consumerism isn't really even a judgement because it's not like I don't buy stuff in China because of my ideals.

It's just easier to see the effects and cost of consumerism in my personal life comparatively since I've been out of the game for so long.

And now I feel like I'm babbling.

Kay Day said...

I think it's interesting how quickly our perspective changed.
You've lived here all but two (?) years of your life. It seems these things would be second nature.

But I was in Haiti only 2 weeks and felt somewhat overwhelmed when I returned. It really is a weird thing.
Almost like culture erasure.

A friend of mine who lives in Togo, Africa mentioned how overwhelmed she was trying to buy deodorant and toothpaste when she was in the States.

I hope you all have fun on your camping trip! And glad I'm not going. :)

Cindy Fox said...

Yes, Jen, reverse culture shock. It's so much worse than the original. Amazing how we can get used to having fewer selections, while at home they just keep upping the variety! Hang in there! I've been home 8 years now and only experience this rarely.

Kelley said...

I love this post! What you said about the grocery store made me giggle just a little. I thought about the part in Father of the Bride where Steve Martin rips open the bag of hotdog buns and starts yelling at the store guy.

I love how you describe making choices in China. I picked out a cereal today based on which one looked like it tasted ok. I didn't go with any one brand in mind.