With shovel in hand and Penn State winter cap on my head, I looked at the fluffy white sidewalk at the side of my house in Tamaqua. Three inches of fresh snow had greeted me that morning, begging to be cleared from the pathway. This was three inches on top of the roughly foot of snow that was left over from the winter's numerous other snow showers.
My parents grumbled about the weekly winter weather with wishes that the cold season would end. I, however, was euphoric. Snow, snow, glorious snow. It was a sensation I hadn't experienced in my second home, Beijing, for close to a year. This winter in China has been cold with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit but lacking of any snow. And I could see why - all the snow that should have fallen in Beijing had apparently been re-routed to Tamaqua and the rest of northeast Pennsylvania.
I'd forgotten how strenuous shoveling can get, but I was glad to be home. Back in China, it was the Spring Festival holiday, where the largest migration of people occurs as 1.3 billion people journey to their hometowns. Since all my Chinese co-workers and friends would be going home to their families, I decided I'd do the same and throw in a few weeks of vacation to make the trip home - 14 hours in the air - worth it. Vacationing in Tamaqua in winter, what a concept.
It had been close to a year and half since I had been home and in that time a lot had changed. My brother had graduated from high school, my cousin had a baby and most of my friends from college were now spread out over much of the United States.
A lot also remained unchanged. Tamaqua, for the most part, was the same as I had left it. My mom still had her big blue van. And my room was all but untouched, including my soft-as-a-cloud bed (my bed in Beijing is comparable to a rock complete with bumps of algae, or at the very least a few planks of wood).
The agenda for my three-week vacation was simple: I would do as little work as possible, eat as much American/Coal Region cuisine as possible, and just relax in front of my parent's big screen TV. Life in Beijing is both tiring and lacking of any decent American meals, i.e. cheeseburgers, fried food and desserts. And Chinese television is nonsensical - even if I understood the language, I doubt I'd find the programs as interesting as medical dramas like "House" or anything on the Game Show Network.
As I sat on my parents' couch for most of the three weeks, pierogies and hoagies never tasted so good, and American television never as entertaining. Even the commercials, which for years had annoyed me, now seemed clever. I even considered buying the Shakeweight, now wildly popular, I'm assuming based on advertisements.
For gifts, I limited myself to buying a few red rabbits (it is the Year of the Rabbit, after all) and terracotta warrior statues for friends and family. Miniature Mao Zedong trinkets didn't go over so well the last time I was home - one of my friends proudly displayed his statue at work only to be asked if he were a communist.
I also brought home bottles of baijiu, white rice wine considered the vodka of China, although the only similarity baijiu shares with vodka is the color. The taste is horrendous. Imagine what battery acid would taste like; that's baijiu and sits atop my list of worst tasting anythings ever list. With one sip, you feel it fall all the way into your stomach, like a bomb about to cause serious damage to your digestive system. And having given a few bottles to a few friends, I now think that I may have fewer friends in general. In my defense, I was only trying to share some Chinese culture.
Before I could say "halupki," my trip was over, and I was China bound once more. I'd seen my family, visited friends in New York City, Washington, D.C., State College and everywhere in between, and stuffed my face with all the food I'd missed since moving abroad.
In retrospect, the three weeks at home may have been a bit much - the reverse culture shock I'd experienced at home had turned into a normal routine as I remembered how great America is and how inconvenient it can be to be an expat in Beijing. But it also helped renew the sense of adventure that is living in China and made me enthusiastic about the months and possible years ahead living abroad.
Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/ . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .