Saturday, November 10, 2001

(August 23) The moment of arrival was pregnant with expectation and fear. Home -- what does it mean?

The plane touched down on the runway of the San Francisco airport, and I followed the crowd of Americans to baggage claim. All the signs are in English, I noticed. My mind, following its normal airport arrival procedure, scanned its notes: How do they say hello here?

Standing in line for immigration, an American guy criticised the ambiguous line formation, "I wish they were more organized." I was stunned. Wasn't he coming from Asia, like me? How could he be anything but amazed at the neatness and order?

"How long have you been out of the country?" the customs agent asked me. "A year and a half." "Are you carrying any drugs?" he got straight to the point. "No." "What's in your bag?" "Camping stuff -- tent, sleeping bag, stove." "Wait here please." He walked off. I was tired, punchy, and a little surprised to be treated so suspiciously. "We're going to have to inspect your bag, sir," he told me. A woman arrived, "Sir, please step over here." I'm glad they kept calling me sir, that made me feel so much more comfortable. They were Americans, and I was American, so I thought we'd give a smile of acknowledgement and ask where the other was from. But no, they were busy trying to see if I had any drugs. I was curious what my bag looked like going through the x-ray machine, so I stepped around the corner while I was waiting. "Please stand over there, sir," she snapped. Oops, I guess I wasn't supposed to do that.

Finally satisfied, they let me through customs. Already I felt myself harden a little...strangers are not your friends here, I was re-learning. They probably think you're going to be mean to them, so it's just a pre-emptive strike.

(August 25) "Do you want anything?" Darcy asked. We were in the 7-eleven by her house. The same one we'd been in a million times. It hadn't changed.

"Do you know how much coffee costs?" I asked. I hadn't slept the night before. Jet lag. We were on our way to Jeff's surprise birthday party, and I thought I should be awake for it. He didn't even know I was back yet.

I guess I looked a little scary, staring at the three sizes of coffee cups like a zombie stares at the shotgun-wielding protagonist, dazed and uncomprehending. $1.25 for coffee. Wow. That's 60 rupees -- enough for a hotel room or two meals. I've walked a mile with my backpack to save less money than that.

"I'll pay for it," she said, saving me from the pain of my first purchase.