I guess I should have figured that though we were coming back to our home, and the familiar, there would be changes that we would need to adjust to. As we've settled back into life in Asia, there have been several areas that have required some adjustments of our expectations. How could it be that things were different than before?! But life in all places continues to grow and change, sometimes for the good, and sometimes the changes are hard to get used to. What has changed, you ask?
For one, the price of goods. Inflation has hit our city in a big way. Certain items that we used to buy that were cheap (like fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken breasts, etc) have gone up, some as much as 50%. A typical Asianese lunch that used to cost about 15-20 local dollars now is usually closer to 30. Eggs are now about the same price per dozen as those in the States. Cheese, which we always paid a lot for in the past, has increased to the point where it is now slightly more than $5 US for one 8 oz package! Yikes! It seems like our city, along with the rest of this country, continues its economic growth at an alarming rate and so since people can afford to pay more, the cost of goods is more. Wow! I didn't think it could change that much in the 6 months we were gone!
Sometimes people talk about "reverse culture shock" where a person will return to his home culture and be taken aback by all of the changes. We didn't experience this too much living in the States regarding the price of things, because we had been warned. And living here we were used to paying higher prices for western things anyway. The toaster that I finally found for my Asian kitchen several years ago cost us close to $20 US. But when we bought a toaster to have in our kitchen when we moved to Louisville, we only paid $6.87! Wowza, that's cheap! So I expected the US prices to be more, and in some cases they weren't (in other cases they were way more, like gas--gulp!) but returning here I had an expectation of things being cheap and instead lots of things have risen in price.
Another area that I should have known to be ready for is pollution. The night we came in, it was drizzly and rainy, and the entire next week was smoggy and overcast. Now that it isn't blazing hot summer anymore, all of the taxi drivers are driving with their windows down, subjecting everyone in the car to a steady intake of exhaust, smog, and generally dirty air. To make matters worse, in the surrounding countryside the farmers have harvested their corn and are following their traditional practice of burning the stubble off the fields. Two nights ago the acrid smoke in the air had penetrated every corner of our apartment, our clothes smelled like smoke, and I could not sleep because of a sore throat from breathing the heavily polluted air. That was the worst I have ever seen it here, but thankfully it didn't last as early in the morning rain started to fall. It rained all day and brought some fresh air after the showers.
The last few weeks, in fact, I have had a rough time with this--I knew the air would be polluted, but somehow I forgot the extent of the pollution! The New York Times recently published a fairly comprehensive study of the effects of pollution in this country, and in reading their information, I discovered that our city has a pollution level THREE times that of Los Angeles. Oh my. Unfortunately we are not expecting it to get much better. The coal-burning season is almost upon us and so it may be a smoggy winter ahead. This is a fact of life here; definitely an area to adjust my expectations! I must have gradually taken for granted the clear blue skies over small-town Iowa! I haven't been running since we've come, partially because we were still getting over jet-lag and the girls have been getting up quite early each day, and partially because I didn't want to breathe in deeply all of the smoggy air. But, we get more exercise in general here, starting with the 58 steps that lead up to our fourth-floor apartment!
So now that I've showered you with the gloomy news, I'll share a few better-than-expected circumstances. After not speaking the local language for 6 months, I was worried that it would take me a long time to make up that ground. But thankfully, after a few encounters with my house helper I feel like I have remembered a lot again! Neither John nor I have started studying again, and that will surely help, but my "functional" daily language has mostly returned. I didn't expect that and so am extra thankful for it! I've even started dreaming in the local language again!
We are also doubly grateful for the friends we have in this city, both fellow Americans and nationals. It has been wonderful to reconnect with them and in many ways it feels like we never left--we've just picked up where we left off, very easy and natural. I am thankful for this, especially when I think of the loneliness that we battled for the first few years here.
I guess the moral of the story is "learning to be content in every circumstance." What a challenge, but how valuable if we can practice this! With the contentment comes thankfulness and joy for all that we have, since "we have been given everything we need for life and godliness." May we all be more content, more thankful, and more joyful today!