State of the Drunion

How long is four years? Forever? Forever and a day? A day? A dream? Drew’s Journal started as an efficient way to keep many people informed of my adventures: I could post a journal for all to read, rather than send individual emails. But now, now it has become far more. Not so much through my own uneven efforts, mind you, as through the simple passage of time. You, I, we can look back upon these journals and see the ever-changing consciousness of an unusual person in unusual situations.

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Real Surreality

It’s 7pm on Friday night and I’m standing on a busy street corner in the heart of downtown Shenyang rolling up the sleeves of my dress shirt. The air, laden with car exhaust though it is, feels cool and refreshing on my face. Autumn has arrived. Across the street a neon sign promises to transport my tired body far, far away into a world of ecstasy simply by massaging my feet – although they’d probably be happy to massage a whole lot of other body parts, if I was willing to pay…

Inside a cozy booth in the restaurant behind me two coworkers are arguing over what kind of barbecued meat to order for dinner. (Sheep? No, Cow! No, Goat! No, Dog! Dog? Get the fuck outta here! Ha ha, ok, sheep!) Three more work buddies should roll up any minute to complete our half-dozen. It’s just your regular Friday-night dinner after work among friendly coworkers in NE China, wholly unremarkable save for the presence of the Drew.

When I first left America for East Asia in the summer of 2005, I carried a profound sense of wonderment with me wherever I went. I was constantly aware of the novelty and rarity of my situation, and took great delight in every twist and turn my path required. But the passage of time chips away at such feelings, and four years later I find myself so thoroughly accustomed to my life that the wonder is all but gone.

However, sparks remain. As I stood on that bustling corner staring off into neon oblivion, I took a deep breath and my consciousness was swept up and away, out of myself, out of the moment, until falling back down to earth in my hometown. Suddenly I was seeing myself from an outsider’s perspective, from the perspective of those I’ve left behind. I watched myself amble back into the Chuar-Ba (BBQ Bar) and slide into the booth beside my comrades – the division director on my left and department manager on my right, with three more coworkers across the table. I watched myself lift my mug of draft beer in toast to our good fortunes, argue and laugh over the events of the past week, and lazily discuss those yet to come – all of which of course done in Chinese. I noticed the other patrons openly staring, marveling at this obvious outsider who seemed so at home, so at ease.

And so it went until sliding into the backseat of a taxi and wearily explaining the route home broke the trance and snapped me out of the spell I’d been in. I’ve been asked a million times “what’s it like to live in _____?” and the answer I give always disappoints: I still take out the garbage, vacuum the floor, and go to work just as you do. Sometimes though, sometimes the special overwhelms the mundane, and the surreal beauty of your situation shines through… like when you come back early from lunch on Tuesday afternoon and catch the Administration Manager trimming his nose hair with a 12 inch long pair of office scissors…