Jetlag and Reverse Culture Shock: Back in the U.S.A.

Travelling the Silicon RoadWell, it’s been a week since I’ve returned to the United States from my month in China, and I finally seem to be back on a Western hemisphere rhythm. For several days following my return home to West Virginia, after a few days in the office on the left coast, I could not stay up past 8 p.m. I would try and try to stay awake, but to no avail, promptly waking up 3:15 a.m. or so.

But that’s the rather mundane aspect of my experience; after a month in China some of the things that I would normally take for granted seem strange. Like being in a crowd of people and understanding what everyone is saying. Or not being petrified when I’m driving. After a month of planes, trains and taxis, hell, it feels weird just to drive period.

And I think I’ve been ruined for Western food. I don’t know whether I just got used to eating real Chinese food frequently, or my stomach shrunk, or my intestinal flora and fauna adapted so much to the East that it doesn’t recognize the food of the West. But everything I ingest now seems to hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like being in a constant carbohydrate coma and in any event — for the umpteenth time, I know, I know — I do miss the food in Chengdu.

But then I’ve traveled abroad for a month at a time before, so I expected a bit of reverse culture shock. But that last time was a month spent in Europe, as opposed to Asia, so it feels magnified, this time. But I don’t think one can spend a month abroad anywhere, and not feel at least a little strange upon coming home. I’m not the same person now that I was when I flew to Beijing on Oct. 8 (it seems a lot longer than 5 weeks ago), and home doesn’t seem quite the same, either. The world is a little smaller, and my perspective is just a bit broader, I suppose. I would hope so, anyway.

It was certainly very strange to go from the hubbub of Chinese cities, finishing up the trip with a weekend in Hong Kong (thank God I never made my way to Hong Kong in my 20s; I would have ended up dissolute and destitute by now, or worse, without a doubt), only to spend two days in San Jose then back home to Appalachia. I live outside a small town of about 3,000 in southern West Virginia, deep in the Appalachian mountains, and now that the whitewater rafting season is over for the year, it’s pretty quiet; in fact most of my local friends are connected with the whitewater tourist industry and they’ve all left until next year.

It’s quite the 180-degree contrast to China, and a bit of a relief in some ways. I was ready for some solitude after the close-knit quarters and seething masses of humanity that are Chinese cities, and it’s nice to breathe air that I can’t see, and smells like … well … smells like air.

But on the other hand, I confess that on the plane ride home from my first trip in China, I was already figuring out when I could take my next trip to China. As I mentioned before, the only other country I/ve traveled to that has affected me thusly was Ireland.

I encountered a saying about China while conducting background research prior to the trip; I’ve tried over the ensuing six weeks to track down the original quote, to no avail. But it goes something like this: travel to China for a week, and you’ll be able to write a book. Travel to China for a month, and you’ll be able to write an article. Travel to China for a year, and you won’t want to write anything at all.

I’ve pondered the meaning of that; many people assume it is a reference to the complexity of Chinese culture; the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, as you begin to grasp the realities and complexities of a culture that is thousands of years old. I think to a certain extent that is indeed true.

But for me, personally, I took it to mean that the more time one spent in China, the more one would become enamored of the culture — the more one became absorbed in China, the more one came to know it, the less one would feel compelled to write about it and go home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I want to go native; but I certainly have begun to understand China’s allure — beyond its burgeoning free market.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaBut now the time has come, now that I’ve returned, to try and address the original questions: is China for real? Does it live up to the hype it receives in the semiconductor industry in the West? And if so, is it a threat? Or will it be in the future.

Well, I’ll be attempting to put the answers to those questions in more detail in the coming weeks here on the Silicon Road, but in a word: Yes, yes, yes/no and perhaps, respectively. But that’s enough for now.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Jeff

Original Comments

at 11/22/2005 12:31:00 PM, Brian said:

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and thanks for the many informative and entertaining articles. Yes, American food is heavy, in fact I bet you will even feel slower. Perhaps the fast moving Chinese culture is partly contributed to the food. Wait till you eat “Americanized” Chinese food, its just not; well, China, Chinese food.

at 11/22/2005 1:32:48 PM, Dr. Hayao Nakahara said:

I myself just came home after seven weeks in China from Beijing to Shanghai, then to Guangzhou and finally to Kunming (Yunang Province). I do this trip a few times a year and every time I come home to New York, I have jetlag of various severity. This time, when I returned home on November 9, it took me one week before my body recovered “NY bio-rythm”. I hate to come home when I think about my jetlag, but when it is over, I am so glad to be home, and then, I start thinking when I go back to China. I completely agree your sentiment. H. Nakahara New York nakanti@yahoo.com

at 11/22/2005 5:13:05 PM, Eric Fremd said:

Your blog has brought me back to China in my mind…I have absolutely enjoyed the experience of getting back to China by reading this series. This year was my first trip to China- My very first trip I stayed 1 month working at our factory and training in Shenzhen…I was able again to return twice more for a 2.5 week business trip then a quick 10 day trip visiting my new Chinese girl friend…I am looking forward to returning next month…Hopefully I will bring a little piece of China back with me next year…Thanks again for a great series! Sincerely, Eric Fremd etfremd@yahoo.com

at 11/23/2005 7:58:20 AM, Ron Carson said:

Thanks Jeff for this interesting series. Having had the pleasure of traveling to Hong Kong and China about a half-dozen times over the last 3 years I had a yearning to make plans for my next visit. I have only visited “Westernized China” and look forward to visiting more rural areas on a future trip. Thanks again for the journey.

at 11/23/2005 9:52:43 AM, Ralph Kenton said:

Jeff, thanks for your series of excellent articles on China. They were most useful in preparing for my lectures and business trip, which concluded just yesterday. Although I have no jet lag, it was great to once again consume some American ice cream, a commodity that was very scarce in Shanghai!

Eating there was quite an adventure, especially when pondering delicacies such as “Duck Lower Jaw with Secret Sauce” or “Stewed Beef Fat with Fungus” One observation: The buildings and facilities were definitely world class, although many of their basic service processes still offered room for improvement, especially when it comes to speed, comfort and efficiency. It was nevertheless a great experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to my next trip there.

at 11/28/2005 6:00:46 PM, Henry Sommers said:

Interesting stuff, but what does it really mean? Their education is similar, their dedication more focused,their costs way below ours and so what do we need to fear? Is the political or economic threat real? do we face an unknown force? Are we suckered into a sales hype that is not all what it appears.

Should we stay home and look at our own resources or must we give technology and jobs away so freely?

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