Sunday, 17 August 2008

Bursting the Bubble

My oh my! Where do I start? I'm grateful to be back in the OC for 3 weeks due to work. It's my home in many senses of the word. I've got friends and family here. Nevertheless, coming back after being away for two years gives me an entirely different perspective of this "home." Like I used to vow that I like couldn't see myself living anywhere else in the world. I wanted to like stay in Orange County like forever where the beach is my backyard in the summer and dude the mountains in the nearby San Bernardino County my playground in the winter, like where things are so posh here seriously dude.

There are a couple phrases about this county that are right on the money: The invisible Iron Curtain of Orange County and the Orange County Bubble. The residents of this county have always taken pride in it. Orange County used to be part of the ginormous LA county. But due to the "white flight" of the conservative middle-class suburbia Americans in the area, they successfully distinguished themselves and gave this county its own identity back in the days and became a separate county. Also back in the days, there used to be tons of orange groves in this county, of which you don't see too many around anymore. Thus came the name. Moreover cities in this county have been dubbed world-renown like Anaheim where you can find the "happiest" place on earth and especially beach cities like Newport, Laguna, Huntington, San Clemente, and Dana Point.

Ok, enough laud for one county. Anyhow, my attitude has changed since the trip to Asia in 2003, at the time when nobody really knew about the OC prior to the TV show era, to now in 2008 when the OC is probably "the most well-known county in the USA", quoted by a NY traveler I met in Santa Barbara last week.

I used to not be bothered when my OC friends weren't sure whether I came from Thailand or Taiwan. Even though they love Thai food, they don't know where Thailand is on the map and think I'm Taiwanese. This time around, for some reason, I found it "uncool" to see how, excuse my French, ignorant some of my American friends are. After a few times of gently breaking the news to them that people from Thailand are called Thais not Taiwanese--again Thais not Taiwanese--and they still insist on calling me Taiwanese, I inevitably got irked! It's mind boggling that some people have no interest in learning about other cultures or, in a severe case, don't even know that Beijing is the capital of China even during the Olympic Games, or think that Everest is in Seattle! Some were shocked, or worse apathetic, to learn of this insignificant news that China is now financing America's debts. I don't mean to be an international snob now that I've lived abroad but the Iron Curtain and the Bubble are driving me nuts!

But the funny thing is I was just like that myself. A few years ago, I almost failed my citizenship test because I couldn't name the three nations who were the axis power in WWII. (Actually I failed the test but the lady took pity on me and gave me a clue and pretended that she didn't see me fail. Although at the time, I didn't blame my own ignorance and stupidity but my American education. I mean how could someone with an American college education fail an American citizenship test?!?!?) To be honest, I could careless about the world at the time when I lived in the Bubble. I had the very same attitude that I'm critizing of looking inward and took so much pride in it. I didn't bother to look outward, to learn from the Others. I guess I can't be all self-righteous now, can't I?

Another thing is, sad to say, the majority of the people here haven't changed much, and they seem to secretly and silently want me to act like I've never left the OC. It's like the more I act or talk like an airhead the better! Certain incessant conversations around topics like weight, clothes, losing weight, diets, make-up, gaining weight, buying a new scale, more diets and back to weight were driving me up the wall! I got dizzy walking into a store selling all kinds of make-up that you could imagine on this planet. The obsession of possessions and weight gain. My oh my! I haven't heard these conversations at this level of frequency and intensity for so, so long. Is this what they call the reverse culture shock?

Nevertheless, I'm grateful for the few friends who are grounded and have helped me to stay sane. I guess I'm going from one extreme to another from places like the US to Indonesia and back. People told me about the reverse culture shock, but I didn't think I would have a hard time readjusting since, well, I used to live here, and it's just a short visit.

Once again, I was wrong.

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