So here I am, the eve before the coldest day in Minneapolis yet, trying to decide if my move to the US was the correct one. Those of you who have read a few of my previous stories may know that I renovated a house in Chengdu not so long ago, shedding no small amount of blood and treasure in the process. Why go through such efforts, if my plan was to leave not a year into my stay in the Compound?
I find myself asking that same question at least once a day. The last more significant one was the day before yesterday, during the tail end of my Uber ride to get a new phone for my wife. I should have been driving, but the battery in my 1995 Honda Civic gave out like Han Solo’s Taun-Taun, so I thumbed my iPhone and in less than five minutes a slick black VW rolled up, with Faris the Somalian at the wheel. We talked. He told me that he is a descendant of freedom fighting Dervishes, most of whom died when the British bombed their capital a century ago. He is here with his mom, sister, wife, and four children. His Dad, the chief of the tribe, steadfastly refused to leave Somalia.
“Brother,” he said, in the breathy, rolling cadence of the East African Muslim. “Why are you here with your small children? This is no place for small children. Maybe university, but the schools here, all they teach is sex and drugs and violence. The bills, brother, they never stop. They want us to be slaves, brother, not earning too much, always more debt. Children in bad schools learning to do bad things. You should not have come here my brother, as Allah is my witness.”
Perhaps. My brother calls the monthly collection of bills “the Nut,” and mine is growing each and every day. It is true. American schools teach kids about sex and drugs and fighting. Americans perform horribly in all subjects (cept for weed smoking) compared with our developed peers, and even worse when compared to Asians. Debt is the engine that runs the US, because without debt there is no credit and credit is the backbone of a capitalist system. Without credit, no loans, without loans no business, without business no American Dream for you.
Yesterday I received three cards in the mail, one each for my sons and wife: Medica health care cards. For $18 a month my family has health care. In Minneapolis. At a very long list of clinics and hospitals that work with Medica. Tomorrow the day will be cold, around 20 below Celsius they say. Yet here I am, in my pajamas, writing this little note from the Northwoods to my brothers and sisters in Chengdu. Central heating ya’ll.
Let Me Be Your Eyes and Ears
Whenever I saw a man, woman or child who had returned to Chengdu from the US, I grabbed the hem of their longcoat like the exile, desperate for news. Is it true, I would ask them wide eyed and gap toothed, is it true what they say? No jobs and tense with a violence that must burst forth; run down and tired, waiting for the East Asians to saunter over and hack up the carcass and share chunks around a big “Fuck America” bonfire. Is it true? What’s it like? Why did you come back? Where shall I go, then, if America has nothing to offer me?
I was never satisfied by the reports I heard. Most everyone gave me cryptic responses, one- or two-liners peppered with “Oh I don’t know man” and “It’s cool …” – but never enough to slake my thirst for knowledge about the old homeland, if that’s what it is for me, and what the goings on are all about.
Now, I don’t need to rely upon weak scouts and spotty reports anymore. I can make my own observations. I can be the spy I never had, and you can be my handler, parsing each sentence for secrets and inside information, double meanings and directions to the treasure. So far, I have been impressed, to say the least. Impressed with the friendliness of everyone I meet. Impressed with the avalanche of work available in Minneapolis for those willing to do it, and impressed with the reception of my friends and family.
Yes, I drive a beater. But today after spending 100 bucks on a new battery, that beater surged to life and I scraped the ice off the windshield and handled my business. That beater cost me $1400. That’s a little over 8000 yuan for a solid ride. I’ll take that. There is a park across the street with 80% grass, 18% trees and 2% concrete. I’ll take that. It’s cold as hell out there, but we went sledding and ice skating, the lakes shimmer golden when the sun sets, and I had nachos and a steak fajita at Little T’s just off of Nicollet. That shit was DELICIOUS. My rent is $910 a month for a two bedroom apartment smack in the middle of the once-was zone between Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis. My neighbors are single moms, older couples, hazed out youngsters, and a couple of immigrants like myself. More expensive than Chengdu, but cheaper than Shanghai – and with central heating. I’ll take that.
What’s that? “Immigrant like myself?”Aren’t you a US citizen, Sascha? Why yes I am. But being here now, after all these years, is like being an immigrant in my own country, and that is a feeling I want to hold onto for a long time. Immigrants hustle harder, and that’s what’s needed in this land of milk and honey.
Sure I miss the old funk streets in Yulin and that good good Sichuan flavor. I miss the energy of China, the ease with which I sunk into the country and walked the streets feeling above and beyond. But I remember a lot of anger too, a lot of WTFs every day abut this or the other thing. I haven’t really said WTF out loud in America yet, except for when I’m browsing Reddit and I see a goat twist it’s own head around to look me in the eye.
There are a ton of jobs out here. Did I already mention that? I had three interviews today. Three. And all of them were decent jobs. I start two menial jobs this week, earning about $300 – $400 a week, and I could be working a lot more if I wanted to. I feel my hustle bones stirring something fierce out here, because the truth is, Yes, America does not have the hustle muscle of China right now, in terms of sheer mass, but what the US lacks for hustle numbers, it makes up for in resources and pin point accuracy. There are a lot of very smart people in the US; smart people who also happen to be cool. It’s refreshing.
Disaster Averted …
Am I in the throes of the honeymoon? Probably. Am I deluded and about to fall flat on my face? I doubt it.
What I feel most, and this is without question the most gratifying and most exciting, is that there is still space in this country for new cool stuff, new ideas, new businesses, new hustles, and new art. Second to that in excitement, but perhaps more gratifying, I have found that my decade plus in China was not a waste. I did not miss out and my skill set is actually unique and desirable.
I was afraid that I would roll into the US as an over the hill couldabeen searching for hustles that dried up long ago in a desultory land primed for a race war. I can tell you with certainty that the worst case scenario is also the most unlikely. Don’t fear returning to the center, after years on the periphery! There is no center! And the periphery is just the back of the bus!
Stay tuned, my Chengdu brothers and sister, for more Dispatches from the Northwoods.