Last summer, the Summer of Leaving, was a blur of fixing up the house, packing, and trying to finish the seemingly endless tasks big and small needed to move to Istanbul.

This summer, the summer of returning, is proceeding in a haze. It’s been nearly three weeks since we returned to the US from Turkey.

We returned to a home that had been nicely cleaned from top to bottom by our tenants. Yet, there were many little things that needed to be done. We needed to buy a new vacuum. So many light bulbs had to be replaced of all kinds and sizes. There was the DVD player that one tenant told us had broken but actually works. There was the spotty internet service that turned out to be caused by faulty wiring. That’s a bad thing about a 30+ year-old house: the wiring is old. The good thing about an old house is that there are many wires and cables going in and out of it, not all of which are used. This made it easy for me to run a new telecom line from the box outside to our internet modem inside. Our download speed more than tripled and we haven’t experienced any drops.

The internet was a big thing. Not just because we need it for email and social media and reading the news, but we finally joined the 21st century and bought a large LED TV, a Blu-Ray player, and an Apple TV. We can stream Netflix (whenever we get around to getting it) and can watch and listen to anything that’s on our Macs. Very American indeed.

Speaking of being American, on the Fourth of July, I mowed the lawn, grilled hot dogs on our charcoal grill, ate corn on the cob, and then we all watched the fireworks display put on by our township. It doesn’t get much more American than that.

There are many other things to which I am readjusting. I felt overwhelmed the first few times I went into a grocery store. Some of the grocery stores here like Jewel and Meijer are so enormous, they are 30 times the size of the average Turkish grocery store.

It was strange riding in a car in familiar surroundings but not being able to drive. My Michigan driver’s license had expired while I was in Turkey. It was strange renewing it at the DMV because there was no hassle or difficulty. I signed a form, they took my picture, and then they told me my new license would arrive in the mail in a few weeks. Yesterday it did. (No, you cannot see my mugshot picture.)

It’s quiet here. Far fewer people. It’s more green and lush. Less dusty than our Istanbul apartment near several construction sites.

At night, I can see the stars.

I already miss badem ezmesi, acibadem, borek, and so many other things. But it’s great to be able to bake again. The oven in our apartment was useless thanks to all the number indicators being worn off. So I had missed being able to bake. A week ago Meredith helped me make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. All of those cookies are now gone.

Right now, there’s a blueberry pie cooling on our kitchen counter. There’s a can of whipped cream in the refrigerator.



Two Taxis, a Security Check, and Some Hearburn

I’m just about over the jet-lag. The few days before we left Istanbul were filled with more visits, more goodbyes, little sleep, and much packing.

Still, as tired and somber as we all were, we said goodbye to our doorman and his wife, standing together on the sidewalk in front of our building on Ergenekon for the last time. The owner of the next-door taxi stand even teased Meredith (who is a Galatasaray fan) by saying “Fenerbahce!”

We arrived at Ataturk Airport in time with our six suitcases and all our carry-ons (big and small). It took two taxis to bring us and our luggage to the airport. We accumulated a lot of stuff in the nearly 10 months we lived in Istanbul. Not to mention the souvenirs we were carrying for family and friends.

Our flight left over a half-hour later than scheduled. We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany with barely an hour to catch our connecting flight to Chicago. We had to pass through security again (having gone through twice in Istanbul) then walk through the maze-like halls to the gate. The four of us scanned our tickets and passports. My passport beeped and I was told “they” had been looking for me.

I was then greeted by a man from the U.S. Department of Homeland of Security who proceeded to ask me why I had been in Turkey and where I had traveled. It was very weird. My wife was more upset about it than I was. As we boarded the plane, Stephanie suggested I needed to do a FOIA to find out what the government had on me.

The flight to Chicago was long, especially since Meredith needed something every five to 15 minutes it seemed. “I want to watch something else!” she would shout, headphones on her ears. And I would be roused from my not-so-restful sleep to help her in choosing something else to watch on the LCD screen in front of her. She didn’t sleep until maybe the last two hours of the flight, while Henry didn’t sleep until the last hour.

While going through Passport Control at O’Hare, I was again flagged and taken for questioning by a security guard. The guard asked me where I was originally from and I explained that I was from the Chicago area, that I grew up in Northlake “the town south of this airport.” I was not put in a separate room, but in an open area far from the luggage carousel. There I waited several minutes before another man questioned me along the same lines as the man in Frankfurt.

The cynic in me thinks that could have simply done an internet search and up would have come my Twitter feed, Linkedin profile and this blog. The blog would have told them that A) I was in Istanbul with my wife who was there on a Fulbright Fellowship and B) no, I did not travel anywhere outside of Turkey. Or maybe they had done that and simply wanted to confirm that I am who I say I am. Who knows? No one was hostile toward me so I remained friendly and chatty when answering the questions they asked.

We spent the next few days in Chicago visiting with family and seeing a few friends. I gorged myself on various forms of pork, giving me heartburn for three or four nights.

On Tuesday, after a long round of luggage-Tetris, we got in our car and my wife drove us back to Michigan. My wife had to drive because while we were away my Michigan driver’s license expired. We did not fit all of our luggage into our Honda Civic. We’ve left behind some luggage at my sister’s and several pieces of clothing (sweaters and winter coats) at my parents’. We’ll return in a month to get it all.

In the few days we’ve been home we’ve been visited by many friends, which has been fantastic. The kids are excited and happy to be sleeping in their own rooms in their own house.

We’re slowly unpacked our suitcases. We’ve pulled some things out of the boxes in the basement. We have too much stuff and are now looking for any excuse to donate or throw much of it away.

We also acquired a three-year-old gray tabby cat from a friend who was fostering him. We’ve named him Suleiman.


With the cat, it looks like we’ll still be taking trips, but they won’t be lasting for several months.

The Final Drama….Coming Home

We could not leave China smoothly. No. That would be too easy. This adventure, which had stretched our emotions and senses, was not over.

Monday morning we ate our final meal in China, breakfast from McDonald’s. It was cheap. Much cheaper than the hotel breakfast buffet. It was also indelibly American, made up of scrambled eggs, orange juice, sausage, and hash browns.

My wife and I checked over our bags, deciding it was best to forego one carry-on and check in four bags. It was easier to spread our clothes (now mostly laundry in plastic bags) and our loot across four bags to better meet the strict weight limits.

We called down to the hotel desk and had them send up a bellhop for our luggage and to call us a taxi to take us to the airport. This was all done very smoothly and without incident. We’re saying goodbye to Hong Kong and China. We’re going home. The kids’ moods had been much lighter and joyful since dinner the night before. They hadn’t whined, nor had they bickered with one another. Everyone was at peace.

The ride to the airport seemed quick as we watched the Hong Kong skyline race past us. At the aiport, I got a cart and piled our luggage onto it. We figured out which line we needed to wait in and moved toward it.

That’s when I said to Stephanie with a hopeful smile, “You have our passports, right?”

“No,” she said.

The crushing pain focused on my chest at that moment threatened to stop my breathing. I suddenly knew exactly where the passports were: in the top drawer of the night stand on my side of the bed back at the hotel.

Important details I could normally recall in an instant, were lost amid the cloudy dulling of my brain thanks to my cold. I had forgotten to pull the passports out of the drawer before we left the hotel. How could I have been so damn stupid? So careless about something so essential to our existence. Throughout our trip I always had our passports at-hand when needed and stowed away for safety when necessary.

You can’t travel without a passport. At the beginning of our trip, my wife and I had joked with each other that there are really only two things you need when traveling: a passport and a credit card.

Now we had the credit cards but no passports.

What happened next tells you what an awesome staff Cathay Pacific has at Hong Kong airport. I and the kids parked our baggage near some chairs. Stephanie went to the Cathay Pacific service desk. A woman named Elaine took charge. Cathay Pacific called our hotel. It took a bit to find the number. We had thrown out the hotel card we had been given. We weren’t staying there anymore why did we need it? Thankfully, I still had the map of Hong Kong that the hotel had given to us. Since our hotel was a prominent one, it’s number was included in the list of hotels on the map.

Stephanie raced back to the service desk with the map. She returned several minutes later and explained that the hotel had found our passports and they would be delivered to the airport, but we would have to pay the fair for the taxi ride there and back. Expensive, but considerably cheaper than the $100 US per ticket it would have cost to change our flights and attempt to fly Standby….and we know who many open seats there are on International Flights, right?

Meanwhile, because we had photocopies of our passports on us (we’d had the copies made in case we ever lost them), Cathay Pacific was able to check in our luggage, but not have it sent to the plane. We needed to check-in before 12:15pm for our 12:55pm flight.

After doing that, I sat with the kids and our carry-ons while Stephanie went downstairs to meet the man from the hotel. We waited and waited until Stephanie emerged and waved us to follow her. I gathered the kids and our stuff and we hurried after my wife to the check-in desk.

Stephanie had our passports, had paid the hotel staffer who had brought them and had given him a giant tip. We all stood at the check-in desk. Elaine was directing the young man behind the counter, explaining what was going on. It was 12:10pm.

Can I tell you how tired we all were of all these Just In Time travel incidents? Thanks to the people at Cathay Pacific and the staff at the Harbour Plaza Hotel North Point the four of us were able to make our flight home.

Shortly after being seated on the plane, flight attendants brought the kids some activity bags, filled with things for each of them to do and age-appropriate. We got no such thing from American Airlines on the flight over to Shanghai.

The movie and TV show selection was fantastic. The entire first two seasons of Game of Thrones, Homeland, and several other cable-only TV series. I watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the movie Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Our kids watched The Incredibles and played lots of different games. Henry really liked the pinball game. (The best movie option on the American Airlines flight to China was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. I like Ewan Macgregor and Emily Blunt, but that is not a very good movie.) Others I didn’t watch were The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods. The former we had seen in the theater (excellent), the latter I would have watched had I not been so tired.

At our layover at LAX we just barely made our connecting flight to Chicago because by the time we cleared Immigration, then collected our luggage, then cleared Customs, and took a potty break, we barely had time to get through the slow-moving TSA security line to board the plane right after the Final Boarding Call. (There was 2.5 hours between our arrival and scheduled departure time.)

Nevermind that TSA security is slower and less thorough than Hong Kong airport security, and in Hong Kong you don’t have to take off your shoes….

We’re back in Michigan now, after a welcoming one-night stay with my parents in Chicago.

I’m relieved to be home after such a thrilling adventure. I’m also feeling let down because the prospects of Doing Some Cool New Thing in Shanghai are gone.

At one in the afternoon the sun is out, I’m awake and vaguely tired but feel like I should be in bed. I either wake up at midnight for no reason or to pee. Or I wake up at 4am or 5am and can not get back to sleep.

During the day ot’s not hot at all. It’s warm at a very comfortable 73 degrees Fahrenheit. When I go outside I don’t feel the air and I don’t immediately start to sweat.

There’s no one out walking. There’s no rush of cars, or buses or bikes or scooters. Just big houses on big lots, set far back from the streets in this very bucolic American setting.

The air is so clean and clear. Even with my clogged sinuses the freshness of the air is apparent.

There is a month and a half’s worth of mail. Among the pieces is a class list for the Fall for our son, including the name of his teacher and the names of his classmates. There is also a packet of forms that have to be filled out for our daughter so she can start pre-school. It reminds me that I have to get over to the pre-school offices very soon. They had granted us a grace period extension for paying the tuition because we were out of the country during the period of time when the tuition was initially due.

I haven’t had access to a kitchen since before we left for Shanghai. So the first time I make something other than pasta (boiling water) with sauce from a jar, the chicken is over-salted and slightly under-cooked.

During one of my errands, I resist the urge, when I see a group of 20-30 Chinese students on MSU’s campus, to roll down the car window and shout “loawai!”

When I eat I keep thinking I ought to be using chopsticks.

We have to refill our refrigerator. Which we do after a trip to the grocery store, which is the size of a couple of football fields, where I’m able to read all of the signs, where I recognize all of the food, where no one physically bumps into me and I physically bump into no one.

I could not walk to the store. I had to get in my car and drive.

It’s only the morning after when we find out our refrigerator no longer works. My quick-thinking wife runs out and buys some bags of ice, and moves everything into the two coolers we own. It takes a phone call and a 70-dollar late afternoon visit from a repairman to find out that the compressor on the refrigerator is dead, which means it’s time to buy a new refrigerator. His explanation is crystal clear, as is the pang of knowing that a Very Big Expense is about to be incurred. Is there ever a convenient time to buy a new appliance?

I take the kids to the park, the “brown playground” as they call Lake Lansing Park South. It’s their favorite playground. Again, I can read all the signs leading into and inside the park. The conversations, mundane as they are, that the other kids and their parents have are comprehensible to me.

There isn’t a Chinese character in sight.

As I write this, it’s a week after we oh-so-luckily boarded our flight home and my sinuses are still clogged up. Though instead of the bright red mucus that was pouring out in Hong Kong, my nose emits a translucent yellow liquid. I haven’t yet shaken this cold.

I had gotten so used to frantically writing about and then posting our adventures in China, dealing with the bureaucrat-slow VPN connection, worried that I would get too far behind, that now it almost feels wrong to be writing about something so far away even though it happened only days ago. It seems so long since we were in Shanghai. Shanghai was so loud, tall, noisy, dirty, infuriating, exhilarating, and awe-inspiring, and so tiring. I need to rest.