Dec 3, 2022

America 101 – The Expat Returns

Coming Home and Learning How to America, Again

I officially left Singapore on 22 May. My business has been bankrupted by the Covid-19 Pandemic and it is wholly impractical to stay in Singapore given then absolute uncertainty of 2020 and beyond. The decision to leave my expat life — a life that I loved — and return to America is not something I thought I would ever have to consider. I never intended to live in America again.

But then a pandemic hit. I quietly knew that I would have to leave in February. I could see what was coming. I officially confirmed my departure in March as all of my work/contracts were terminated and there was no clear view of work in 2020. All indicators pointed home — back to LA. Being painfully practical became very necessary.

These past few months included the closure of my business (a process that is complicated and expensive in Singapore and remains ongoing), relocation plans (and costs) to Los Angeles, planning how to survive a destroyed economy and record job loss, the end of a glorious expat life, surviving (not getting sick) during a global pandemic, and a not so thrilling dengue fever episode. The journey home culminated with saying a very painful goodbye to new friends and a new country I barely knew after 14 months, and an expat life I truly devoured. I saw myself in Asia for quite some time when I shifted there in 2019 so leaving feels abrupt. Like part of me was cut off.

I boarded the flight out of Singapore on 22 May and landed 15 hours later at LAX. My flight had all of 15 passengers on it which was essentially the exact same number of crew. We were the last flight of the night at LAX which was as eerily abandoned as Changi.

I’m not sure I can adequately describe how bizarre it was to put all of my things into a container, leave Singapore, arrive at an empty LAX, and then arrive at a friend’s empty studio apartment in East Hollywood where I am self-isolating for 14 days. I’m transitioning from Singapore isolation (since 10 March) to LA isolation. The “aloneness” of all of this has created a numbness within me. I haven’t been allowed/able to interact with friends or family on either side of the move the way that I wanted and it’s difficult.

I feel like I’m standing outside of myself watching all of it happen in slow motion.

And now I have to learn how to America again. Yes, I’ve visited home — America — several times during the past 13 years. I know America, obviously. But there are elements of American life that I’ve forgotten about or abandoned while living overseas and traveling that I need to integrate again to feel grounded.

I’ve been an expat nearly 13 years this time around. (I was in Cairo 2002–2003 and then returned before heading out again.) My brain is wired for life outside of America more than inside America and it’s going to take 6 months before my “reverse culture shock” settles down (or so they say).

So I’m making some notes about American life that catch me by surprise, humor me, frustrate me, or just feel weird.

America 101

Hot Water

The water is always hot in America. There are no instant showers — energy saving devices used elsewhere that are switched on when you shower to heat water. These devices can be sleek and sexy (Singapore) or very basic (Kenya) but they accomplish the same thing — hot water only when you need it. The water passing through an instant shower cannot be at full pressure or it passes too quickly to heat so a hot shower with amazing water pressure doesn’t really exist.

Geysers (hot water heaters) abroad don’t heat all day — they’re on timers. And they’re never very big. So, a “long, hot shower” wasn’t really something I had unless I was in a hotel.

In America, there is so much hot water and water pressure! Crazy amounts of it. I can take a 15 minute hot shower at full pressure! (I don’t because I’m in California which is in a constant state of drought — but I COULD.)

I also forgot that there was hot water in the kitchen and bathroom taps (sorry, “faucets”) as well.

Americans wash their hands and dishes with hot water and they don’t even have to press a button for an instant heater to make it happen — it just comes on demand.

I haven’t had piping hot water in the kitchen and bathroom sink in so long that I was actually surprised by it this morning.

Hot water — whenever you want it — in every room with a faucet — amazing.




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