It was July 1998. It was the first time I traveled to what would become my eventual Asian home.
I was leading a summer language study program here in Asia for the first time ever. Our group was 24 strong. We, as a group, were clueless about life over here in every conceivable way. We were the only group of our type in this massive, yet relatively unknown Asian city.I had been “in-country” for just over three months, as I had come over early to help plan for and set up the summer study program. The other 23 joined me three weeks earlier.
Asia seemed mysterious and dark to all of us at that time. None of us knew the language beyond survival food ordering.
Then 4th of July happened. We heard that the US Consulate in our city was having a party of which Americans were invited. Seeing that there were only a handful of Americans in this part of the world at the time, this was an opportunity at which we jumped!
We departed from our dorm rooms and caravaned on our dilapidated $10 bikes. The sky was grey, even a bit misty with rain. This had been the case for the entire summer, so nothing unusual about it. It must have been quite a sight seeing this massive posse of big Americans riding in a pack of 24 down the side of the street in this remote Asian mega-city.
We arrived, parked our bikes across the street, and proceeded to the front gate of the US Consulate. In a single file line, we went through the passport check and security scanners. Not your standard beginning to a 4th of July party, but expected given the location.
We entered the courtyard, and in a collective gasp, it was as if we had been transported into weird twilight zone type experience.
There was a cover band playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The irony was palpable, as half the group was from the state of Alabama. The band, though, consisted of Filipino women in tight dresses, singing in slightly broken English. Still, the “comfort music” was well received . . . like a long-lost friend.
There were vats of iced Cokes and beer. Though the hotdogs were pretty strange tasting, they were hotdogs and we hammered them as if we were in one of those contests you see on ESPN2 around 3am.
It was American (sort of). It was glorious.
There were awkward conversations with random US Consulate employees all day. One of the higher ups tried to convince myself and a few others to “enter the Asia track” of service with the State Department. It was a bit uncomfortable, as none of us were the slightest bit interested.
Another man in his 50s hit on some of the MALE students. It was very uncomfortable, as we were even less interested. Americans living in places like this particular city in Asia tend to be strange birds. The day was indicative of this fact.
We returned to our dorms that night with bellies full of imitation “hot dogs” and carbonated beverages. It was a strange 4th of July, but one for which we were all profoundly grateful.
This past week, fifteen years later to the day, I hosted a cookout at my apartment. There were 14 friends and three wonderful children. Half of the group was made up of local Asian friends and the other half from the great state of Alabama. Three of the women were here passing through to visit a friend who lives in my same apartment complex, as well as Rush Stuart’s Mom who is here visiting her family.
We grilled hotdogs made from an Amish run bakery in a different city and my best marinated BBQ chicken. We talked about life, shared great food, and blow a few things up with the fireworks I had saved from this year’s New Year celebration.
My “firework show” consisted of me tossing a few M-80 type fireworks off the balcony of my back deck. I live in an apartment building which is 15 stories high, so not sure my neighbors appreciated the holiday festivities.
It was a really good time.
One thing which is difficult about living overseas is the fact we miss so much of our lives back in America. However, one aspect I love about overseas life is all the interesting, fun, and quirky experiences which mark our lives over here.
Awkward parties at US Consulates, grilling out from the balcony of massive urban buildings, and life threatening “firework shows” are common place around here.
I clearly do miss my life back in America, especially during times like the 4th of July.
However, I am incredibly grateful for the community I am a part of here and the never boring and always interesting situations in which we find ourselves on a daily basis.