An Unexpected Culture Shock

As a reminder: I arrived in the States on July 1st and have been enjoying time with my mom in my hometown, Marshall, IL. My return date to China will be August 6.


China rescue Lao-lao and I enjoy a sit in the sunshine on the back deck.  I found him with a broken jaw so he has no ability to hold his tongue in.  He also has lost a majority of his teeth to gum disease. He has lived with my mom since 2009.  What a wonderful life he has now, given lots of pets and care from those of us who love him.

The evening’s cool breeze was sweeping me, my mom and Chihuahua Lao-lao (Old-old, our 2008 immigrant street rescue from China) down Hickory Street toward our house on North Michigan Avenue. Our nightly walk with the dog was almost over when my mom said, “Does it ever feel strange, jumping from China and then suddenly landing in Marshall, every time you make these trips back to America?”

I’ve been doing these jumps for so many years that, in all honesty, there is no strangeness involved. When I’m in China , I feel right at home, even straight off the plane, and the same goes for Marshall where I replant myself as soon as I step out of the Indianapolis Airport before driving the 1 ½ hours into Illinois.

But I must say, the other day did give me a bit of a jolt, one that I don’t often experience.

It started with a trashcan, or rather what was in it.

An Early Morning Swim Raises An Eyebrow


The Marshall Community Pool was first built by the Lion’s Club in 1956.  It is now owned by the city.  A new pool is scheduled to be built for next year at a cost of 3 million dollars.  Fundraising by local citizens and city funding will cover the cost.


Monday morning had me at our local outdoor pool, ready for my 6 – 8 a.m. lap swim. The high school lifeguards, although bleary-eyed and wishing for a sleep-in, show up right on time to unlock the gate for us early birds to straggle in. It’s been Brandon’s turn this week and he was there a tad early on Monday, which gave me an opportunity to stroll in leisurely rather than swiftly hit the water for my daily work-out.

The crack-of-dawn opening allows our guards, usually two of them, to clean the pool while we adept adult swimmers cruise the waters. Cleaning duties include washing down the pool deck, sanitizing the bathrooms, picking up the parking lot and emptying trash cans into the dumpster out front.

When I drifted over to the patio to deposit my towel and shoes on the picnic bench, I noticed the trash cans were completely full, ready to be emptied.

The night before, a pool party had taken place from 7 – 10 p.m., which is not unusual for the weekends. Many groups from Marshall and surrounding towns rent our public pool for their summer gatherings at a reasonable $115. We are the only city within a 40-mile radius that has continued to keep its outdoor pool open for the community. It is one of the many services Marshall offers to the public and we here are extremely grateful to have it, as are those who patron our pool facility.

Overflowing trash cans after a pool party are nothing to be surprised about but what stopped me in my tracks was what was in one particular the trash can.

Perched on top of an underlying pile of plastic cups, bags and paper plates was a big box of Walmart cookies, still in the container and unopened. And next to that was an untouched sack of deep red, ripe cherries along with another bag of plump, white grapes. Further down was a squashed bag of hotdog buns, damaged from being tossed into the canister without a second thought, even though I’m pretty certain they were quite fresh before they went in.

I was truly taken back.

My mom and I had seen those same gorgeous red, ripe cherries from Washington State in our local Walmart in the same labeled zip-locked bag. They were $7.00 a pound. We had debated spending the money on them, but getting rather cheap, turned instead to the Ranier cherries which were only $4.20 a pound.

We had also kept temptation at bay concerning the many variety of cookies displayed on the bakery shelves, mostly because we prefer homemade but also because we didn’t really need all those extra unworthy calories, did we?

Yet here they were, all those store offerings from yesterday, haphazardly discarded and set before me.

No ants were marching about and those cherries (definitely over a pound) were begging to be saved. The same went for the grapes, likewise dumped without a second thought. Also needing rescuing were the store-bought cookies, Snickerdoodles and peanut butter, cuddled next to the fruit.

I didn’t hesitate, even in my shock, to shamelessly pull the lot out of the trash.

The cookie container I deposited into the basket room for the lifeguards to munch on during their on-duty hours that day. The fruit I quickly placed next to my towel on the picnic table to take home for my own consumption. As for the squashed buns, I grabbed those as well to toss out to the birds in the city park next to the pool.

My determination was to let nothing of good, edible use go to waste, even if it meant pulling things out of the trash. I didn’t really care what anyone thought of me. Such wastefulness, money and foodwise, was just not something I could ignore.

In China, people would have packaged everything up after a party and made sure it went home with someone. Nothing would have been left behind, I’m almost certain, especially the fruit.

Yes, I know Americans can be quite wasteful, even myself at times, but at that moment, the actions of my fellow countrymen just struck me as being so vastly different from my Asian home across the ocean that I was rather gobsmacked, as the Brits would say. How I wish I could have boasted how Americans do things better but in that moment, it was the Chinese way of waste awareness that I wish had gripped those partiers the night before.

Enjoying The Fruits of My Labor, Yet With A Tinge of Sadness


The discarded cherries, not going to waste in my house!

I am currently enjoying the fruits of my trash-grab. My mom and I have been gobbling down those gorgeous red cherries and juicy grapes for the past couple of days. We are thankful for the free goodies, courtesy of the pool revelers from Sunday night, and yet, with every cherry and grape I eat, there is a tinge of sadness because I found out who had hosted the party.

It wasn’t a family for a reunion, our local school district for the students, a softball team’s celebration for a season’s ending, or a local business for employees and their families.

It was, of all people, an area church group.

From Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend and a little reflection time on the above story. I’ll let you formulate your own personal thoughts on the matter.



About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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2 Responses to An Unexpected Culture Shock

  1. Kate says:

    Good for you, Connie!!! I have done like things as I got older……good food should not be wasted! Thanks for feeding the birds, too.
    Am watching Winnie the Pooh with my 2 little granddaughters while their Dada catches up on some much needed sleep…..then we’re off to the “farmers market” for a look see.
    You’re going to be here to see the ???GOP??? Convention….hopefully, it will not result in violence.
    Shalom, Kate

  2. Teresa says:

    That is crazy ! Glad you and your Mom got to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You look great and I love your shirt. Have fun with your Mom. Teresa

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