Ordinary Americans - Gai Chen

Ordinary Americans

My story with Minnesota began with the Book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which recorded the journey of a hero and his eldest son, who were born in Minnesota, travelled from the twin cities to the west coast by motorcycle. When I first read this book at the age of 16, I admired the courage and ideas of the protagonist, and also had a reverie of the other side of the ocean. Were Americans as free as they told us in this book? I didn’t know.

When I set feet on Minneapolis, I found it was far from the scene in the book. There were no country road and motorcycles running fast, only rows of chic houses and fresh air. My host family was very proud of their community, and they took me around the lake and park near home.


Voluntary work began the next day. The institution I worked was Family Wise which had been dedicated to helping families build good relationships, and protect their children's health and well-being for decades. Everyday, I met all kinds of people such as broken couples, but most of them were the children aged from 6 months to 5 years old sent by social workers or broken families. Parents' alcoholism, drug abuse, imprisonment, and death made these innocent children bear too much pain they couldn’t not endure. What made me particularly impressive and distressed was the story of a 2-year-old boy. When I stayed with him, he always opened his arms and walked to me for a hug. He may not understand the meaning of the words in the registration form, but he still chose to believe in others and kept his innocence. At first, I thought these children would be difficult to get along with or suffer from mental illness, but they were as pure and kind as other children, which I didn't expect before.

My colleagues had worked hard for many years to improve family relationships. Some of them graduated from top universities, some resigned from accountants with high payment, and some worked in government departments for more than 30 years... They gathered together and worked hard for the same goal. Ms. Bochner, the main leader, had been working for more than 20 years, but her office was only half the size of other employees’. Every day, she cared about everything of our organization. She often brought books from home to the public book corner, cleaned the parking lot signboard, receive the guests and answered the call for herself, and chatted with us... but most of the time, she sat at her desk, facing two computers and devoted to the charity she loved so much.


The host family also had a property in Veroque, Wisconsin, where they often went at the weekend. They drive me and other two students there on the second week. Veroque was a vast but thinly populated area with a large farm. People there could be self-sufficient to a certain extent, and they didn’t like modern lifestyles, so there was no cell phone coverage in this City. On the first night of the trip, the mother took us to the most famous restaurant. The ingredients were all from local farmers, and some specific information about the farmers was given on the blackboard. The next day, the morning market was very vigorous with dozens of hawkers in a small square. Some sold handmade soaps, handmade necklaces, some sold honey, and some sold their idle items. Residents took good use of abundant agricultural resources to start a company selling a large number of agricultural products.


The father was a professor in local university, and the mother was a social worker. Their work was not easy, but they enjoyed it very much. Piano, planting, photography and cooking showed their happiness. What impressed me most was the father, who silently kept yogurt and juice I loved in his mind. One day, it was already 10 o'clock in the evening, but he went to the supermarket to buy them for me.

They liked to sit in the backyard, drinking red wine and watching the sunset together. I met countless faces during four weeks, which was the true portrayal of the ordinary aspect of the Americans. Their topics covered social problems, household chores, as well as some shortness of parents, which were the most ordinary joy and sorrow. This country was no longer a plot of drama, but a picture composed of real life for me.

At the moment, I am taking on the flight to Beijing. Minneapolis gradually became the epitome in the porthole. The clouds spread a faint golden color in the sun. I closed my eyes and saw the secluded mountain village of Wisconsin, a large green field, and thick clouds at the mountainside. The sun was hidden, but there was a beam of light shining on the village and the mountains. The flow of light seemed to come from the heaven with quiet and unfathomable force.

The end of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said: "I have a feeling that I have not seen before. This feeling is not only on the surface, but deep inside: we won." During these days, I understood the ubiquity of knowledge through practices, and I really got involved in American culture. American people were kind and ordinary. On the other side of the ocean, they just enjoy daily life and embrace happiness with intelligence and diligence like we do.

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