The Chinese characters for America are 美国 （meiguo), which literally mean “beautiful country.”
Whoever came up with this translation knew what they were talking about. After spending more than 14 months in Beijing, every day in my hometown of Morehead, Kentucky, feels like one of those dreamy scenes from a Claude Monet painting. Dark green grass. Rolling hills. Sunsets you can get lost in.
I took all these things for granted when I lived here. People would ask me about my hometown and I’d usually say something like, “It’s small, has only one McDonald’s and nowhere to shop.” I talked a lot about the things Morehead didn’t have, which – I now realize – is what makes it great.
Morehead doesn’t have millions of people, so I can walk for miles in the country without seeing another person. There’s no air pollution, so I can jog outside whenever I want without fear of damaging my lungs. Petty crime is rare, so if I leave my keys in the car at night there’s a good chance it’s still going to be there when I wake up in the morning.
Unfortunately, there’s another thing Morehead doesn’t have a lot of: good jobs. Pinecrest Plaza, a shopping center less than a mile from my mother’s house, is dying. The Food Lion where I got my first job bagging groceries for $4.25 an hour has closed. So has the movie rental store next to it, where I used to go on Friday nights with friends. The Walmart is gone too, though it moved to another part of town.
The rest of the country isn’t doing that great either. The national unemployment rate is still above 8 percent, according to the latest jobs report. Most newspapers I would consider working for in the US are laying off employees, cutting benefits and freezing salaries. Some former colleagues have left journalism for careers in public relations or other industries they believe have a stronger future.
So, in two weeks I’ll bid farewell to my family and fly back to China – the land of opportunity for me, at least for now.
When I was a child, my father used to sing songs about living in the city yet pining for the country life. In 1955, his father left Morehead for Detroit, uprooting their family for a job at Great Lakes Steel.
Those days they’re gone for me now
But the times I will not forget
And every time I play you an old country tune
You know I’ll think of them yet
It’s taken a while, but I think I finally understand what he was longing for all those years.