There appears to be some confusion on this matter, so I would like to officially clear things up: I am at last back in New York, where I can breathe without coughing but certainly can’t find a decent lunch (or even an inadequate snack) for less than $1.

A few things seemed strange at first. The sky is such a vivid blue that I keep looking up at it. And every time I use tap water, I feel as though I’m doing something wrong. It even felt strange to say the words “tap water” in a restaurant, so I ordered “still” water instead and got something in a pricey, green-glass bottle from Europe. It was not what I had intended.

It’s a relief to talk to people who know their government’s faults, but I have noticed one ridiculous thing. People whom I consider partisan on both sides of the aisle keep trying to equate certain groups in America with the Chinese government. It’s been happening in repeated conversations, and the fact that it’s coming from Republicans as well as Democrats leads me to the conclusion that these assertions are entirely overblown. You can look at almost any government and find similarities to any other government, people. No matter how bad you think it is here, we do not actually live in a totalitarian state.

And I’m happy to be able to speak English whenever I want. I didn’t blog much about my actual Chinese program — because I didn’t want a bunch of entries like “Woe is me. Chinese is so hard.” Trust me, it was grueling. Most of you know that we couldn’t speak English; we also had five hours of class a day, starting at 7:30 a.m., and then several hours of homework and study after that. My Chinese has improved by leaps and bounds, but I’m now at an awkward level. I can talk about China’s economic reforms and their effect on development, but I’ve never officially learned the words for, say, “keys” or “purple.”

All in all, I’m happy I went, and I’m happy to be back. And if you’re around the City and haven’t heard from me, drop me a line. We can go have some pizza or hamburgers or something that isn’t Chinese food.