10 Seconds

For Lucy & Cory

Lucy & Cors Wedding 2

I met you in a strange land

Full of fireworks, bing long and awed faces

Thrown together, our sanctuary grew

An island of foreigners in a sea of locals

We could easily have become friends

Conveniently losing touch when we returned

To our western reality

Instead, we chose to become family

Playing Phase 10 on your porch

— Not at all competitively, of course —

While peeking through laundry to people watch

Singing 1950s ballads with befriended gangsters

Crying, laughing, cheering, hurting, hoping

Occasionally choking on the smell of stinky tofu

I remember sitting on your bed

One lazy afternoon

Watching you sort through your collection

Of definitely-legal DVDs

While also sweeping the floor

You exchanged glances briefly

Then went back to your respective duties

You weren’t even near each other

But the love expressed in that 10 seconds

Was more palpable,

More potent

Than anything from legend or the silver screen

In such a quiet moment

I witnessed soulmates

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Connecticut to China

In pop culture, the image of a failed college graduate is usually some deadbeat kid living out of their home basement on their parent’s charity. On the surface, I looked nothing like that. I lived in an apartment with a peer, had a restaurant job, and interviewed for several prospects.

But the truth is, I was living too close to home, constantly worrying about financial stability, completely unchallenged by my career. I didn’t feel young. Didn’t feel as if I had endless prospects and a degree that opened doors. After graduation, I became completely lost, stuck at a crossroads.

Having struggled for years to get into a good school like Hamilton, I was willing to accept substantial student loans in order to do so. As my parents both have low incomes and personal debt, I knew I wouldn’t have them as a safety net.

After graduation, I’d have to choose a profitable career with room for growth that would allow me to settle my loans and create the best possible future. I realized that it was a bit of a risk, that I’d be walking on a tightrope with no room for accidents or bad decisions. I had faith that I’d be adult enough to handle it when the time came.

I was wrong. When the time did come, I chose to revel in my freedom of choice, a sort of Peter Pan fantasy that broke when hit with reality. When the bubble that so many had been trapped in finally burst, the fallout was devastating. My own personal failure was seasoned by the economic failure of an entire nation.

Such an unexpected and unconsciously devout patriot. As my country plunged into socio-economic depression, so did I. As a nation of people wondered what could possibly happen next, I buried my head in the sand along with the naysayers. But also like my country, I wasn’t entirely ready to give up yet. Part of me hoped for some kind of redemption.

China started as a joke. Right after graduation, a good friend of mine decided to go teach over there. Another friend of mine decided to join him a year later. Neither had teaching experience, or could speak the language, like me. About a year after graduation, she informed me that I should join her.

I felt trapped and uninspired, somehow offered a chance to live in a country that seemed as far away as Never Never Land. My perception of China was rooted in a curious combination: of childhood imprints, cherry blossoms, the Great Wall and dragons.

Although it took a summer to work out the logistics, my decision to spend a year in China was almost instantaneous. I was there for a little over ten months, and it felt like a re-awakening. Life seemed like something out of an adventure show, learning a new language alongside an ancient culture, being one of 40 foreigners in a city of almost 4 million. Words can’t even describe the effect China had on me.

I cannot ignore the pain that came with failure. It is easier now to recognize that without my breakdown, I wouldn’t be able to see myself clearly. When I decided to go to China, that was the moment where I decided my failure would not define me. While some of my problems definitely came from our recession and bad timing, a lot of it was due to my own indecision. My weakness. I couldn’t be ready to handle real life until I accepted that it was ultimately me keeping myself stuck at those crossroads.

I am Mulan

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I’m content to just sit here, watching memories roam through me, mingling and chattering with the present. After walking through a Hunanese marketplace full of smiling, watchful faces, and braving the Indy 500-meets Wild West-meets Grand Theft Auto landscape of motorized travel, I end up on my fenced-in balcony in the teacher’s dormitory.

I’ve just been given my Chinese name by the family of teachers who’ve adopted me and the others in our nest of foreigners. It is a genuine honor, as their names aren’t just pretty syllables but carry meanings, messages and the wisdom of their unparalleled history.

Some of my friends got stuck with pretty floral names but I got an unexpected gift nestled in with the pigs feet and thousand-year-old eggs: the name of Mulan. She has always been one of my favorite against-all-odds heroes, and is the epitome of my personal motto lauding rebirth and second chances.

The air is somehow rich, although the kiss of pollution sifts through the breeze. Local flavors as pungent as they are raucous clamor for attention, wafting shreds of bing long with mantou and melting garbage. Car horns honking dismayed greetings layer with strains of Xiangtanhua and imperfect tools of construction.

With all these yammering children intruding on my solitary reverie, I should be irritated. But I’m not. Somehow, its balanced by the moments of stilted, overripe quiet and random natterings of chickens wandering freely alongside endless seas of people.

Somehow, its weirdly perfect.  A completely illogical, surreal peace amongst chaos. Actually, a more honest image would be peace, chaos, hospitality, community & lawlessness dancing a drunken offbeat tango while order slinks sullenly off to a corner.

It doesn’t make a dumpling of sense, and I couldn’t be happier.

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