Sunday, December 1, 2013

Time and Place Utility

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about presence. Being present in the given moment versus escapism, day dreaming, etc. – because I’ve been trying to be more aware of which of the two I’m engaged in at given points in the day or week.

And when I say escapism, I don’t just mean thinking of a nice beach and a coconut with a straw close at hand, to me escapism can also be remembrance of the past and submerging oneself in memory.

I’m not going to tell you always live in the present moment, because frankly that would be very hypocritical of me. But I do think it’s important to realize the rate at which we frame our lives based on the past, present and future.

Lately, I’ve been recalling Bangkok with a tinge of nostalgia. This is really not news, nor particularly surprising. But as I wait for news of the current protests and check for updates from friends to see they are safe – it is clearer than ever my slice of time in that city came to an end. I am not present there, even when my mind wanders that direction.

I’ve been reading a history book on the United States. Yet again, my time and place are quite off from my actual geographic position in China. But it has gotten me thinking, about a Welsh word, actually – hiraeth. One possible definition of this word without English translation: “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.”
How could I feel a nostalgia for a United States before my birth? How could I feel nostalgia for a country as it no longer is? As maybe, it only was in my mind and my upbringing, and not in fact? But I certainly cannot be alone. Even the offhanded “well back in my day…” it reeks of the concept.

This is a concept I’ve felt since before leaving the United States. This is, in some sense, something I think everyone has felt in differing degrees – whether or not they acknowledge it as such, or simply frame it in the more mundane terms of phrases such as “life goes on,” “that’s just how it is,” and so forth.

I think we don’t take the proper time to acknowledge our transitions; rather, we ignore them, we memorialize them, we deny they have happened and pretend we can spirit from one place to another unchanged – our same selves in a new context, our ‘good old selves’ when circumstance has frayed our edges, forgetting that our context begins to define ourselves. And at some point we look around, and our physical context has stopped matching our mental picture – and we start to wonder where, exactly, does this character that I am, on this story journey I have set in motion, fit in to it all any way? And isn’t that still up to me? So where exactly am I going? I ran out of map some time ago. I’m just making it up now – so what do I draw on the map next?

I don’t mean for this post to be melancholy, I mean for it to be reflective. Respectful even, in remembering the past – but that felt more important than the day to day observations at the moment.

So I will leave you with a story I was told many times growing up, and a memory I like to take the time to cherish when I get lost:

My father had just been granted permission to drive from his hometown to his University. He stormed out the door with directions to head south down a local high way. He promptly bombarded back into the house, and proclaimed, “Which way’s south?” A tale used to justify directional challenge of other relatives for years since.

I have no idea which way south is, or if that’s even the direction I want to be going. But I’m still going.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Got That Summertime Sadness

This is a rather disorganized stream of consciousness. Enjoy, or yell at me for lack of editing. But here it is in all its glory. Warning: I talk about religion.

Yes I know it’s now autumn approaching winter. But this is currently the track stuck in my head. No actually I haven’t watched Gatsby. No actually I still haven’t finished the novel since 11th grade – but hey. What a great city to reflect on that luxury, Shanghai.

I had every intention of reflecting on my four days in Bangkok, and then reflecting on the acquisition of a blue couch, and then reflecting…bother. This will all be one jumble instead of separate, cleanly divided thoughts. Live messy.

I spent four days in Bangkok over the October holiday for Chinese National day. If you’d like an explanation of the Chinese holiday calendar – might I suggest reading: or Both indicate this is possibly the most complicated Chinese holiday/work day schedule ever, or at least for 500 years. And actually, our school, and many other work places, modified this schedule further still, so figuring out when your friends are working and when they are free has been a big free for all. And yes, we’ve had some Saturday workdays – though we have yet to have a Sunday – there is one Sunday workday in a few months, another Saturday/six day workweek in November. Woo! Go team! Confused? Me too.

So I went to Bangkok. Part nostalgia and part I have loose ends to wrap up and what not. It was a good visit. I got to see some friends. Still missed some people I would have liked to see again. But overall, despite my nostalgia, in many ways, it helped me remember why I left, too. And it helped me wrap up enough loose ends to feel like that chapter is closed, (though not everything). Some things may just be left hanging, such is life. I have no belongings left in Bangkok that I intend to retrieve; I cut down and gave away some more before returning to Shanghai. That’s all done. It’s a relief.
And even on days I long for my balcony, my mango tree and staring up at the stars, in the words of a dear friend, “we knew it was time for you to go.” Bangkok will always have a special place in my heart. But the ways I changed and grew in that city, up to the point I felt I hit a wall – challenged me in ways I never expected. I expect no less from Shanghai.

“…Nothing scares me any more. Kiss me hard before you go, Summertime Sadness, I just wanted you to know, that baby you’re the best.”

On to the domesticity of the couch, then. I distinctly remember a time when I thought to myself, I’m so close to college graduation, and when I get out, get my job and my own apartment (HA like it’s just another check box, it’s not that simple dear) – I’m going to get a couch. I’m going to get a huge couch, a deep-seated couch, maybe denim, not classy but supremely comfortable – and when I own a couch, I will be an adult, I will have ‘made it.’
HA! Well folks, it took me a few more years than I planned, and I’ve moved past that silly metric of adulthood or ‘making it,’ but nonetheless, I purchased a turquoise IKEA couch last week. I had it delivered, and then I assembled it all on my own. Really not that hard, even if it took some effort. And I sat on my couch and thought, well now Jenny, you have your couch. This isn’t quite what you expected, (although somewhat satisfying), now is it?
So glad I bit the bullet and did it last week – despite my aversion to debt, my new friend and colleague has a point – the longer you put it off, the less time you have to enjoy it. My current furniture shopping spree will be paid off in less than three months. Would be sooner, except for the particulars of International wire transfer I’m working under. Don’t ask questions, I got this. In the meantime I have a couch to sit on. Sometimes, money is just for spending. Within reason. But money is a made up construct, like so many things – who is setting the rules any way? I have a couch and I am slightly more comfortable, if not outright happy, for it. Ah, consumption. Enough on money matters today.
Transition? We don’t need no stinking transition. Brain doesn’t have those.

On cognitive dissonance in every day life: So, I’ve alluded to having some difficulty adjusting to life in China, and how actually, it’s less to do with China than other factors. Let’s discuss this. A lot of it has to do with religion. If you know me well enough, you will know that, when forced into a corner (or when asked in a moving taxi) and told to pick a label, I will go with “maybe?” or really, agnostic, but I’d really rather not play with labels or take sides. And with that, I’m supremely uncomfortable with conservative Christianity, as well as very hard line atheism, when directly confronted on the issue. It’s a rock and a hard place for me, in a Communist country where the rules about religion have eased in recent years, but are still certainly very much in place, to be surrounded by so much religion. And neither am I comfortable with those who outright shun it rather than politely side step. In the words of Ira Glass, “this is not what I signed up for.”
Really, honestly – I like the thought that, “there is no reason for the Lord Buddha and the Lord Jesus to fight,” I prefer to sit on the fence than take sides. Call it cowardice or call it openness, call me a heretic. I think people should be kind to one another, and at times, I think in certain ways, religion can be used as emotional black mail. Just as the complete lack of it can be a guilt trip on one’s intelligence for belief, too. At the end of the day, the way I see it, what brings you peace is a useful thing. But you should strive to try not to make other people uncomfortable. There is a case for pushing people’s comfort zones, and there is a case for allowing people to live their lives at they see fit. For further thoughts on my view point, see the This American Life Podcast “Heretics,” about an Evangelical pastor that decides he no longer believes in hell, that Jesus’ death accounted for everyone whether they accept Jesus or not. It’s truly beautiful. Ok that’s my rant on religion, and clarification on why I’ve been feeling so torn up, in some respects.

Related to, but slightly different from above – I’ve realized that sometimes, when you think something has been put in your path for you to learn a lesson – maybe there is someone that needs to learn from you. I told you, I’m agnostic, I prefer to look for some figment of reason, some spiritual alignment in the universe even if I’m a little too free spirited to enjoy organized religious worship or study, and even though I will argue for hours that not everything has ‘a reason,’ there is randomness and entropy we are subjected to in this life, as there are moments that are not coincidence, too. I will have my cake and eat it too.
Over the past few days, some of my cognitive dissonance and discontent has been challenged in other ways. It is so hard, and so taxing to have to think about who I can talk to about what – whether it is religious in nature, about our Chinese tax reporting, or otherwise. It is such a game of masks and I hate that. I am not unfamiliar with wearing masks, and it would be present in my home culture, whether there was this level of dissonance or not. But it’s nice to see a break in the muck at times, to see, here is a place I can help, here is a place I can grow, too, and be genuine, be me.

We don’t need no stinking transitions!
A week ago, I severely injured my right ankle. After spending so much of last year struggling with my left foot and then my back, I’ve been supremely frustrated. Being someone that prides herself on independence and ‘doing it myself,’ and living in a culture that doesn’t necessarily ‘do’ handicap accessible – it’s extremely frustrating. That all I did was miss a stair in the dark and ‘bam,’ that is the most frustrating (nevermind the financial implications and setback to my savings plan). The gossip at my place of employment, whether extreme or mild – is also disconcerting.

In some ways, I wish I had written before my injury, to get more of the philosophical musing down before the hard line ‘and so it goes.’
I knew this chapter of my adventure would not be easy. It is a new country for me, an adjustment to so much. I just didn’t forsee quite this level. I guess that is how it always is. But I will not say “That’s just life,” I’ve decided I hate that phrase with a passion. Why do I hate that phrase with a passion? As I reflect on the one year anniversary of a dear friend’s suicide, just 2 days ago was that anniversary– it’s because of this: when someone is truly, truly down and nearly out – the phrase “that’s just life,” plays to the destructive thought “well then why am I living, if this is all there is?” Perhaps that sounds too extreme, too sensitive. But if I’ve learned anything the last year, as I’ve faced my cognitive dissonance, culture incongruence, physical and emotional pain – it’s that the simple things matter. It matters from having the means to obtain healthy food, to the day or hours by which you miss a friend in passing during travel, to the slightest sentence – it matters. Don’t pressurize it, but don’t trivialize it, because it matters.

I’ve managed to reflect on nostalgia when moving, the domesticity of buying furniture and briefly, human consumption and debt, religious incongruence, and my injury and difficulty asking for help. Yeah – you could say I couldn’t pick a topic today. If you followed along with me, congrats, if you think I’m nuts – well if you’ve read this far you knew that by now, didn’t you?

“Nothing scares me any more, kiss me hard before you go.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Starships were Meant to Fly

Perhaps only in Shanghai can I say I feel almost no ambiguity having Nicki Minaj in my playlist next to Mongolian Folk Rock. It’s rather fitting, really.

It’s been quite a week. My anxiety has peaked quite a few times this week. And frankly, I think my reaction was merited.

That said, as my anxiety cooled down I realized the cooling down of the situation was much like looking out over the ridge at Serenity Valley being overtaken by The Alliance. Oh yeah, I went there. Peace is nigh, but I’ll still be traipsing around the universe in a secondhand starship, hopes up high and head down low. Will do my best not to get into a bar fight on U-Day.

Seriously Jenny, how much Tsingtao HAVE you been drinking, now? Well today none actually. Then what is wrong with you? Perhaps I have not been drinking enough Tsingtao. Also I have acquired a bamboo plant. Oh you don’t like my shiny distraction?

Aside from my mental calculus re: Alliance vs Brown Coats, there have been other exciting ventures.

Friday night was the worst thunderstorm Shanghai has seen in four years. The horizontal and spider lightning was rather impressive. The Line 2 Metro was shut down for some time (this is apparently atypical). Someone’s husband wasn’t allowed out of his office building. Some teachers were trapped on the Line 2 metro – flooding, power outage? Chinese Whispers flying. People couldn’t hail a taxi for 30 minutes at a time. Some people couldn’t return home from hospital visits with the taxi situation. Some of us hailed a black market van taxi across the river to Puxi. We had two birthdays and one unbirthday to celebrate, after all, nevermind if it wasn’t the best idea to travel. Mei Guanxi!

I saw the strain drawn on other people’s faces as we inched forward in our van. That other people have their own battle of Serenity raging in their psyche. The African American teacher that keeps having clothes snatched from her hands and told “NO!” when she tries to go clothes shopping. The rude gawking stares she gets out in our suburbiate Shanghai.
The teacher who could not complete his wire transfer across the Pacific to pay his US mortgage. (I am so glad my transfer to pay down my credit card processed smoothly.) I realize we all have our walls to climb.

We finally made it to the Shanghainese home turned restaurant in the Jingan Temple district. We had three tables, many dishes and many spirits. There were birthday speeches, and birthday longevity noodles (slurp them in one go, if you cut them you cut your life). “Don’t give up on China,” said in a thick Colombian accent. “Don’t give up on China,” the catch phrase of the week. You are welcome here, little one, with these three tables of celebration, you are. Friday night was a good night.

Our landlord finally called the gas company about our gas leak, the 7th time we complained. It took my roommate throwing up from the fumes for them to take us seriously enough to call the gas company. They were just afraid they’d have to pay to replace the pipe. So, if you have a gas leak in China, throw up. Or tell them you did. I think perhaps they finally tightened the leaking valve. I’d say I’m sorry for my words versus my landlord saving face, but that would imply I cared about it in this situation at this point, which I don’t. I also got Chinese speakers to call and explain, so that’s no excuse either. I’d let the cultural thing slide – but it’s gas. Not ok.

I’m sorry, I’m still quite new to China. Making me deal with a gas leak for a month was not helping everything else at all.

I am not giving up. I really like my classes, my students, my department – what I wanted to get out of China. A more supportive teaching environment, closer to the age group and art discipline I want to focus on. But it is hiking a sand dune, life. Much of what I thought I had figured out has been a backslide here. I didn’t have these kinds of problems with housing in Bangkok. I had problems, sure, but not to this scale. I was able to live alone. My landlords were responsive and helpful. Even the month I went without hot water, they gave me a key to shower in the apartment next door and apologized the technician kept cancelling. They let me move apartment units when mildew overtook my room. They helped, willingly.
Here, I’ve been met with “why don’t you fix it yourself,” like my old college slum landlords, more than once…
“Don’t give up on China,” in a thick Colombian accent.

I’m really enjoying the city. And I also realize some of the road blocks some of the other new teachers have hit, do not phase me at all – having already been in Asia for nearly 3 years. Other things – well, I hit the wall much harder. Some things, I’m the only one of us facing a particular wall – personally, any way. I’m thankful to know I have people standing beside me where before I was much more culturally isolated. Even if now, instead of the only white woman my age, we are many westerners, but splintered.

I tell you what – much like Bangkok, people thought I would have thrown in the towel much sooner. Some of my close friends in Bangkok were quite surprised I hadn’t gone home. Let me reiterate, I am nothing if not stubborn. I mean, I am Year of the Ox and Capricorn; the most stubborn signs of the zodiac by both Eastern and Western standards. Yep. I went there too.

I sit here while the tones of Altan Urag reverberate through the living room. Ok, reverberate might be pushing it for laptop speakers. But I sit here with Mongolian folk rock. And my juxtapositions just keep getting more and more interesting.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rolling with the Punches

It’s been quite a week over here. Students with 4 or 5 study halls in their schedules for days on end; schedules changing in the middle of the day without teachers being notified and missed teaching. The terror when I thought half of my yearbook staff was going to drop, including the one student with a camera, a sentiment that has visited most of the staff in some way or another this week. I don’t even think I’ve seen the half of it. Things have settled, some.

I figured out how to wire money home to North America as dollars!!!! I don’t have to just stuff cash in my bra on the rare occasions I fly back! I know people are staring at me again with that comment.

There is a new Chinese visa regulation, as of September 1st, affecting at least half a dozen newly hired teachers, when we attempted visa extension on September 4th. So thankful to be single – the married teachers and those with dependents are those affected. There is more to the story than that, likely. Not particularly kosher of me to elaborate on our theories. A fistful of baht? Would that do it? Wrong country again? Only slightly.

I took a second shot at standup comedy. No colleagues along for the ride this time. Just as well, this is my thing. I got up and filled my time with a slightly more PG (as opposed to last week) variation on my rollerblading fiasco. Oh and for the record – lesbian experiences and ladyboys in Thailand – I will own you if you try that as a pick up line on me.

I’m still striking a balance between holding up my professional masks, personal masks and so forth. One thing I’ve noticed – not that it’s necessarily a new observation – but I’ve noticed the burdens others carry showing through this week as the scheduling and visa nonsense wears us down. And in some ways – it’s nice to realize I am not the only one that needs to let my guard down and be real. That perhaps, there is more opportunity to be real than I sometimes think. Even if I still sit back and take in my surroundings a little more carefully first.
Especially as so many have listened to me, these past few weeks a great deal, but really, always, when I’ve needed it. And oh boy, have I needed it. It’s nice to feel I can pay that forward in my own right after so long feeling I was just always taking.

I ate Chinese BBQ street food three nights in a row this week. I hardly batted an eyelash. I didn’t really mean to do that. Aside from my MSG intake I’m really not particularly sorry.

Two others walked with me to watch some ballroom dancing in the park last night. It was a nice, peaceful, an actually Chinese element to our evening as opposed to oh my gosh we’re back in North America mall cruising. There was some fan dancing aerobics taking place as well.

We ate Muslim noodles, and the toddler had Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance playing on a Samsung Smart Phone. Now there is culture shock, right there. None of the rest is surprising, but Lady Gaga in the Muslim Noodles joint. I have visions of visiting Mongolia someday and Gangnam Style busting out of nowhere. I mean really, it’s not that far fetched if you think about it.

The Chinese government has my passport for the next three weeks to process my residence permit. Or something like that. But they were quite efficient about it while we were there actually. Having spent full days in Thai Immigration, it was hard not to scoff at people asking how long is this going to take for a process lasting under an hour, but I tried. I’ll get it back just in time for my October holiday. So, now is definitely not a good time to get arrested. That was totally on my list for next week. I’m just glad I don’t need to notarize any certificates with one or more embassies, nor is my application held up by health check irregularities. No Thai tapeworms – no Dr. House shout outs. Damn. That would be the perfect disgusting facebook status.

There is so much swimming through my head, as per usual. There’s a brief snapshot.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Goals, Momentum and Fapiao

I said I was going to bed. Of course I did. And then I created a spreadsheet to track my finances this year, read more email, posted some more links, downloaded my completed US tax paperwork, put away some laundry, began another blog post…

And didn’t you just blog a couple days ago? What is this about Jenny?

I just don’t stop. That’s still something I haven’t quite gotten the hang of. Learning to stop. The light switch is either on, or off. No light switch raves. Coasting in the middle isn’t really how I do things most of the time.

It’s funny, because I just read a post about setting bigger goals: and the limits of self-censorship:
Both of which are incredibly relevant to where I’m at – need to stretch myself more and stop freaking keeping my mouth shut. It’s not good for me to stop talking. Well – ok that’s a mixed bag. Any way.

On the one hand, I think taking on China in my second year of teaching, and some of the other side projects I’ve got cooking, whether or not I’ve brought them up on here, illustrate some pretty big goals, actually. I’m finally being less of a wimp again.

On the other hand, my voice is still subdued. My writing is still self-censored. It will continue to be – but I am fighting for middle ground.

Tonight I put together my first fapiao paperwork with a neighbor’s help. Fapiao is an official Chinese tax receipt. A fapiao will have an official red stamp. After a purchase or meal you will probably have to take your regular receipt and then go to a separate counter, or otherwise ask for an official fapiao. Be sure you have your company’s name written in Chinese when you get this issued. You will also have to sign the back and/or get a chop made to stamp the back of your fapiao for verification.

There are several categories, we have to learn the Chinese characters to recognize which is which on our fapiao receipts. There are two types of forms that encompass the 4-6+ categories in different ways. The idea is basically you submit a bunch of receipts from living expenses: restaurants, taxis, other transport, rent, food (not grocery, that’s a different category when taken in translation and does not count), telecommunication… I guess it’s kind of like itemizing for US taxes, but it’s monthly and a little different.

A few colleagues have earned the knickname ‘fapiao’ because they are constantly collecting as many tax receipts as they possibly can in an effort to avoid taxes. Though, it can be counterproductive – you have to spend more than you’d pay in tax in order to get the full eligible tax break. So really, just go about your business but collect your receipts meticulously. And if you have a friend who doesn’t use a certain kind of fapiao because their contract is different – get them to collect those for you.

And I thought my US tax filing was confusing.

I am nervous. Earlier today I think I might have been more nervous than for starting last year. I don’t know. I do know I have a lot more support and a lot more resources. I also know I’m finally setting forward on some goals that have been backburnered for some time now.

I guess we shall see. But take it easy there, Jenny. You’re still checking your watch when people ask how long you’ve been in Shanghai.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

So I Moved to China

I’m a little behind on here. Clearly. Some of you are like what, wait, you’re where? You did what? Well you’re probably not actually surprised. I know, I know, my communication and publication has been, haphazard. So moving on.

I moved to Shanghai, China. I’m also teaching here. And while I’m excited, and as it’s my second international move so I’m a little less green – China is a completely different animal. Training wheels off. Was that guy riding by on the motorbike holding up his IV fluid? He was? Well at least he wasn’t driving? It’s like Thailand level of what on Earth, but a lot more, brusque. At the same time – even more hiso (high society, a shortened Thaiglish word that has permanently wedged itself into my vocabulary) here in Shanghai than Bangkok. Well duh. Oh wait training wheels segue…

Unless you are talking about rollerblades. You see the other day I went looking to buy a refrigerator, as you do when you move to China and an unfurnished apartment, and I came home with roller blades instead. The ultimate class distinction problem. Oh I cannot refrigerate my food, I shall recreationally roll around asphalt on wheeled shoes instead.

The benefit of this, as opposed to running, is that you’re working the majority of your leg muscles without overly exerting your plantar fascia tendon. English please? You don’t have to bend your feet up and down. This is very important when you spent the last year hardly being able to walk properly after tearing and/or straining said tendon.

I have been waking up at 4:40 am frequently. Partially because the entire country of China uses one time zone; and we are in the east (duly noted that the west has late sunsets instead). But also because I lack curtains for the time being.

Since currently our work days are shortened I’ve used this to take advantage of my new roller blades twice this week. On the first occasion, remembering I have not in fact rollerbladed since sixth grade; wiping out on our apartment ramp with our garbage, wiping up when I saw a woman walking a sort of Yorkshire terrier and I leaned back in the slightest and fell smack dab on my butt, and towards the end of my fifth lap when I thought only two wipe outs I can do a sixth lap and I promptly collapsed into a bush. Ok, fine, no more today.

I am back from my go this morning, during which I decided not to count laps because it’s distracting from the primary task of leaning forward in case of Yorkshire terrier, I think I did quite a few more than five laps, and I did not wipe out at all. My iPod also refrained from falling out of my bra this time, though it’s done a great job making my boobs look rectangular.

I downed more than half a Pocari Sweat upon return to my abode, a beverage which I’m still explaining to some of the newly landed frontiersman. I mean…fellow Americans that are new to Asia.

One of the reasons I’ve blogged less and less these several months, aside from great frustration at my general situation the past year for myriad reasons – is simply my discomfort with publishing my observations. Boil it all down to that, for whatever reason. And no, not from any law or government – really, my own personal, social situations and career path.

I still feel that now. I pull out (and on) my masks appropriately. And honestly, it has little to do with China. Or with Thailand. I’m not particularly worried about offending the countries where I reside (they already know if they need to, any way), so much as the people from my home culture, or within my immediate colleague group. I do not wear the mask of a white North American in Asia only. I wear the mask of one working here with many other divergent view points, representing many nations, religions and opinions. Bah I make it sound like I work for the UN. HA! So grandiose.

My point is, I still wear a lot of masks. And I hate that. So Tuesday evening, after I had gracefully epic failed with the garbage, the yorkie, and those sinister bushes (and what about Grandma with that sword I almost ran into? Ok, just Tai Chi) I got up at an Open Mic Standup Comedy night and let loose for about three minutes.

And it was glorious. For three minutes, I wore no masks. I was completely sober and I blurted out what I damn well wanted to say. What did I say? I’m not publishing that. Yep, she’s teaching your children folks. I hope that such a forum will allow for a greater degree of freedom than amateur internet publishing does, with its slightly more fleeting nature even than the internet, though I hope to continue both ventures.

I have missed writing. I have missed many things. As I wheeled around our apartment compound this morning, one of my many trance tracks came up. Well they were all trance who am I kidding. “How can you sit there watching, someone else? How can you sit there (sit there) watching.” Exactly. Get up and do it.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why are you Chasing the bus?

I reflect a lot these days, but I do so less frequently in print. I decided to record some of my recent sentiments today.

I spent three hours trying to catch the number 11 bus today. Punctuated by a break for lunch at the corner of the bus stop, and an interlude attempting to use the trains instead - I actually chased down two number 11 buses – one which I missed and one which I caught, only to be told no this is the wrong bus and not let onboard, I fell back, defeated. And admittedly, swearing out loud with reckless abandon.

I knew I needed that bus. I knew it was the bus going where I wanted to be going. I even relaxed after the first miss, standing on the correct street but the wrong side of the intersection, re-evaluated and got brunch. After all, even if I needed that bus, I suppose it didn’t matter what time I caught it – that was my whole plan for the day.

When it came to being turned away from the bus I thought I needed, and storming off to a train station and even more maddening confusion related to that and where the connecting station ‘within walking distance’ even was – I decided to regroup and go back to my hotel. Tired, frustrated, drugged up and ready for the next dose and even more dehydrated – really, why was I chasing that bus? I had no ticket. There was no deadline.

It was the wall I built for myself. Sometimes, goals and objectives are worthwhile. Other times, being unable to achieve even the smallest of them, we allow ourselves to shut down. Or at least, I do.

I thought about it, and it wasn’t about the bus versus the train versus taxi fare. It was about my certainty in my own ability to ‘do it,’ to catch that bus, to do it myself without help. When that didn’t work, when help didn’t pan out either – it really just represented one thing: another failure. Plummeting electrolytes did not assist.

Now you might be saying to yourself damn, it is just a bus calm down. And you’d be right. But the thing is, it’s not just the bus. And it hasn’t been just the bus, or the visa, or any of that for some time. And really – the bus is yet another punctuation of that continued realization – until it sticks, it will be the bus, or the visa, or whatever it is.

I guess the point I’m trying to get across is to realize when you don’t need to chase the bus. When it’s ok to sit down. Buy a bottle of water and find another perspective. The semi broken colored window panes of a room that seems to serve no purpose, overlooking pigeon decorated rooftops with old shoes dotting the mix might do nicely. It’s not the view you were looking for. It’s not particularly scenic. But it’s a different view. A view from which to clear your head, and neither the journey nor the destination will matter until you can do that.

Perhaps we will try again tomorrow, bus 11 and I.
I have had the sense to acquire a map, at this point.
But I think I will work on the loftier goal of acquiring a Malaysian plug adapter and dinner. Wherever.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reflections on a Year

Tomorrow marks one year.
I am looking forward to sunrise.
Not only as the middle day of the three day Thai New Year holiday, but of a project I chose to begin at this time last year. I have made it.
It has been a full calendar year.

Has the year been perfect? Of course not. Have I accomplished everything I set for myself at this time last year? No to that as well. But this is bigger than any of those.

This has been by far the biggest undertaking of my time abroad, for me.

I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve realized that often, being an educator and being somewhat of a journalist of cultural experience can be incompatible, or may be ill advised in what’s considered professional.

I’ve realized that sometimes, self-censorship occurs for reasons that are more in line with my personal values in caring for others than the need to record from observation and publish.

I’ve realized what I think I always knew, but perhaps was afraid to admit – one year is not enough.
But nor is the first year, of anything, going to be the best one.
You may look at me and say – but, you’ve been there two and a half years, so what are you talking about?
And? I’m not just marking time from tarmac to tarmac.

I’ve realized, or reinforced my idea that you don’t bring your Grinch to somebody else’s party. If that means you sit inside and sit out much of the Thai New Year, then so be it. It takes a bigger person to admit they cannot, or do not want to accommodate others than to fake it. And it takes even more than that to avoid bringing others down when you are. I value raw and real, but on this day, you have your celebration and I’ll have mine. And yes – that idea is part of the accomplishment of this year as much as it shows the steps that lay ahead for a second year and beyond.

I’ve realized that what I used to think I wanted, and what I used to believe to be the order of things – is not the only way the story can play out. Nor is it the way the story is going to play out. In some ways it’s a frightening realization, except that, it was always the case whether I realized it or not. You can make choices to work with and change your circumstances – but you don’t choose your starting point, or your curve balls. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and adapt. And if that ends up leading you further afield than you first thought well – maybe, to get started, it’s best that way. It’s much harder to get cold feet if you don’t really know what you’re getting into. Once you’re in it, well, already here right?

I’m not extraordinary. I’m not entitled. Or required in the ways I once thought.
I am determined. I am driven. And I am striving forward, often on a path I never used to see as a viable possibility. Perhaps the greatest blessing of feeling your world turned upside down a few times early in life – is that it leads you to question more of the rules – and break more of them to open a new trail.

If you’d like to walk with me, really walk with me, I’ll tell you about my dreams. Walk with me long enough, I have stories to tell beyond that. They won’t always be sunny. But I promise they will be me.

It’s only been one year. It’s been a full year! So much has happened.
There is so much more to come.
And we’ve got a long road ahead, so let’s keep walking.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ten. YOU – Five.

Oh how long has it been since you wrote a post? Oh but shouldn’t you wait and write a positive post? I mean really, does the internet really need another Delta airlines horror story? The facebook posts were melodrama enough, dear.

Oh, true friendship is three days of cleaning out an empty cat litter bucket of your vomit? Save it. Really, we don’t need to hear that. (I love you guys!)

So what have I been thinking? Probably that some adventures can be summarized or skipped over, and just left at that. That and my immune system hates me. Or maybe I’ve not been nice enough to it.

It’s Valentine’s Day. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m wallowing about ambiguous situations with the opposite gender. Actually – I’m most disturbed that this year, I’m not getting up on stage and yelling at a crowd of strangers about my genitalia. And while I’m blushing typing that this year, in the previous two years I proudly marched up in front of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand to a packed house and proceeded to give voice to how ridiculous tampons are (which is ironic, in itself). This year – I have backed down from even helping run an art table at a combination dance marathon/monologue event representing the same women’s causes. Sure, I can blame my food poisoning and my throbbing back pain and I really do feel like utter crap. But I think that’s a further indication of being off course not just from eating the street food (It was chicken soup! There were more than 20 people eating there. Hrmph.) It’s an indication that I’m not really headed on a path I identify with lately. And that is the upsetting thing.

And frankly, that’s a disconnect I’ve been loathe to give voice to, because in the space of the disconnect, I’ve let plenty of other voices that do not resonate with me get under my skin. Worse still, plenty that do resonate have gotten under my skin too. I’ve balked because I haven’t had the next thing ready to go in verbal combat. And holding up the armor, and my focus away from my physical self, has taken a toll.

I’m not peeling back my fa├žade, but I’m going to admit that my battle has been a lot more uphill lately. And I’ve considered a lot of things for the coming year that were not on the table even two months ago. But I’m going to nurture those ideas the same way I now need to focus on my physical body.

You might be wondering about the title. I tried a yoga class this week. Twice, actually. And as I joined the class, the teacher was well aware of my physical state. As he directed the class to do ten repetitions of something, he looked me in the eye several times and declared, “YOU, five.” I am not strong enough to do ten right now. So I will do five.