Edit Blog Post
Published: November 18th 2010
me on the beach
oblivious to everything but bliss
Reflections from home
My father once quoted this famous line of Tolkien's when I was at a crossroads in my life, unable to decide where to go next, and feeling anxious about not having a clear vision of the future. There I was, at home, taking classes in Chinese but not knowing what to do with them. Sometimes our physical movements parallel our mental state rather well: when I heard of the job opportunity in China, it was like my eyes came into focus, and I began to move on the inside as well as springing into action on the outside. I came alive; I felt scared but also sublimely happy when I got the job, obtained my visa and took off for Inner Mongolia. I was called to action by the promise of adventure and the mystery of a new country, of an unmastered language, of the extent and power of my will. And for all the mystery of what lay ahead, I saw in my mind's eye a great open space, cold and brown and clear, the vastness of a land in the north. It was a sense of relief, an opening out onto possibility such as I
Port St. Joseph
Amazing quiet, whitesand beach in State Park setting
had never felt before, and I also felt a great deal of certainty that this was what I needed to do. It seems ironic that when I wandered beyond the comfort of home and country for the unknown, I no longer felt lost.
Now that I am home again, I think what I miss most about China is that sense of possibility. I feel that my vision is clearer, that I am a stronger person, that I have a better sense of who I am and where I'm going; and being home shows me how much I've changed along these lines. But the benefit of living abroad is how rich one's experience is, how potent and immediate. You feel that around any corner, wonders await. Every day brings new revelations. That sense of wonder and discovery is what I find I long for in my more restless moments.
Of course, being home right now is highly beneficial. I have space in my brain to reflect and to plan my next step; and I have the time to travel which, ironically enough, was rather lacking in China. I am re-entering American life, American patterns, with new eyes and a
new sense of appreciation. One of the lessons I learned from my adventure is to live in the present; to take life by the horns, as my sister would say. I often felt nervous and insecure with my first Chinese friends in Hohhot: I worried about making mistakes speaking, and about how they saw me as a foreigner. An acquaintance and coworker (who would later become a dear friend) once noticed from my body language how vulnerable and nervous I felt: she had invited me to eat out at a restaurant with her and her roommate, and I was sitting all wrapped up into myself. After glancing at her friend, she told me emphatically, "You must relax! We are your friends! And besides, life is too short not to enjoy ourselves once in a while."
This had a profound impact on me, this having a Chinese friend giving me permission, in a sense, to let loose and live my life without caring what others might think. I began to make a greater effort to familiarize myself with the city, to speak with coworkers I didn't know well, and to be available and spontaneous with my friends instead of reluctant
and withdrawn. The attempt to change my attitude, in an environment so alien and intimidating at times, meant that at home (where things are much simplified by my being able to always speak my mother tongue, and the ease and familiarity of custom) I would feel like a new person; like I am a woman who can do, and handle, anything.
Since I came home, I have gone camping; attended a costume party (where I learned how to play beer pong: I'm quite good actually); and gone to a football game and then to play pool in a bar afterwards; besides spending time with my friends. These are all distinctly American activities, things that I didn't really miss while I was away, but which I saw as unique and all the more enjoyable upon returning to them. I camped with my sister and her husband at Port St. Joseph, on Florida's "forgotten coast;" and I revelled in the natural beauty and solitude of the beach, and the "Americana" of car camping with other fellow travelers, grilling out, sleeping under the pines and the palms on a perfect moonlit night.
I suppose I have been more outgoing at home than I used to be, and I am enjoying my time in familiar and beloved environs; but I am still looking to the future, as I try to live fully in the present, for the next hint of adventure, the next big step into the unknown, the next challenge. I head to New Zealand for Christmas, and after that, to school, perhaps in Beijing. Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote, "You can always return home, as long as you recognize that home is a place you have never been before." I hope my wanderings do keep me in that state of change, of realness and immediacy, that transforms and extends one's "home" to include where one has been, and where one is going to be.
Tot: 1.291s; Tpl: 0.045s; cc: 19; qc: 105; dbt: 0.0535s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb