Last month, I was back in the U.S. for about a week. I spent time with my independent eighty-six year old Mom. I saw friends I’ve loved for more than twenty years. I lit piles of stuff on fire with my brother. I enjoyed blue skies and a warm afternoon stop at the local dairy bar. And I had the privilege to travel to the fabulous city of Chicago with three teenagers (two nieces and a nephew).
We made a museum tour, tried some excellent pizza (at my favorite, Gino’s East), ate plenty of other great food, enjoyed that gorgeous skyline and the bluest skies, and learned a little more about each other. Such a lovely trip. Enjoy some pictures.
This time of year, I usually write a post about the changes on our familiar skyline. The beautiful diamond building showing progress year to year. That diamond now plays host to concerts and shows, a far cry from the hole in the ground it was a few years ago.
Last May, we moved from that south & east facing apartment with the diamond view. We got a new outlook on life and on Shenyang. My favorite daily view is the Ke Pu Science Park. It is a wonder, a living thing that moves and changes every hour of every day. Tai qi, basketball, ping pong, balloons, pond life, walkers and exercisers, kite flyers, dancing clubs and walking clubs, bird statues that light up at night … Public parks all over China are a wonder.
Here are some recent shots of our views in Shenyang, plus one more recent sunrise in the Instagram feed to the left. Enjoy.
There was a trip to Beijing in March. In addition to our spectacular morning at Panjiayuan, we also ventured to 798 Art District, Lama Temple, and the Drum Tower. Wow! I love an exhausting day of walking and discovering in a big city.
Panjiayuan is a fantastic spot in Beijing. I love it. I love looking and talking and not understanding half the conversation. I love it when they courteously compliment my negotiating skills when they still have made money off this foreigner. I love not knowing what everything is, like a lot of places I go in China. This visit to Panjiayuan, I thoroughly enjoyed with a fellow pottery/porcelain/curiosity lover. We looked – we asked – we wondered – we loved – we bought – we love. Thank you, S, for a morning memory I will carry with me a very long time. Enjoy.
I’ve written about Luyuan Market before. It is always such an interesting experience, with so many things to see. I love asking, “what is that?” and not knowing the answer. I love thinking of those people long ago who belonged to those shoes, that jacket, that bowl. We think of who wrote that scroll and who read it. Who will read it still? We think of who will buy that tiny wooden cage for a cricket. I don’t suppose I shall ever know.
I sit beside the fire and think Of all that I have seen Of meadow flowers and butterflies In summers that have been
Of yellow leaves and gossamer In autumns that there were With morning mist and silver sun And wind upon my hair
I sit beside the fire and think Of how the world will be When winter comes without a spring That I shall ever see
For still there are so many things That I have never seen In every wood in every spring There is a different green
I sit beside the fire and think Of people long ago And people that will see a world That I shall never know
But all the while I sit and think Of times there were before I listen for returning feet And voices at the door
We had avoided many destinations in China during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). We had heard and seen the throngs of people who travel during that time. This year, being perhaps our last in this big country, we have quite a few cities left on our list. So we took a chance and got lucky.
Suzhou is a city in Jiangsu Province, just west of Shanghai. It is in the Yangtze River Delta, which lends itself to beautiful views on many canals and ponds. It has more than two thousand years of history and is sometimes called the Venice of China or Venice of the East. The meticulous gardens are, together, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with those in the other water towns along the canals.
It was a quick trip down to Shanghai, then a full day along the canals, and a trip back to the tundra the next day. On our water town excursion, we spent a rainy morning and midday in Suzhou, then went on to an overcast Tongli and, finally, some sunshine in Zhouzhuang. It is a touristy area, yes, but lovely, just like all the pictures I’ve admired for so long. And, because it was the weekend before the Chinese New Year, perhaps many other travelers were with their families. I hope they had a lovely time because we certainly did.
One of the lessons I had to learn during my personal happiness project was how to really say thank you and you’re welcome. Oh, and mean it. Sincerity was, perhaps, the more difficult lesson, I’ll have you know. That’s embarrassing to admit, but I know I’m not the only one.
Someone pays you a compliment or gives you a gift, and sometimes we pass it off like it’s nothing. “You shouldn’t have.” or “where did you find this?” are not the same as “thank you”. “It was nothing.” or a shrug of the shoulders are not the same as “you’re welcome”.
It is at this point in the post when I could write that I was never taught how to do this, but in fact, I was. I still believe in the power of a thank you note though most of the world doesn’t make the time. That’s thanks to the 86-year old woman who still writes to me every week. Recently, she even wrote to thank us for a gift that we didn’t send her. (I’m sure that ruffled some feathers.) You can be taught how to say thank you and how to write a thank you note, but I believe the sincerity is a hard lesson we learn on our own. And we must.
Friends, I understand that we have all been given a gift or two that we didn’t really care for. I get it. I’ve received them. I’ve given them. I know. Our satisfaction with the gift doesn’t change the effort with which it was given. It doesn’t change the sentiment, so I believe it should not lessen the sincerity of our thank you. Suck it up, and say it/write it/text it/message it. If you choose to re-gift after the fact, be sincere it that too. No judgments here.
I want to mention that I learned these lessons about thank you and you’re welcome in a country that doesn’t really say those things. As I have been told, in the Chinese culture, friends are supposed to help each other, without question and without thanks. It’s a beautiful idea. My friend, Grace, helped me order something online last month and when I expressed my appreciation, she said, “no thank you. Don’t say that.” Without question and without thanks. This can be difficult when gift giving because there is no comfort in the recipient’s satisfaction level. When you give someone a gift and there is no response, you might wonder if they liked it, hated it, re-gifted it, never received it, didn’t give a shit about it, put it in a closet, etc. That’s not just China though. I get a 50% thank you rate on gifts among family and friends usually. BUT that doesn’t change the sentiment. It doesn’t change my intention. Actually, it’s not a true measure of the satisfaction level either. I visited someone last fall who had a gift from us displayed proudly on their desk, but they had never acknowledged receipt.
It took me a long time to learn that, while thank you is polite and important, it’s not necessary for me to hear it. In the past, I would be frustrated and resentful if I didn’t get a thank you. “I’m not giving them a gift anymore if they don’t know how to say thank you,” says someone I know. When a family member doesn’t acknowledge you, that says something about them, not you. I’ll continue to give their children holiday gifts whether they say thank you or not. I will be happy to give whether I hear thank you or not.
This lesson is not about other people or other cultures, nor are the other lessons I learned and continue to struggle with. My lessons are about me and the person I am. I cannot blame others if I lack politeness or sincerity. Stop making excuses. I’m forty-four years old and I need to own my shit. Talk about a hard lesson.
For the love of gifts, click on the pictures below.