To wrap up my year, I decided to choose one picture from each month of my phone’s 2015 camera roll. When I actually sat down to do it, it wasn’t so easy. Do you choose your favorite picture, or a picture of your favorite day, or a shot of something you still laugh about now, months later? And it’s different choosing a picture now versus what I may have chosen months ago. Our memories change. Our emotions change.
These twelve pictures were clicks on my phone. So fast. They were simple and memorable and perfect in their own way. That’s what moments are. They add up to the hours of our days, and the days of our months and years. Sartre compared moments to little diamonds. Aren’t they though? Some small, some big, some you’ll never have … some brilliant, some rough, all perfect in their own way.
It’s good to look back as we set intentions for the new year. There are important people and important things that happen in our lives every single day. It is about those big goals we set in front of us, and it’s about the little things too. The lovely perfect and not-so-perfect things. It is about the things we looked forward to, and those we never intended on, never planned on, never knew would come. It is about the every day, and how we live each moment.
“She smiled and said with an ecstatic air: “It shines like a little diamond”,
“This moment. It is round, it hangs in empty space like a little diamond; I am eternal.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason
“If the whole world I once could see
On free soil stand, with the people free
Then to the moment might I say,
Linger awhile. . .so fair thou art.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: First Part
Years ago, I posted about my daily walk in Shenyang. I made that walk so often going to Chinese class and the gym. My view is different now that we’re back in South Carolina. I still think of that vined archway that isn’t there anymore, the guitarist playing for small bills in the tunnel under Qingnian Dajie, and the way the buildings tower above. I miss it.
Within a week back in the US, my friend D told me that I would grow tired of the question, “Are you glad to be back?” Well, of course we are. We’re glad to be back in a country where we can read everything and understand. We’re more capable of navigating the politics and bullshit. But people don’t ask that question in the same way we answer it. People ask as though it’s a comparison. “Glad” to be back here rather than still in Shenyang, as though the last five and a half years were tragic somehow. A hardship. And being back is better. It’s difficult to be with people who don’t think about or appreciate our life there, and that we miss it from time to time. But at least some people ask something.
This is part of culture shock. Or maybe it’s just part of every day life. Folks go on about their business. Maybe they ask questions so they can answer it themselves. Or they ask questions about only that which they know. Many just live their lives in a state of comparison.
I’d rather live this life than that life. I’d rather be a country mouse than a city mouse. I’d rather be like me than be like her. Well, you know what? I’d rather Daniel Craig acknowledge that he is my secret boyfriend. I’d rather peanut M&M’s were actually good for you. I’d rather be sure that Glenn is still alive.
So, yes, I am glad to be in the United States, where life in Smalltown, America is pretty darn good. I am glad that my morning walks are highlighted by blue skies and red brick. I am happy to drive my little car down highway 29 every morning, saying hello to the cows on my way to work.
But I would be happy there too. It isn’t a question of rather.
It isn’t a beginning, just a bonne continuation! After more than five years in Shenyang, we will soon be packing it up and in, and moving on to the next part of our simple adventure. In August, we will be making our lives in South Carolina again.
In honor of the sorting, saving, tossing and packing that will happen over the next couple of months, we present some images, and their informative, somewhat sarcastic descriptions, of the Shenyang moving methods. Enjoy these not so random photos that we’ve seen over the years in this big city. Not to worry – I’m sure Asian Tigers will take our move in a slightly different direction.
There will be other posts/diatribes about the move and our experiences, perhaps to include a short synopsis of ordering rabies vaccine on Taobao because the government vet office wouldn’t give us the vial label for the health certificates, and a list of possible reasons why T insists on keeping said rabies in our refrigerator long after their labels have been put to use. I think you can also expect to read a list of what we will miss (i.e., so many beautiful people) and will not miss (i.e., why does my bathroom always smell like cabbage?).
Change is not a bad thing, just difficult sometimes. I am comforted knowing there are smiling faces and beautiful places all over the world. We are lucky to know so many. See you on the flip side.
I Don’t Know What All
Blurry Side View
You’re a Winner
Selling the Sea
You Can’t Take Just One
Big White Bags
View from the Bus
Take a Look
That is Shenyang
Sit Up Straight
In the Country
Guys Delivering Fruit
Get Your Cabbage Here
Get Your Brooms Here
For our original 2011 post on the incredible ways they move stuff in Shenyang, check out Push, Pedal, Pull.
To revisit the Irish heritage in rap music’s 1992 hit, “Jump Around” by House of Pain, click here.
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.
Since the fall of 2010, I have volunteered in a Chinese school in Shenyang. Of course, I have written about it in the past. It started as one day a week, and now, sometimes, it is five. I chose it and I love it. I am so thankful that I was given this opportunity, that I took it, and that we made the absolute best of it.
Feeling that we may leave China in 2015, this school year has been a bit difficult for me. I have shared and learned so much over the years. How will I ever express how much they mean to me?
This experience is how I truly learned to say, “You’re welcome” and “My pleasure”, and really mean it. It helped save me at times when I didn’t like who I was, when I didn’t like some I spent time with and had to make more positive choices in my life. It is a place I remember how wonderful my real friends are because these amazing people are among them. Where someone can tell me I’m beautiful and I believe them. Where a simple thing means love. It is why pieces of my heart will always be in China.
I hope you all have a place like this, or that you’ll find one in the new year.
To walk this city
at my pace
I see me.
I am glorious blue, and polluted gray, shades among.
I am determined and loud, lost and exactly in place, silent and moving,
I belong and I don’t. Who knew?
It knew. This city knew.
I went pumpkin hunting, and found so much more. I always do. I love market days.
It’s the season when cabbage and leeks are everywhere. I’m told that, years ago, the Chinese would set out cabbage and leeks during this season to dry so they would have vegetables during the long, harsh winter. Though we can buy fresh produce year-round now, this tradition continues. Why wouldn’t you want to eat vegetables picked in season? Right now, they are on nearly every landing in the stairwell, and there is a stack of cabbage outside our building too. Once in a while, we’ll see a resident choose the best one for that night’s meal.
Let us not forget the apples. Gorgeous apples streaked in red, yellow and green. Perfectly crispy and slightly sweet.
And winter is coming, so the smell of roasting sweet potatoes fills the streets of Shenyang. Choose the one you want. They’ll put it in a plastic bag and you can eat it as you walk along. They very well may be a perfect fast food. My latest 地瓜 purchase led me to the sweet gentleman pictured below. For sure, this will be one of my favorite photos for a very long time.
Enjoy the pictures and beautiful food prose by Mary Oliver.
Work of Art
Hello, my loves
Inside or Outside
How many ways
Need some cabbage?
Beans by Mary Oliver
They’re not like peaches or squash.
Plumpness isn’t for them.
They like being lean, as if for the narrow path.
The beans themselves sit quietly inside their green pods.
Instinctively one picks with care,
never tearing down the fine vine,
never not noticing their crisp bodies,
or feeling their willingness for
the pot, for the fire.
I have thought sometimes that
something―I can’t name it―
watches as I walk the rows,
accepting the gift of their lives
to assist mine.
I know what you think: this is foolishness.
They’re only vegetables.
Even the blossoms with which they
begin are small and pale, hardly significant.
Our hands, or minds, our
feet hold more intelligence. With
this I have no quarrel.
But, what about virtue?