Some Reflections Now That Chunjie Is Upon Us

For any of you Chinese or Chinese-related students, you know that 春节 is fast approaching. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s Chinese New Year, which entails a two week shut down of basically everything, a mass exodus from the cities as people return home to visit their families, and massive amounts of eating, think of it like two weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. You might be acquainted with the Chinese zodiac animals, this year being the Year of the Rabbit. Chunjie, for me, has historically evoked mixed feelings. There is excellent food, and the ubiquitous hongbao, or red envelopes filled with cash for the younger generations. There is also the lion dance celebrations, which my mother is a part of, and that I have volunteered for annually since seventh grade. A close friend from home and I share fond memories of parading around the streets of Chinatown from 11 AM until it gets too dark to see, stopping at each and every restaurant and store to perform and herald blessings and a lucrative following year. The dance includes the lion kicking up oranges and heads of lettuce high into the air, and shopkeepers tossing lit firecrackers right at us. It’s a fun, arduous, dangerous day, we go hours without eating anything but the oranges we can save from the dirty streets, it’s often cold and rainy, I can’t look at salad for at least two weeks after, and once I fell off the back of the truck carrying all our musical instruments, and chipped a bone in my wrist. Although back in the States it usually occurred right around midterms, I still have fond memories. I’m beginning to miss home a little bit, as the people here in Beijing start prematurely blowing stuff up.

Last Chinese New Years happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. My boyfriend at the time was in school in another city, and despite the fact that I’m no fan of the Hallmark Holiday, Valentine’s Day is a shitty day to be alone, what with all the sappiness on TV and going out impossible. So I hosted a little Chinese New Year dinner with a few friends and far too much food. It was great.

Recalling my celebrations from a year ago has got me thinking about the past 12 months. 2010 (and the first month of 2011) has certainly been one of the defining years of my twenty some odd on the planet. So many things have happened, changed, since then.
It wasn’t until mid-February that I started questioning my future. I had had all these vague feelings of unease and uncertainty, my then boyfriend almost managing to convince me that I would be unhappy with my international dreams. This is about when Bambi started calling me a robot who was not programmed to have fun and be social, and I realized how true it kind of was, and I made some efforts to get out more and make more friends before college ended. And then it did end, rather suddenly, and I still felt lost. Luckily, I had managed to get appointed to go to Taiwan on an international conference for students from all around the world. Before going, I had had a long discussion with my ex, who was worried that I might misbehave on such a trip, since I had spent such a “tumultuous year” there when I was 17 (but let’s be honest, who doesn’t have a tumultuous time exploring independence at age 17 and 18, and I certainly didn’t do anything harmful). I viewed the trip as a sort of last foray into traveling like that before settling down.
It was an amazing, expenses paid two weeks during which we were pampered, I made friends with some truly good and hilarious people, and a lot became very clear to me. Mostly, that I had been unhappy, and being in Taipei made me extremely happy, and there was no way I wanted to give up that sort of experience. There were all other sorts of realizations that lead to me breaking up with my boyfriend of 3 1/2 years. I haven’t talked to him since, and wish him well, I suppose, but it was absolutely the best choice for me. I’ve been in a much better mental state ever since.
I did a lot of traveling, Savannah, San Francisco and Long Beach, Florida, North Carolina, New York. Savannah was beautiful and I would love to have a chance to visit it again for a more substantial amount of time. I wasn’t a fan of Long Beach or LA, although those days allowed me to spend some time with a friend who had moved out there and also with my mom, who was there on a business trip. I saw more friends in San Francisco, ate a lot of good food and took a hike in some gorgeous redwood covered hills. Florida was…special, a post wedding ‘relaxation’ with my aunt, uncle, and grandmother. North Carolina was lovely, as I got to spend some time with another of my oldest friends, although disappointing in one aspect.

I went to Hawaii in September for two amazing weeks of beaches and sunsets and sunrise hikes, learning to surf, and snorkeled with sea turtles and jumped off a waterfall. I went to visit a friend, and ended up meeting more fantastic people. I was even persuaded to jump out of a plane at 14,000 feet, which may have been one of the most exhilarating, ridiculously exciting moments of my life. Frozen with fear, strapped to a complete stranger, in a tiny little plane bumping along past the clouds, gripping the metal bench so tightly my knuckles turned white. The instructor had to physically shuffle my legs forwards, and throw us out of the plane, but once I was falling, I felt free. A heartbeat of fear, every muscle tightening and tensing, then releasing, feeling nothing but the wind rushing against your skin, hearing nothing at all but a dull roar, below the islands are lush green against the azure ocean spreading out. Those few seconds of free fall seem to last a lifetime.
I have fallen out of love, in and out of infatuations, and even gone on a few really nice, mature dates (shocking, that something should be so normal in my life), seen two my-age relatives marry, cut my hair very short (and discovered that my short hair likes to resemble anime characters or emo-hipsters when I fall asleep after showering), moved to China and started playing Frisbee. I am even seriously contemplating buying and riding a bicycle in and around Beijing traffic.

Had someone took me aside a year ago and said, Hey, Robot, this is what you are going to do in the next 365 days, I would have laughed at and disbelieved most of that list. In some ways I see a very different person in the mirror now, someone who is hard to recognize, but mostly I hope I am moving in the right direction with my life. I certainly feel more like myself, happier, more independent, making decisions, doing all these sort of adult things, even if I feel like a thirteen year old in an adult costume.

Let’s add one last thing to the list of ridiculous stuff I’ve done that I wouldn’t believe. Even more ridiculous than riding on the back of a moped, even crazier than getting my own bike and riding it around one of the worst traffic cities I’ve ever seen, tonight on the way to dinner, I rode on the back of Bambi’s new bike ‘nu pengyou’ style, that is, sidesaddle on the little wire frame, like a proper Chinese girlfriend. Lots of people, mostly kids and girlfriends, ride like that here, but I dislike it even more than mopeds. Bikes are shaky, cars are large, and there are lots of them, I didn’t have a helmet, I have no control over balance, and nothing to hold onto-just a tiny wire to rest both my feet, holding onto the wire frame with one hand and clutching onto Bambi with the other. It was, at max, a five minute ride down the street without any turns. It accomplished nothing except to reaffirm that I will not repeat the experience and will get my own bike to avoid such a thing from happening in the future. At least Beijing is all flat, I don’t have to worry about falling down hills.

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