the year of the rooster

img_0771today is the first day of the year of the rooster! its been really special being in tainan the past 10 days and observing the lunar new year preparations slowly happening around the streets. at the hostel i am helping out at, we were also tasked with decorating the common areas with characters, red and gold.

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除夕, the eve of the new year, is super important for chinese families. that evening, i found myself wandering the streets trying to find dinner. (i did have oats as a back up in case the search proved fruitless, no need to worry!)
as i walked through quiet, empty streets usually packed with noisy street carts, and brightly lit restaurants that spill out onto the pavement, it could have been thought of as eerie, or unsettling, or frankly an inconvenient nuisance, but it wasn’t. every closed up shopfront, every cart with a tarpaulin fastened over it, symbolised a family sitting together, around a table, celebrating together with their loved ones. all those dark empty streets meant lighted, warm, full living rooms in houses and apartments around the city, around Taiwan, China and the other Asian countries celebrating the lunar new year. getting to witness the inverse of the celebration felt like a peculiar privilege, one that never crosses my mind on days like christmas and easter, where i’m too caught up in my own family celebration to ponder others.

in my anthropology class last semester, we spent what seemed like a vast amount of time on 仪式, rituals. after reading hundreds of pages of readings regarding them, i got quite sick of the topic. however this chuxi, the necessity and wonder of rituals was so clear to me. how much we need to have things that we repeat, that mark and structure our days, months, years. that bring us together with those most important to us.

as part of the celebrations, people offer food as sacrifice. the incongruous sight of a whole chicken or duck, baked goods, fruit and other objects sitting on a table with incense sticking out of them like birthday candles has been common throughout the streets of tainan. when talking to a taiwanese girl the other day, she said “you must think it is a waste, and crazy!” I smiled and said i thought it was nothing of the sort. it reminded me of leaving milk, biscuits and carrots out for santa claus and rudolph. of making a gingerbread house that after a month of sitting out in the living room, was stale and inedible when we took it away after christmas. of dyed eggs at easter time. doing something for the sake of ritual, of love, of culture, is the thing that assures me we aren’t the money hungry, materialistic robots that newspapers warn of. and how very reassuring that walk through the streets was, in the most surprising of ways.

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thoughts on the last four months

hi, friends. happy 2017.

despite the excited tidings of my previous post, lol, i haven’t been blogging while in china. part of that is the lovely censorship we have to deal with over here. part of it is my computer’s random refusal to access the wordpress website even when censorship isn’t an issue. and then there’s the fact that i’ve been so busy and had so much to do that figuring out solutions to these issues has felt too hard.

anyway, i am currently in Taiwan on break! i have finished one semester and i’m utterly stumped as to how it has flown by. just one semester to go! i have been so immeasurably blessed with how helpful and kind everyone who I have encountered here has been – from the fellow student on the first day who calmed my flustered nerves and showed me my room in the dormitory, to the kind chinese professors who could see steam was just about blowing out my ears in my efforts to understand what they were talking about, to my lovely classmates, some of whom have already become dear dear friends, to the ordinary chinese people on the street who do things like remind me of drink bottles left on restaurant tables, to staff at cafes who assiduously ensure i have plenty of water and repeat the wifi password multiple times until i finally catch the right spelling, to my roommate who has to deal with me at my most stressed and curt when i’m up to my ears in assignments. i can honestly state i’m yet to meet anyone in China who has been nasty to me. perhaps the sarcastic comments go over my head (since there’s no way my comprehension extends that far) and the dirty looks evade my glance, but i can’t help feeling bowled over by the gracious hospitality i felt in Nanjing, Yunnan and now Taiwan.
i want to yell it from the rooftops: thank you! 谢谢! merci à tous! it feels indulgent and extravagant to be having such a positive experience. when does the penny drop?

i was really afraid and nervous to go to taiwan alone. the night before my flight, i couldnt sleep, gasping for breath as my heart beat much faster than normal. the thought of navigating the two metro lines, check in, flight, bus, high speed rail and taxi that was awaiting me the following day stressed me out enormously – so many chances for things to go wrong. not in a mortal danger kind of way (i’m not that kind of worrier), more getting lost and flustered and upset in a different city kind of way. yet the following day, even after my flight arrived late and i feared i wouldnt get to the high speed rail station in time for my train, i felt eerily calm. i imagined a sensible adult’s voice in my head saying, worst case scenario, you miss your train and you have to take a later one. you buy another ticket. it’s not the end of the world.

i chose enrich as my word of the year, which is supposed to guide my approach to the year ahead.
this quote really summed up my position towards it:
“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.” – Nate Berkus

the thing about an enriched life is that it’s not necessarily an easy, or comfortable, way to go about living.
things i have been a complete beginner at in the last 4 months:
– speaking chinese to people who aren’t my teacher
– zumba (we do it multiple times a week with the local community down at the communal track!)
– hip hop dance (our friend runs a dance class at the center)
– ordering things in chinese restaurants
– living in a foreign country
– navigating the metro
– playing lacrosse
– teaching cockney accents to chinese schoolchildren (funny story there!)
and the list goes on!

i have been so challenged by my new experiences in china. extraordinarily so. but it has been so rewarding and has taught me so much, and i just want to keep this momentum going. i want an enriched life, not an easy one.

i’m writing this as i sit in a cafe in Tainan surrounded by the soft chatter of chinese conversations. would i have ever believed at age 13, starting Chinese for the first time, that I would end up here? i doubt it. but i’m so glad i did.