When I was about 10 years old, my father was building a fence around our backyard. He used a tool called a post-hole-digger that grabbed the earth out of the ground, like a two-sided shovel, and made holes for the fence posts. I decided this tool would be useful for going to China. I asked him if I could dig my way through the earth to this exotic & colorful land that I somehow held in my mind.
He laughed and said, sure, if you’d like to dig your way to China, feel free. So I took that post-hole-digger and I started digging in the backyard. In one afternoon, I may have dug about 2 feet. That night I went to sleep and dreamed of what I’d find when I got to China.
The next day, I went back to work. Within a half-hour or so, I hit water. It gushed uninvited into my hole. What was happening? Did I hit the Pacific Ocean? I showed my Dad and he said, oh, you must have hit the water table.
I was never to get to China by way of digging, of course. It was a small girl’s dream of a big endeavor. But when I lived in Korea, one of the advantages of living there was that I could travel to places in Asia. China was right next door; it was no longer on the other side of the earth.
I ventured to China on September 21-25, 2010, while working in Korea. Koreans have a Thanksgiving holiday in September, called Chuseok, during which there is a mass exodus of Koreans returning to their hometowns to pay respects to the spirits of one’s ancestors. I also made an exodus. To China. Having no ancestors to visit in Korea, I explored this next-door neighbor to Korea, though I only visited a tiny dot on its expansive landscape.. I went only for 5 days and I saw Beijing and The Great Wall. China was not a repeat of Korea. It was more exotic, more chaotic, more full of character. It transported me to centuries past and to new experiences. It knocked me off my feet, surprised me in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
later imaginings & enticements
For a while, in one of my past incarnations, I was a quilter. What I loved about quilting was designing them, buying the different fabrics and putting them together into a beautiful whole. I really hated the sewing. But I designed and made a number of small quilts, art pieces really. At the time, Asian fabrics were in vogue, fabrics with lotus flowers, peonies, all of distinctly Asian design. I loved these designs. They made me dream of China.
Numerous films piqued my interest in this exotic country throughout my life. There was the artistically done, fantastical 2000 Chinese martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 卧虎藏龙. This film transported me to a fantasy world where people could fly, sail, fight impossible battles, and fall passionately in love.
The well-done 2001 movie, Beijing Bicycle, portrayed a hopeless city of modern times. Guei arrived from the country and got a job as a messenger. The company issued him a bike, which he had to pay for out of his wages. When it was stolen, Guei hunted for it and found that a student, Jian, had it; for him, it was the key to teen society – with his pals and with Xiao, a girl he fancied.
Guei found the bike and stubbornly tried to reclaim it in the face of great odds. But for Jian to lose the bike would mean humiliation. The two young men – and the people around them – were swept up in the youths’ desperation. This is an amazing movie that shadows my imaginings of Beijing.
Another movie that touched my heart was the 1999 The Road Home. The story told of a young man who returned to his native village after the death of his father, the village’s schoolteacher, who died while trying to raise money for a new schoolhouse. His body was in a neighboring town; the young man’s mother insisted that it be brought back on foot, in case his spirit could not find his way home. From this starting point, the young man recounted the tale of his parents’ courtship, which involved a red banner, mushroom dumplings, a colorful barrette, and a broken bowl. It was a quiet and moving story that I adored.
In the 2006 movie The Painted Veil, Edward Norton played a British medical doctor treating a cholera outbreak in a Chinese village, while trapped in a loveless marriage to a faithless wife, Naomi Watts. The panorama of the karsts in southern China that permeate scenes in the movie were breathtaking and gorgeous. Karsts are limestone protrusions that jut up in the midst of rice paddies, rivers & farms, especially near the Li River in China.
Books fueled my imagination, informing me about this country so different from my own. I read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, a book about 3 generations of Chinese women. An autobiographical family history by Chinese writer Jung Chang, it was published in 1991 and won two awards, the 1992 NCR Book Award and the 1993 British Book of the Year. It tells the story of the author’s concubine grandmother, her mother who was in the Communist Party, and the experience of being part of the Cultural Revolution. I learned more about China from this book than anything else I have ever read. It’s truly amazing.
I read Amy’s Tan’s books: The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. The Joy Luck Club was written in 1989 and focuses on Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco who start a club called the “Joy Luck Club,” playing the Chinese game of Mahjong while eating their native foods. The Kitchen God’s Wife deals with the American-born daughter of a Chinese mother and a Chinese-American father. Though these books don’t deal with life in China, they reflect the Chinese immigrant experience and the difficulties of merging two cultures.
I read a book by Lisa See, Peony in Love. Set in 17th-century China, the novel is a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, a family saga and a work of musical and social history. As Peony, the 15-year-old daughter of the wealthy Chen family, approaches an arranged marriage, she commits an unthinkable breach of etiquette when she accidentally comes upon a man who has entered the family garden. I also read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, another novel by Lisa See.
I love it that Chinese books so often have flowers in the titles. They sound so romantic, so secret garden-like.
Before going to Turkey, I finished reading a novel by Janice Y.K. Lee called The Piano Teacher that took place in Hong Kong during WWII and 10 years after. This book really made me want to visit Hong Kong, which I was sure, because of its British colonial past, had a different feel than mainland China.
~ the call to return to China ~
While I was in Oman in 2013, a woman contacted me through my blog, a nomad in the land of nizwa, to inquire about working for the University of Nizwa. After our correspondence, she ended up taking a job in China. In 2014, I wrote to ask about possible jobs at her university and she told me they had just instituted a mandatory retirement age of 60. As I started looking at jobs in China, I saw many with an age limit of 60. I figured since I only had one more year to work in China, I would focus my job search there.
In all, I applied for 70 jobs, beginning my job search when I returned from California at the end of January 2014 and ending on June 13, when I got a job offer from a Chinese college. I had applied for jobs at a rate of 3 jobs a week over 21 weeks. Though I had tried at the same time to get a job in the U.S., I didn’t get any responses to my applications. I came to believe my days of trying to find a job in the U.S. were over.
I’d always wanted to teach in China for a couple of reasons: 1) Asian students in general are hard-working and 2) there are a lot of amazing things to see in China. I focused my job search there and in one week I had four interviews and I got three offers. I accepted an offer to teach at SCIC (Sino-Canadian International Colleges), Guangxi University in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It was not far from Vietnam and was about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Guilin, where the movie The Painted Veil was filmed.
In a way, I felt relieved to be going abroad again. Taking a job in the U.S. probably wouldn’t have allowed me to travel. Besides, starting a new job in a corporation or a non-profit at this point would mean starting with only 2-3 weeks of vacation per year. Teaching abroad allowed me to have both the cultural immersion I craved and to have extensive time off to travel in the region where I would be based. Overall, it was a great solution to my dilemmas. As I only had about 9 more years to work before I retired, and I still had my health, I figured I should take advantage of teaching abroad. Besides, my kids were nowhere close to settling down, getting married or having kids; by the time they were, I would be back in the U.S., ready to settle down and enjoy the extended family. And best of all, they were supportive of me having my adventures while I was still young enough to have them!
After being at home for a year, I missed a number of things about being abroad, especially the expats and foreigners one meets when thrown into a foreign country. Everyone is an adventurer of some sort. Being in the U.S., I was tired of having people’s eyes glaze over when I shared my experiences living abroad. I loved the fellow nomads that tended to gravitate to each other in foreign lands. In addition, I met wonderful natives of the country. We shared a common experience no one else could ever understand.
Once I got the job offer, I was excited to venture again to China. I was due to arrive in Nanning on September 1, 2014.
*Friday, August 29, 2014*
“THE CALL TO PLACE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about what enticed you to choose a particular destination. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments. If your destination is a place you love and keep returning to, feel free to write about that. If you want to see the original post about the subject, you can check it out here: imaginings: the call to place.
While I’m in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago from August 31 – October 25, and then in Portugal from October 26 – November 6, I kindly request that if you write a “call to place” piece, please simply link it to the appropriate post, this one or my next one as soon as it publishes. I will try my best to read your posts while I’m on my journey, but I won’t have a computer or the time or ability to add links to my posts.
My next post on call to place will be on Thursday, October 25.
If you’d like, you can use the hashtag #wanderessence.
This will be an ongoing invitation, on the fourth Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired! See below in the comments for any additional links.
- Suzanne, of Being in Nature, wrote about her call to Spain and the light and shadows she encountered there.
- Pauline, of Living in Paradise…, writes about the pleasures of her routine life, punctuated by the urge to explore a corner of her world: Broken Hill, where “the summers are almost unbearably hot. The dust swirls in red clouds coating everything and the winters are bitterly cold.”
- Ann-Christine, of Leya: To See a World in a Grain of Sand, wrote about her visit to Astorga, Spain where she first felt the pull to do the Camino de Santiago one day.
Thanks to all of you who wrote about the call to place. 🙂