I don’t think I’m the only person doing some serious contemplating during this strange time of illness, panic, isolation. Everything appears so uncertain, unknown. And, of course, with so many now stuck quarantining at home–days once jammed-packed now jerked to a halt–there’s a sudden excess of time to think.
I’m not sure about anybody else, but my brain is not always a safe place for me to wander alone.
Yet, I find myself facing a sudden shock of revelation–in this time of upset, I am not as “upset” as I’d expect. Despite everything, I’ve mostly felt at peace. And it’s because of the strangest thing: old heartaches.
To explain: Those who follow my blog will know that I married into the Foreign Service. The lifestyle offered by my husband’s job has afforded us many wonderful adventures–amazing things I never imagined I’d do: Cuddle baby tigers. Climb castles made of ice. Sleep in the heart of the rainforest. I wouldn’t trade it…. I don’t think.
And the uncertainty on that point comes from this: the Foreign Service life has also caused me a lot of pain.
Usually, I’m fairly responsible about my time management; I make sensible decisions, putting work and other obligations first. But this past Thursday night, I found myself still up at 2 AM–even with the start of my workday at the Consulate looming a mere 6 hours away–because I couldn’t tear myself away from a casual ladies’ night that brought together women from the Consulate ( a shoutout to our awesome hostess, if you’re reading!). I drank 3+ glasses of wine (amazing, since I’m usually a 1-glass-and-done kind of girl) and laughed until I had tears in my eyes… laughed harder than I have in months.
In the back of my mind, sensible Lauren was reminding me that I had to get home, that I still needed to shower and send off a bit of correspondence, that I had work in the morning. But I was having a desperately hard time prying myself away from the company. The women at the Consulate–Foreign Service officers and diplomatic spouses alike–come from incredibly diverse perspectives, experiences, and places. Occasionally, these differences cause conflict. But 95% of the time, I’m amazed by how lively, accepting, and kind our community is. Sitting there at 12:30 in the morning, trying not to wet my pants from giggling, I had two simultaneous thoughts running in the back of my mind:
“I can’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these women, against all odds, despite the long distances we’ve had to travel to be here.”
“I can’t believe I have to say goodbye in two and a half months.”
In honor of my husband and my onward assignment–our next post will be in South America, near the Amazon Rain Forest!–our Chinese teacher used this week’s class to teach us some related vocabulary. Some of the terms were intriguing, even charming:
yǔ lín (雨林) – Rain Forest
shù lǎn (树懒) – Sloth (the Chinese literally means “tree lazy,” which is adorable and accurate. This my favorite vocab term since I discovered the German word for raccoon: Waschbär, or “washing bear.” You know, because they wash their little faces with both hands?)
But then our lesson took a slightly darker turn:
è yú (鳄鱼) – Crocodile (or “hungry fish”)
shí rén yú (食人鱼)- Piranha (the Chinese literally translates as “eat man fish”)
wén zi (蚊子) – Mesquito
dēng gé rè (登革热) – Dengue Fever
wēi xiǎn (危险) – Dangerous
A sane person might have begun feeling a touch trepidatious at that point–might even have begun reconsidering their move to a locale that could inspire such vocabulary.
Me? I just gave a mental shrug and thought, “Eh? Why not?”
I guess that means I’m officially adapting to Foreign Service life.
As I mentioned in my post on romance in fiction, I’ve been on a bit of a love kick lately. So it seems appropriate that the stars would align to allow me to attend a wedding this weekend.
As you may guess, I didn’t spontaneously make the 13-hour-by-plane commute back to the States to attend nuptials. (Though I would happily kiss the feet of anyone who invented a working Harry-Potter-esque Portkey, thus preventing us from ever missing another wedding, graduation, etc., due to long distance.) Instead, this was the wedding (hūn lǐ) of one of my Chinese co-workers. His is actually the second Chinese wedding I’ve attended in our 1.5 years of living in China. In both cases, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to attend. It’s poignant thing, witnessing that incredible moment in someone’s life. And a Chinese wedding provides the added allure of a glimpse inside the culture.
Given that Harbin, China was once a hub for Trans-Siberian Railway construction, it’s unsurprising that an ice festival is the town’s current claim to fame. How poetic that even today, such a locale remains infamous for its (literally) freezing temperatures.
Truly, Harbin’s ice festival is stunning–particularly its crowing jewel, Harbin’s Ice and Snow World. I feel blessed to have made it there, at least once in my lifetime.
But I’ll be honest–magical as the Snow World was, there are some drawbacks to wandering around in -20°F weather (that’s actual temperature–none of this “feels like” nonsense!) after the sun goes down. Namely, being brutally, numbingly cold. The day after our icy adventure, our group decided to take a break and head to the (only slightly) warmer Siberian Tiger Park.
In addition to introducing the upcoming year, Chinese New Year also marks the official start of spring according to China’s lunar calendar.
This year, I owe the lunar calendar a big commendation, as it pegged spring’s arrival perfectly. Just two weeks ago, temperatures here were in the 40s and 50s. Following on the heels of February 8th’s New Year celebration, the cherry blossoms are blooming and I’m shedding my jacket, happily welcoming 75°F days.
But the sunny days have made me nostalgic, bringing to a close our last winter to be spent in China. With the days counting down to the end of our assignment, I’m fondly remembering adventures we’ve taken, even as I wonder how well we’ve availed ourselves of our time here.
If you’ve noticed some radio silence ’round these parts, it’s because my husband and I recently enjoyed a lengthy R&R back in the States. Usually, I’m pretty rigorous with myself about my writing time. But with long-missed friends and family to see–and a few chilly surf sessions thrown in for good measure–I granted myself permission to take a blogging break.
But of course, all holidays must come to a close; thus I’ve returned to both my writing and my Chinese language lessons.
The transition back has been less than elegant.
As I found myself staring off with my Chinese lǎo shī (teacher) at that first lesson following my six-week siesta, I knew I was doing a pitiful job concealing my lack of practice in the interim. All my vows to rehearse my vocabulary, to practice Mandarin conversations with my husband… all were forgotten in the happy busyness of the Christmas/New Year season.