My Blooming Neighborhood

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to be a kid again

If Peter Pan showed up at my window and asked me to join him in Neverland, I would fly away in a heartbeat. I’m only 23, but I can feel that as time ticks away, so do bits and pieces of things I treasured most in my childhood, like my imagination.

When I was little, the rooms of my dream house were connected by tunnels and slides. I built forts out of sofa cushions and blankets and it never felt small. One year the Tooth Fairy left me a purple crystal with my tooth in it, and other years she left me money under my pillow. But now that I’m an “adult” who “knows better,” I won’t expect an allowance under my pillow when my teeth begin to fall out, because that’s Life, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

The other day I noticed a little girl, maybe 2-3 years old, who stood wide-eyed before paper butterflies that hung from the ceiling at a mall entrance, marveling at the slight flapping of their wings from the breeze of the swinging doors. I had walked by this display earlier and thought how cheesy the decorations were, but watching the girl in fascination over the fake flowers and butterflies, I realized how much I miss seeing beauty in the ordinary. For a second I tried to envision what the girl saw–a thousand rainbow butterflies floating above a colorful meadow, sparkling with reflections of the sun. In that moment, I too could see the beauty of the cheap  display at the mall entrance. But a moment later, I walked out the swinging door and yelled at a driver for running a red light.

One of the reasons I love kids so much is that I am fascinated by them. They find beauty in ordinary things; they can make things come alive; they find life in obscure places and aren’t afraid to approach them; they don’t complicate things unnecessarily; they don’t discriminate; and they are fearless. Life can be taken at face value when you’re young and untainted. And when Life gets hard, kids can escape to worlds conjured up in their own minds, whereas adults hide their pain behind beer and pill bottles. It’s a shame we have to grow up.

Before I got into my first relationship, I remember wanting to feel heartache. I thought it was part of growing up, of  being human, and I wanted to experience it. Of course it hurt a lot when it actually happened, and rather than having spent hours upon hours analyzing what went wrong, I wish I could’ve just escaped to Neverland, or to an island where the Wild Things live. Reality would have been much easier to cope with.

After my parents’ divorce, I was glad to be far away from them so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately, like Dementors, Life seeped its way across the ocean to interfere with my usual cheerfulness. During that time I often wished to be a kid again, where living in blissful ignorance innocence veiled any and all miseries.

No one should have to grow up “too fast” but when they do, it’s nearly always a painful process. My family members often tell me how 单纯 (danchun), “simple, naive” I am, a fact that I think is ascribed to my Americanized upbringing. My cousin, on the other hand, grew up in China with divorced parents — still a taboo at the time — and a mother who didn’t act like one. While her parents carried on with their own misery or when her mother was absent, my cousin had to fend for herself. Besides what she dealt with at home, she saw ugliness outside too. She learned about Life and all its hardships at a young age when kids I grew up with in Brookline, Massachusetts were playing tag and painting pictures at daycare. Now at  22 years old, my cousin looks, acts and thinks far beyond her age, and definitely far beyond me. The painful part of all of this besides a lost childhood? She wants to be close to her mother.

Perhaps this is a generalization, but from my observations and conversations with adults and children alike, I’ve concluded this: Chinese kids grow up too fast. By the time they’re teenagers, imagination is drilled out of them. One of my biggest difficulties when teaching is getting my students to be creative. They are not yet adults, and they are playful, but their minds have been molded to fit exam bubbles. And this is just the result of the education system; Life, as it was for my cousin, is the other predator.

I started volunteering at a migrant worker community center on the outskirts of Beijing a couple weeks ago. Just being around the kids there is uplifting and even refreshing. They remind me how even the simplest things, like throwing a hackeysack in the air by yourself, can be fun. And getting dirt on your clothes, hands and face is no big deal (as long as you wash up with soap before sticking anything in your mouth). My responsibilities at the center are lacking, but just spending time with the kids is worth the 1 hour 45 minute commute.

As you can probably tell I’m reminiscent of childhood (but I wouldn’t go so far as to start acting like a baby). I like to believe that some of my imagination is still intact and that the rooms of my future house will be accessible by slides. Also, perhaps as subconscious resistance to growing up completely, I find the most enjoyment in stories/plots with child protagonists. Stories like The Little Prince, Where The Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, and Millions take me back to the best days of my life and remind me how precious it is to be a kid. Yes, they are all written by adults, but by adults whom I admire very much for their ability to tell stories from the point of view of size 2 shoes, a wolf suit, and a crown.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m living at home again, or the fact that babies are everywhere in China, or the fact that Life throws negativities once in a while that has stirred me to think about my childhood so much lately. I also recently read Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things. More likely, though, it is a combination of all these factors. I can’t remember when my first time saying “I wish I were a kid again” was, but it has since become a commonly used phrase in my life. I know it’s never going to happen, but maybe if I wish for it at my next birthday and blow out all the candles, it will come true.

Meanwhile, I’m just “drafting through Fairyland…”

I thought I should mention, as I was writing this post, “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell came on, brilliantly summing up everything I just babbled about and gently bringing me back to earth. The world works in funny ways, even for adults, doesn’t it?

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like when you’re older must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game *

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

– Joni Mitchell


Lettuce Rejoice for Winter!

Today is “Lidong,” the beginning of winter on the lunar calendar. Funny because it was mighty warm today, though the sun did go down around 5 pm.

 

The view at work was clear because it drizzled early this morning. Normally, my view looks like this:

Winter is lovely, but the sun goes down too early making the last stretch of work absolute torture.

For my friends who care, this is what my office looks like:

Feel my pain.

And for those same friends, can you picture me in one of those slots under the translucent lighting??! I can barely sit still in front of a TV in a cozy living room!

I digress.

Lidong… yes, on Lidong Chinese people traditionally eat dumplings. But who follows traditions anymore? Instead, I came home to a MOUND of surprise.

"Flash" photos on my camera come out terribly. My sincerest apologies for your visual displeasure!

My neighborhood was handing out free LETTUCE! Insecticide-free!  Each apartment unit can carry home 2 bags. My mom and I hate turning down free things, so in the elevator we went with our share.

Why, you might ask, is our neighborhood distributing lettuce to its residents? It’s because a nearby farm yielded way more lettuce than they could sell (one gigantic head of lettuce at the market costs .90 Yuan, which is about a $0.16, so basically it’s worth nothing). More significantly, however,  it’s because contractors bought the land and need to clear it for apartment complexes that will be sold at exorbitant rates.

Anyhow, this lettuce is going to last all winter long. I foresee a mountain of dumplings, endless bowls of chicken soup and maybe even kimchi (which is Korean!) in the upcoming months. Too bad I don’t have rabbits or turtles to share my treasure with.

Sleep tight, sweet lettuceheads.

 


Plentiful Pears and Other Fruits

My post yesterday about Yueyue was heavy, which is unusual for me, but it needed to be said.

Now, although I feel a bit weird about continuing my normally cheerful blog, it also needs to be done. Because after all, life goes on.

So, deep breath, I am still my fruitful self!

And that’s exactly what this post is about: FRUIT! Of all the things that are lacking in China, one thing there is always an abundance of is fruit in all shapes and sizes!

My first encounter with fruit was last month in Kunming. Some family and I went pear-picking, and it sure was plentiful…

plentiful pears

And an uncle in a pear tree..

mama pear

I never really thought about where or how pomegranates were grown, until I found this tree in front of my dad’s apartment:

Fruits of My Father's Garden (it doesn't actually belong to him)

Hawthorn Berries are sweet and very sour, good for juice

The rest of these photos are from all over, grown uncontrollably everywhere.

welcoming gourds


gourds

persimmon tree

Rambutan from the Maldives, similar to lychee in China

A fruit market in Kunming.

This last photo is one of my favorites that I’ve taken since I’ve been in China. Too bad his grapes were so overpriced.

The Man with Many Grapes


Waffle Dogs

These, my dear friends, are waffle dogs:

Hot dog in a waffle on a stick


Poker Playing Dogs

I finally faced my fears of interrupting a card game (money is at stake here, folks!) and got up close to capture an epic head-scratching moment. And yes, this card game took place at the same table I’ve rambled about before.

It is a bit similar to this:

Dogs Playing Poker by C.M. Coolidge

Don’t you think?


Afternoon Mahjohng

As usual, I caught people in action at The Table.

I decided I didn’t like the previous name I gave the table, “The Table of Life.” It may have religious connotations I did not intend. Therefore, I want to give it another name, like “The Friendship Square” or “Table 90210” (but that’s just silly), or maybe even “The Pit Stop.” I don’t like any of those names. Any suggestions?

Also, I have plenty to blog about – my new job(s), photos, IKEA, another concert, babies – but I’m too pooped to do so right now. Stay tuned!