This has been a whirlwind of a year. In the past 12 months, I’ve truly settled into a happy, fulfilling life in China. I’ve got a lot to be proud of, much of it a result of hard work, some of it springing from luck. But it didn’t all go smoothly.
I began the year with a long, rather lonely, 6-week vacation during which I felt like I achieved very little and that I was trapped in China (by passport issues). There were points at which I was only “getting by” on the knowledge that I would see my family soon – from March I was getting through the weeks by counting down to April when my mother would arrive.
I spent too much time alone, trying to meet people on Tinder and not enough time socialising with real people. I spent a lot of my time feeling trapped by little details of my new life in China: a country I chose to come to because it made me feel free.
I’d have gone insane by now if I didn’t have myself to talk to. Looking back, those months refocussed my ability for self-reflection. Talking to myself proved a necessary tool for my continued sanity, happiness and success.
I pushed through until things changed, fast and dramatically, just a week after Mum flew home. By the time July rolled around, bringing my brother and sister for a month-long visit of hilarity and intrepid travel, my life was utterly changed.
At the end of May, I had just signed a new contract to stay in my job for a second year, and felt pleased with myself (probably a result of my mother’s enduring praise which often centred around my small but successful indoor garden). While still recovering from a hangover only partially self-inflicted during an accidental group Tinder date the night before, and after almost fainting at the gym due to low electrolyte levels, I went to my first ever Beijing Storytellers event. My first performance of any kind in months, I told a story in front of a small crowd. The final performance of the night was delivered by someone I immediately admired and later fell for, head over heels. His influence has changed my life.
This time last year I created a way to a note of things throughout my year – a little jar of happy memories and achievements to remember. Not an alternative to New Year’s Resolutions, but a wonderful way to track and share my highlights of 2015.
Here they are, in the order they came out of the jar:
- Setting up a life that I don’t feel the need to escape from
- Sven’s unfaltering belief in me
- Completing NaBloPoMo, Nov 2015
- After my story, a friend stating: ‘That was awesome. There should be more stories about female masturbation on that stage.’
- A new friend’s face: impressed that I can read Korean; amazed by Dad’s book introduction written by Henri Cartier-Bresson; saying he felt he knew me from across the world and that he was happy to be around “intelligent people” again
- Boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend having a friend crush on me
- People enjoying my stories at 4C Storytelling
- Dancing with disabled and non-disabled participants of Pojie Arts
- Meeting Seve and Anna in Hong Kong
- Being given a copy of a stranger’s book of photographs while waiting in the visa application line at the Myanmar embassy in Beijing.
- The solid, safe familiarity of my friendship with Emma. Her visit renewed my patience for China
- The anti-feminist troll on Catherine and the Lion: one indication I am making an impact through my writing!
- Mum learning beginner Chinese before her visit and repeatedly telling me: Wŏ shì yīngguórén!
- Being recognized by the man at the Myanmar visa office (“I know this photo”), then told “[we] warmly welcome you to live in Myanmar.”
- Big group trip to the Great Wild Wall; the wind nearly blowing us off the other side; belly aching from so much laughter
- Realising I had just heard 12 of my undergraduate students present coherent arguments in good English while following a clear debate structure, then others asking them intelligent questions. Cycling home thinking: I LOVE TEACHING!
- Endless kindness shown by a Burmese friend in Yangon
- Hearing a friend’s catchphrase, “I say goddamn…!” ricochet around my head months after he left the country
- A new blog post about personal feminisms got this response (and stacks of re-postings) on Facebook: “I was waiting to see what you’d say… and girl, you delivered!”
- Meeting Sven
- Having full conversations in Chinese in many different cities and provinces
- Discussing writing tools – the benefits of pens, paper and typewriters vs. laptop / computer keyboards – with internationally famous Chinese author Xiaolu Guo (she borrowed my pen)
- Taking MSc students to their first contemporary dance show, one student told me he “didn’t understand” it, but concluded that “art doesn’t need language.”
- Janey and I bonding by agreeing: “Sven is a boy.”
- My very first pint of Guinness to myself, and my friend’s enjoyment at watching me drink it with my eyes closed
- Practicing Chinese tones with my mother by repeating the names of cities we visited
- Boyfriend gave me a key! (The first time a relationship has been so mature / serious.)
- My piece of work about a rape joke gone sour being published on Loreli, a very new platform for Beijing artists / writers
- Being complimented on my Chinese (and knowing the compliment is meant!)
- “She’s telling me about hitchhiking to Morocco – I’m so attracted to her right now…”
- A student’s bounding energy every time I arrive at her family home; their joy that I will stay in Beijing a second year
- A first glimpse of day-to-day Tibetan life and culture in Western Sichuan
- Talking to a stranger on a bus about Buddhism, reading, travelling, then at the train station him saying: “From what you’ve told me I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you were in Burma.” Realising that he’d keyed in exactly to my hopes and ambitions, and shared my feelings for it all
- I “inspired” (bullied) a colleague to take the next step in his life and leave his job for another opportunity
- “You don’t need ecstacy – you’re awesome enough without it.”
- Meeting and befriending celebrities on my first trip to Burma.
- A student announcing: “I think G.I. Jane is like Hua Mulan. They’re both women heroes.”
- Traveling up and down China with my brother and sister, who never seem to lose their mad sense of humour despite immense heat and long train journeys
- One night at Lush: beer fountain from Stian’s nose; mad stories from Jim; singing with Janey; whole group drowning out the live band singing Hallelujah; Sven teaching me ripsticking
- Dancing in the bright moonlight at Setse beach, Myanmar
- Bemused stares when I go for an early morning 3k run through high school kids and businessmen on their way to work at 7am
- Sven (immediately after the event) saying: “Remember that time we fell in love and ate all those mangosteens?”
- Being a reliable friend, supporting everyone around me in their endeavors – one friend going to Dubai, another leaving her job
- Mum’s unwavering energy throughout our trip together; she seemed less tired than me despite a 37 year age gap
- Acting in a web series about menstruation
- I am have an awesome family (and everyone I meet tells me so)!
- Clear blue skies and warm sun, hot for January in Northern China – sitting with a new friend and listening to the silence of nature above our frozen pool full of air bubbles at the Great Wall
- Lunch on a rooftop, cartwheels at Tian’anmen, brandy at home and doing a gym sesh a bit tipsy
- “I want to take you home and just squeeze you.”
Here’s to creating a long list of joyful memories in 2016!