I’m Still Here

As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on–in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.

(Morrie Schwartz) tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

There is this line in the movie Poltergeist, the 1982 version, that the psychic, after they get Carol Anne back from the other side of the ghostly closet world, says out toward the camera, and hence to us the audience. “This house is clean.”

That sentence keeps circling in my head, this house is clean, this house is clean, this blog is clean. That’s pretty much how I’m feeling about this blog right now. I’ve been on about a year hiatus, which truthfully is not that unusual. If you’ve followed this blog at all you know that there are blog traffic destructive gaps in the writing. If you stopped following, I don’t blame you. I also don’t care. Not to sound like a jerk, but the only reason I am back here is because it finally occurred to me that I need to stop caring about you. Of course not in the real sense of not caring about people, but in the sense of trying to please you. The great big YOU out there in the audience. I will never be cool, hip, exciting, interesting, intelligent, or whatever other thing I need to be to impress you. I’m not going to build my audience. I’m not going to create a fan base, or a following, I’m not going to make any money here or some kind of a living here. I’m too overwhelmed and sometimes depressed (because I have depression so, you know, that’s the result of depression- gotta roll with it) to research how to have a great blog. Sometimes I look things up, like SEO’s and keywords, and I just can’t do it. I can’t. And finally, I’ve accepted that I don’t want to. This is because I discovered something while I was cleansing my blog. You see, I scoured through every single post I had ever written over the past- eleven years. I reorganized the entire thing. New categories, new template, and new focus. I reread many posts, and I trashed some posts (many posts) because they were not needed, and they did not fit into what it is that I have finally discovered I have been doing over the years.

This is a memoir. I hadn’t realized it till now, but it’s my memoir. It’s my history of the past eleven years of my life (and on till my death). I’ve decided, well, hell, I’d like to finish this book. So I reorganized, and I deleted, and I created categories that are really chapters, and I enjoyed the cleansing. I got rid of all of the pleading, because I could read it in my writing. I could hear the pleading in my voice. Please like me. Please like what I’m writing. You. You out there like me. Please save me and tell me I matter. All of that. I felt it come off the internet pages of this blog, like a noxious gas. A little sickening and a little sad. Palpable, tangible and so subconscious.

All of that was important. I needed to plead, and I needed to read and reflect on it all these years later with a kinder more compassionate self -perspective. I’m just a human. I needed to see that I had wanted to be more then just a simple human, and I wanted you to tell me; tell me that I was special. But, you never did. And I’m glad you didn’t because how would I learn? So, it’s changing. The voice is changing, and you, audience will either grow or remain the same or get smaller, but it doesn’t matter because I’m just here to write some stories. I’m on a journey to find out how I got here. How did a kid raised on welfare, with seemingly no chance of a decent future end up traveling and living in foreign countries? I want to know. I need to find out how. I’m curious as to know what happens next. Is it true we can write our lives? Let’s find out.

If you are reading this please forgive the mess. If you have ever seen Poltergeist you’ll know that even though she said the house was clean- it really wasn’t. There were still ghosts. Many ghosts. So, so many ghosts. In fact the entire family had to flee the home. They even got rid of the t.v.

Perhaps one day when I’m long dead this little time capsule of my life will resurface, and someone will learn something about what it was to live this little corner of my life. Perhaps not. Either way it doesn’t matter because I feel relief at finally seeing what this is all about. It’s about writing my own story.

 

Faking China: A Theme Park

If you find yourself in Zhengzhou, China, which is in the Henan Province, which is in the north, and to the west of Beijing, and find yourself wanting to visit other parts of China too, but can’t for one reason or another, that’s okay because you can go to fake China in Zhengzhou. You never have to leave.

It’s been two years’ since I have lived in China, and even now certain memories return to me. Memories of me thinking, “What the hell is this?” and not knowing how to quite register the wonder and multitude of questions that China can at times offer. I had started saying to myself, “stopping asking why, there is no answer to why, it only is as it is. There is no why, and no answer, it’s just China.”

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China is naturally a geological and geographical land of amazing beauty (I won’t focus on the horrible pollution that is destroying that beauty, but I’ll still mention it as an aside because it’s important to be reminded that there is a lot to lose). There are landscapes that steal your breath away and fill your heart with awe, but China is also the land of manufactured worlds, and that too is…well…it can leave you speechless. There is as much natural beauty as there is… shall we call it–imitation.It is a matter of opinion on whether you think this is an eyesore and a waste or if you think it’s a brilliant oddity of manmade accidental art, but when you are standing in the middle of one these pretend places you can’t help but be…well…speechless, and oddly admirable of the juxtaposition of China and China’s imitation of other counties and itself. There are ghost cities, and copycat cities: the fake Paris and the fake Venice, for example which are also ghost cities, and there are amusement and theme parks that are just devoted to imitating cities; like Las Vegas in a park with no gambling or strippers or alcohol.

In Zhengzhou, where I had spent one year of my life, the school where I had been working at the time took our classes- the English Language school, No. 42-to a park on the outskirts of the city as part of a class excursion. In the past, I had heard that the school used to offer two class trips a year, and that they had visited actual famous sights and landmarks, but I guess by the time I had arrived they must have lost the budget or decided not to spend so much on the teachers and students- so we got fake China. I never learned the name of the park in Chinese or translated into English, and believe me I had tried. I searched the internet but couldn’t find any information on this mystery park visited by Chinese students and couples having their wedding pictures taken. The closest I found was the Century Park where all the students excitedly thought we were going until our bus passed it by and took us to a second tier theme park. There were audible groans of disappointment.

A picture of the Longmen Grottos from across the river.
A picture of the Longmen Grottos from across the river.

Henan, the province of Zhengzhou, is a very important province in the history and the civilization of China. In fact, out of the eight ancient capitals of China four of them have been located in Henan. Zhengzhou was recently added to that list due to the discovery of an ancient dynasty perhaps the oldest of all the dynasties, the Shang dynasty (1558 b.c.- 1046 b.c.). When in Zhengzhou there is no remanence of the Shang’s presence except for a portion of an ancient settlement wall that looks today like a giant wall of dirt. You can find this wall in the eastern part of the city. The other Capital cities were once located in Luoyang, Kaifeng, and Anyang (where the oldest collection of Chinese writing was found written on ox bones and turtle shells. Evidence of the Shang dynasty had also been found in Anyang). Henan is not only the birthplace of the great Chinese dynasties,  but also Zen Buddhism, and Kung Fu. In this one province you can visit the oldest civilizations of China, and the explore the historical birthplaces of China’s societal foundations many of which still hold today, even many events leading to China’s communism were formed in Henan. In Luoyang there are the grottos an amazing religious site with over 100,000 carvings and status of Buddhist images. In Dengfeng and Shaolin are the schools of Kung Fu, and in Kaifeng the most famous judge in the history of China, Boa Zheng, had once resided. He was also called justice Bao because he was honest and upright, and even today he is the symbol of justice. A living history lesson at can be at your finger tips, but if you can’t get out of the city you can visit these ancient landmarks in one city park in Zhengzhou.

The area where the ancient wall from the Shang Dynasty was over 3,000 years ago.
The area where the ancient wall from the Shang Dynasty was over 3,000 years ago.
Where there were once ancient ruins discovered in the 70's and 80's now families plant urban gardens.
Where there were once ancient ruins discovered in the 70’s and 80’s now families plant urban gardens.

I wasn’t really certain what to expect, and since at this point I had already lived in China for close to a year, I knew to expect the unexpected. All that could really be explained to me was that we were going to a park. I’ve decided to name it The Park of Great Things In Henan and Beyond, because every city and historical monument was represented in replica, not to size, for the Chinese tourists to enjoy. I say Chinese because this isn’t a park that many foreigner travelers may find themselves. Not many foreign travelers will even find themselves in Zhengzhou for more than a day. Most people come to Zhengzhou only to change trains unless they are actually living in the city. I remember a person once saying to me, “Zhengzhou? Oh yeah, I think I was there, in fact I got my wallet stolen in the Zhengzhou train station.”

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Not real
My student and I at the fake Longman grotto.
My student and I at the fake Longmen grotto.

Can’t visit Luoyang? No matter you can find the Grottoes here. Don’t have time to see the Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng? It’s here. You’ll never find yourself in Anyang? You guessed it, it’s here too. In fact, if you want you can see a part of the Great Wall here too. If you get tired of China you don’t ever have to leave the park because around the corner you will find Egypt right next to Greece, (of course) and all of Africa encompassed in two statues, and right next to Africa you’ll find Australia, exactly where you’d imagine it to be. The main highlights of the park were physically being there and kind of wondering why; discovering the pretty offensive perceptions of Africa (or maybe some island places?), the aged look of the park when it was only a couple of years old, having a water gun war on paddle boats, a Chinese man assuming I was a Christian because I am white/foreign and handing me his Bible to hold as he bowed to me several times, watching the multitude of wedding photography, skipping rocks with my students on a fake lake that had a water show, and spending time with students and teachers in a place that would and can only be experienced once in my entire life.

Fake Africa
Africa? The Polynesian Islands?

Fake Australia

Greece is only a pathway away from Egypt.
Greece is only a pathway away from Egypt.
Wedding Shot
One of many couples getting their wedding shots which are a huge part of the marriage.
She hadn’t yet learned to skip stones.

If you want to see a few more photos from this theme park you can find them on my blog Simple.

A Winter Vacation In Sydney

Two years’ ago around this time I was in Sydney, Australia. I had set up the pictures on this blog to document my trip, but since my mom died four days after I returned to China from my winter vacation, I had lost the desire to write about it. In fact, I think I had felt guilty about going in the first place. How could I choose to go to Australia instead of going back to the States to visit my mom? What kind of daughter was I? Not a very good one.

Of course, I didn’t know she was going to die. She was sick. She’d been sick for a long time. She had been a drug addict, and had many health complications due to her drug abuse in her past. She had Hep C, and high blood pressure, and she had had a stroke years’ back, and she had diabetes, and probably a few things she hadn’t told me about, but she still wasn’t on her death bed. She had been living with all of these things for many years. I knew she probably wasn’t going to be on the planet with me for as long I would have liked for her to be here with me, but I didn’t expect it to be right at that moment. In fact, China was pretty much the last trip for me, and that was why I decided to go to Australia. I felt that I needed to go back to California and take care of my mom, and traveling was not something I was going to be doing for a long time. When was I going to have the opportunity to go to Australia again, I had thought. I had planned on seeing her in six months when my contract in China was completed. I had worried about her dying. In truth, I had been terrified of my mom dying for years, even as a child I was afraid to leave her. It had taken me a long time to be able to allow myself to go anywhere without carrying this fear, even though at this time it was even more possible. I was afraid of her dying from a stroke or diabetic complications, her liver giving up, any number of complications that could have occurred, and that’s why this was my last time to travel.  It was a surprise to me to have her die right then, but even more surprising to learn she had died of an overdose. I wasn’t expecting that.

I felt really guilty. I had a hard time enjoying my memories in Australia, and I hadn’t really dwelt on them since. Coming across this pictures I’ve forgotten the details of the trip. I can only remember the name of the city. Sydney. Famous Sydney and the famous Opera House.

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I met my friend, Lisa, who was coming from the U.S. and we stayed our first two nights at an Airbnb, but I forget the neighborhood. We had stayed for about four or five days in Sydney.

The sky was so incredibly blue, and the air was clean and fresh. After spending five months in China in the gloom of grey pollution and then winter it was like coming alive. I remember feeling incredibly happy. So many breathtaking shades of blue.

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We stayed with friends of friend’s. We were so lucky to have connections and met up with some really wonderful people that helped us out, and showed us around. We spent a day at the zoo, went to some beaches, ate out, and were shocked at the prices for drinks.

Australia’s minimum wage is high which makes the prices high, which in theory should be affordable to the wages, but it was crazy for Chinese wages, and what we were used to as far as prices in the U.S. Not that we were there to spend our time in bars and restaurants. We were there (I definitely was there) to be outside.

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I remember the friend who took us around laughing at us because we were loud in our excitement, and she made this comment, “American’s are so loud.” It was a stereotype that has some serious truth to it, and we fulfilled that truth on the day we took these pictures, but we were also really joyful, and happy.

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We met up with a friend of Lisa’s who took us to another part of Sydney, basically the opposite side of where the above pictures were taken. She had given us advice on what museums to visit and she gave us a contact for when we traveled to Melbourne.

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It is a shame to not remember the details, but it is hard even now, two years’ later to look at these pictures without some twinge of remorse. Not so much as that I wasn’t in the States, but just that I didn’t write my mom enough while I was on this trip. I could have tried harder to find a place to write an e-mail. I was waiting till I got back to China, but sometimes it’s worth it to take the time in that moment. But hindsight is nothing now.

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Hi mom, I don’t have a lot of e mail access but I wanted to let you know I made it safely to Vietnam and Australia. I’m in Sydney, and it is the most beautiful place in the world. I would really like to live here. I leave for Melbourne tomorrow. I will write you as soon as I get home on the 16th. 

I love you.

Your daughter.

 

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hi babygirl,

you will have to tell all about vietnam when you are home and have time to set at a computer. Also need to know how things went in australia??

love you

mom