I have never taken a photo of anything ever remotely related to a sport. So instead, enjoy a picture of this weird dog.
The gym teacher sat across from me, looking stern and unimpressed. I had been fat the entire semester, which didn’t really jam with the subject he was teaching. And here I was, sitting fatly despite all of his best efforts. He asked me what grade I felt I should get. He pre-emptively gritted his teeth, already hating my reply.
I launched into what I thought was a fairly compelling speech detailing all of the reasons I should get exactly 75%. I showed up every class in gym attire and put in my best, awfulest effort into whatever fresh horrors he had devised for us. Despite obvious discomfort and a truly thrilling lack of ability, I showed up and did all of the things. The lifting, the running, the kicking, the hitting. Terribly and thoroughly greasy, but I did them.
Gym class was going to slash my average, but I felt I had earned a modicum of understanding for giving it all a go. I laid out my feelings for the gym teacher, who sighed and agreed. Gym class being mandatory only until grade nine, he knew this would be the last he’d ever see of me and the last time he’d ever have to hear me talking so fatly, so pathetically, about sports.
If this mountain is cool with being alone, why not you?
The bus from the hotel to the Huangshan transport depot was brief. The other teachers from the school had risen early with visions of a hearty hike before them. According to guide books and a thorough wiki-ing, the steep walk could be evaded by cable car, and one could be treated to the splendours of a half-dozen mountain peaks and hours of trudgery without ever having to climb up one long, bleak side of the mountain itself.
A few of the others balked as I purchased the single ticket to the alternate destination. They were a posse of eight, forging up into the wilderness and the unknown of China, while I was one, alone. I would be solo on a mountain for hours, with no real knowledge of my companions or when I might meet up with them. I had a decent, though vague, reconstruction of a Google map imprinted on my brain which I would consult along with my compass. I had a good book, a nice camera, and money to purchase water and goods on the mountain top.
I had no companions and no one to talk to. Cell phone reception would probably be spotty at such altitudes. I would definitely be on my own. I waved my goodbyes, shouldered my backpack, and soldiered on.
Hey, I remember you guys!
For many years, my grandfather would constantly tell me, “That’s one thing they can never take away from you. Your education.” I never asked who they were, although the way he said it implied that they were very intent on taking anything and everything else, and that also maybe they were waiting just outside. And if they were the kind of people who wanted to mug me, that maybe they would also take a bat to my head and there goes my education.
But I got his point.
My grandfather was an exceedingly generous man, and as his only grandson he was endlessly proud of everything I did and every dumb thing I ever said. I think, sometimes, that this statement was meant to be reassuring to me through my university years and the ones just beyond. The years where I realized that I had studied a lot of things that weren’t going to be terribly useful to life or gaining a career. The years where I started to get a little academic’s remorse, as I considered my future and how the words “Starbucks barrista” fit into it.This statement was meant to encourage me to find my education fulfilling, as I would surely be sustaining myself on a pulpy milkshake I could make from old manuscripts and printer ink.
Always looking for the right patch of sky.
I was always a terrible sleeper.
Anxious and constantly thinking by nature, my childhood mind was a churning furnace of thought and story and all the many possible futures. I remember lying awake and thinking of any number of things – of possible futures, of stories I wanted to tell, of places I wanted to go. I was socially awkward for many years, so I remember sometimes lying away, my scalp sagging into my tiny pillow, planning out possible conversations I might have with peers the following day. Turning my brain off was never something I could fathom, never mind attempt. A mind, in my experience, was a tire fire, an oil slick, a great uncontained thunderstorm. Turning off my constant thinking would mean, almost certainly, that I had simply expired sometime in the night. Sleep usually overtook me only when I became so exhausted with thinking that a fuse shorted somewhere in my brain and the systems took a break.
Childhood insomnia meant I spent a lot of time staring out my childhood window into the night sky. Being unable to sleep anyway, I hated the idea of blinds or curtains, of casting myself in a caul of black, of throwing my eyes into darkness and giving myself nothing to ponder on. I always asked for the blinds to be up, for the curtains to be drawn, for the windows to be slid open to let the night in.
I needed night sounds and night skies. The sound of city buses has always been the perfect white noise to me, a loud parking brake the closest analogue I’ve ever had to soft rain or the aquatic songs of blue whales. A choir of crickets and the soft pat-pat of the few walking the roads late at night, looking up at the same dark skies.
“I heard that Christmas in Germany is lovely,” one of us murmured, his or her mouth pursed, as though brimming full of caviar and Zinfindel and self-satisfaction. “The Germans just know how to truly celebrate. I think we should all holiday in Europe next winter.”
Let’s weekend in Burma, shall we? I hear the spring there is divine.
What a horrendous, decadent assemblage of words. What a cock-eyed, over-privileged, obscene collection of phonemes, ordered in such a way that their construction seems pornographic and vile. I cringed internally, even as I think I probably said it.
That we could even fathom to use the word “holiday” as a verb seems to galling and horrific that our tongues should probably be taken into custody by government officials. That all of my articulators, my teeth and my cheeks and my vocal chords, should excise themselves from my body and escape to Tijuana. People didn’t say things like that, nor did they squint and primp just so. We barely qualified as humans anymore; no, we were douchebags, anthropomorphic pond scum from another planet far away.
Reorienting myself to view travel so cavalierly has taken time and effort. As a child I watched documentaries about people jet-setting around the world, I sat through countless seasons of the Amazing Race. I envisioned the kind of people who took wing and journeyed through the skies: they always wore scarves. They purchased insanely expensive bottles of cognac, used the contents as mouthwash, and spat the leavings on the people who flew coach. They slept on beds made of chilled Alaskan salmon and cashmere puppies, soft and rhythmic and alive. The people I thought of were not so much people as they were personified luxury, walking and talking chequebooks with no personalities and a constant, burning desire to wear berets and eat large baguettes.
All right, lady. Do your thing.
At long last, I had cracked. For months, friends and acquaintances had assured me that life on the other side was something incomprehensibly better. That once you crossed the threshold, going back was no longer an option. That even glancing back at your old life would make you shudder and recoil, terrified that you ever could have lived such an unfulfilled, empty existence. I resisted, mostly out of a strange attachment to the status quo. Change is scary. Change is change.
But finally, I relented. On Sunday, I opened my door and let a pleasant middle-aged Chinese woman in to clean my house. And I don’t think I can ever go back.
12:32 I have been tidying slightly, although I know it is a ridiculous impulse. I am somewhat terrified at what this stranger will think of me, what the state of my apartment will say about my character, my personhood, my lack of culture. I imagine her peeking inside the door, cringing visibly, shaking her head and muttering in Mandarin before trudging back to the elevator in disgust.
Posted in Big Spooky Life Stuff, Ha-ha Funny, Life in China
- Tagged adulthood, ayi, china, cleaning, expat, expat life, Life, life in china, living alone, maid, maids
The painter once had fourth grade teacher who had to listen to some very long, very odd stories.
Adele had been weird for a very long time.
I remember our early years of school together vaguely, a hodge-podge rough sketch of interactions and moderately blurry vignettes. I recall that she often smelled like cauliflower, that even as a small child she dressed like an elderly Russian grandmother upon whom all the miseries of mankind weighed, and that she had the teeth of a velociraptor. Adele would often sit in class beside me as a grade two and cut her own hair with safety scissors, her bewildering smile peering out from behind her lips as locks of her long, stringy black hair fell to the desk around her and I slowly cringed away, even embarrassed as a seven-year-old.
My real understanding that Adele was pretty weird came in high school, when she would regularly claim to be a 400-year-old witch who knew jujitsu. Whether this was simply a teenager’s way of clawing at some semblance of identity and attention or an actual omen of burgeoning schizophrenia was always unclear. But as a bored teenager with little else to do, listening to her stories (which included midnight knife-fights, tales of miraculous healing, and regularly battling the shadow minions of her witch-nemesis, Naomi) provided boundless entertainment.
Adele was, of course, a social pariah except for the outskirts of a few loosely-bound cliques. She orbited the outer strata of some of the nerds or the burn-outs or the goths, who were slowly transitioning into becoming emos, as was the style at the time. As an obnoxious, awkward weirdo myself, the tangents of our social lives would often briefly cross like two confusing comets in the night sky, and I would marvel that there was someone at our school so obviously less normal than I was.