Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Miniature Jurassic Park ?!

There's a rather large reptile sunning on the backyard deck. He's found a hot spot on the splintering wooden boards and appears to be bobbing his head to, "hear comes the sun," which is currently gagging its way out of my speakers. Pandora, I asked for Paul Simon, why did you give me the Beatles? But the reptile seems pleased with the music choice (thanks Pandora). His brown body is speckled and cracked, he looks like a miniature crocodile. Think 9 inches-- big for a lizard, small for a crocodile. He looks so pleased with himself, or maybe he is just mean-mugging the deer currently trying to consume his shady resting place.

In any case, I admire his approach to life. He has time, and with it he has made a conscious, choice to stand in the sun, warm himself, relax. I find that empty time on my hands is spent chasing after the next thing I should be doing or accomplishing. If we are lucky enough to allow a few minutes of unscheduled time for ourselves during the day, don't we usually try and fill it with something? Just so the silence of time doesn't allow our thoughts to surface too prominently. I know I do this.

A day of nothing planned, I've experienced so many of these this year. I did my best to appreciate them, and recognize that eventually my sojourn would be over, and it would be back to the fast lane; to work and bills and life. And now that I'm burgeoning back into normalcy (if there is such a thing), I am confused by empty time. All or nothing, in  my head. If I have a morning free, but an afternoon task, I find little and unimportant jobs to preoccupy my time until the afternoon.

I'd rather be like my lizard friend (I guess he likes Pink Floyd too) though, and appreciate what it is to do nothing. No TV, no cleaning or cooking or eating or drinking or sipping (for that matter)... just soaking in life. There is so much of it around us to be felt. My skin doesn't absorb and use sunlight the same way my new friend's does, but I can still appreciate the warmth, the silence, and the free time. Thanks little guy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Eclipse

I'm watching the sun give way to a flickering of fireflies. They hover over the lawn, illuminating patches of faded grass-- the end of a season. Another ninety-degree day slips into a cool breeze and hails September weather. I'd wear a sweater, but I'm eager to embrace the chill forming on the back of my neck. Fall is birthing an irresistible heir-- new beginnings.  And I welcome her.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

SunRise

It verges on murky this morning. I woke up to darkness and somehow found the sun. But even through its rise, the spread of color piercing the darkness, a listless grey hangs in the distance. I could turn and embrace its presence, as it almost looms behind me, but I'm drawn to brightness. My eye is captivated by a neon spread of pinks and orange, of burning white light that brings tears from glancing too long. Still, I know that shade of darkness, perhaps threatening rain, lurks like some unknown monster in the space out of the corner of my eye. I can't even look at it directly, more just feel it watching me, watch the sunrise. It plans to interfere, to comment on focused attention, and I plan to deny it. Even as it would eat every inch of color, every patch of white light,  I will ignore it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bumpkinville!

Okay, so that was kind of a dramatic headline. But I want to talk about small town living.

After seven (rough estimate), months of being bedridden, I have finally reached the physical health and stamina that allows me to engage in the world outside my bedroom (sigh of relief, and at last!). Having relocated to my parents, I find myself in Georgetown, a bumpkinesque small town located north of Austin. If you want to understand just how small this town is (and also if you've know Denver well enough to know the reference, sorry for being exclusive), just think of Auraria campus. The Georgetown population is roughly the same (last I checked), in population as the Auraria campus. Boom. Big for a campus, small for a town. So small.

What makes Georgetown especially unique is that half of it is, what I would call, a very picturesque retirement community. That's right... old people. Everywhere. And not that this is a bad thing, but just based on what I see when I go out into the downtown "square," it is probably 3/4, 65+. Upon first returning to Georgetown, I was relieved by this. I didn't go out often, usually just to the doctor's, but being surrounded by old people ( is this politically incorrect to say now?), kind of comforted me. I was relieved by the lack of pressure we so often allow ourselves to feel when immersed in our peer-group (don't act like I'm the only one who feels this way, and also, sorry for all the parens today).

So that being said, I spent several months blissfully living surrounded by everyone else's grandparents. As a teetering, feeble 25 year-old, I sort of fit right in. But then the unexpected happened, and I started to recover... and then I didn't fit in. What you must understand, is that if this small town population is mostly elderly people (there is the term I was looking for!), then the percentage of the population that is my age group is very, very small indeed. This has not stopped me, however, from venturing out into Georgetown, and trying to make friends. Here is what I have discovered:

Living in a small town, nay, living in Georgetown, is kind of like going to that family reunion you have never gone to before.

See, and this is why I, personally, have never gone to one. Let me further expand: I have a rather large extended family, most of whom lived near to each other, while my family lived on the opposite side of the country. Driving out to make visits once every year or two proved awkward; everyone knew each other and had inside jokes, and nothing made any sense. Aside from these somewhat sporadic visits to various family members, there wasn't a lot of contact with the extended family. In fact, we didn't even go to family reunions when I was growing up, and many of the members who did, I had never even met. In early adulthood my mom started taking various siblings of mine to the family reunions, and I always opted out. Awkward (yes, I'm a coward, but I'm certain some of you understand exactly how this feels when you are younger, and the awkwardness established during childhood doesn't exactly wear off when you become an adult. They still have their jokes, and stories, and memories to share, and you have some foreign looking pot-luck dish you can't identify).

If this example doesn't hit home, I'll give you another (back up!). Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY has had this experience when dating at least one person: Think of when you first started dating. Remember when you FIRST met all his/her friends, and how they sat around making a thousand inside jokes and then explaining them to you through chokes of laughter and expecting you to find it equally hilarious. Awkward. You had to sit through them laughing for extended minutes (10-15 at a time), and smile, to show you were engaging everyone, sometimes laugh, but mostly not laugh because everyone knew you didn't know what they were laughing about. It's kind of painful, right?

The point is, this is Georgetown. Unlike the family reunion, everybody has dated everybody else. And like the family reunion, I am the odd one out. Like your BF/GF's friend circle, everyone knows everything about everyone else (because they went to kindergarten together, or babysat each other, or went to school with your parents...etc.). And you enter the scene realizing that there is not a single person who doesn't know everyone else. There is noone you can talk to who doesn't know anyone you would talk about. No bar you can diss, no person you can tease (make fun of  #cough). This is why the south is so polite in speech. Everywhere either is, or started out as a small town, where everyone knew everyone and had to speak ever so kindly or they would be the subject of much gossip (even over nothing).

So what I am discovering is that crass northerners (says the girl born in Mississippi), have no place in southern, small towns, and the only conclusion I can reach is that I have to at least move to the nearest city. Before everyone here knows me, and before I make a silly gossip of myself-- or even worse, make myself the subject of other people's gossip!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A New Kind of Patriotism


I'm trying to decide how I want to frame this. Being an expat is somehow hallmarked within a culture as unpatriotic. Leaving your country to live in another, for any reason, creates a strange, unspoken, interpretation that one is apathetic toward their native land. In China, as foreigners, patriotism for our homeland was never reinforced within a playing field of international peoples. I may have been in China, surrounded by the Chinese, but expats gathered together and made a culture of their own; a culture not defined by roots tied to any country. We were united in that we all decided to live somewhere totally foreign to us. It was a choice, and often the only characteristic of ourselves that we knew for certain we had in common with one another. 

I sat one night, at a rooftop bar in Dongcheng with a group of expats I was meeting for the first time. It was dark and cool outside, and per the usual, there were no stars to be seen across the murky expanse of pollutants that layered into a wall between myself and the sky. I looked up occasionally, despite the knowledge that there was nothing to see, just to remind myself that the sky was actually there, and so were the stars, and the moon-- up there somewhere.

There were women from Brazil, South Africa, men from France, Italy, the list goes on, amounting to about 15-20 people; not more than two from the same country. I had never been surround by so much diversity (in the purest sense). And it was a strange thing to be among total strangers, but know that these people were the people who chose to connect on one commonality: the expat factor. And yes, that is a real thing. I sat and listened as they made jokes and spoke in several different languages at the same time. It was complex; cultures all so different, accents that varied drastically, all colliding into one another rapidly. I couldn't keep up. Simultaneously, the scene, on whole, as it stood before me was simple; just people talking to other people, foreign people. 

I distinctly remember realizing that I was the only American in the group, and hearing all of them crack jokes about America, I quickly began to realize how other countries viewed my own-- and their own, for that matter.  I remember hearing several jokes about Americans, and as I did, flashing back to what one of my friends told me before I left for China: "remember that you are an ambassador, not just of yourself, but of your country. Everything you say or do represents where you come from. Try and keep this in mind when you decide how to represent yourself."  I might be paraphrasing a little, but the over-all point I want to make, is that those words were 100% accurate, and 100% relevant. I sat and realized that these expats felt very differently about America than I did, and the only way I could change/impact their perception, was by bringing the best side of myself. 

As I tried to keep this perspective in mind, I felt something that would not have been stirred in me were it not for these circumstances: patriotism. I don't mean to say that I did not love and support my country prior to leaving it in order to live in China. I mean that I'd never been so inspired to check myself at the door and be, in every way I knew how to, the best side of America. I wanted to show them, that behind the stereotypes and impressions, not all Americans are that stereotype, and further, that stereotypes are rarely the best side of any country. 

Being back in America, I can't shake that sense of patriotism. I wish I could extract it from myself, like sap from a tree, bottle it, and give it people. Not because others lack patriotism, but because, much like Pandora's box, once this side of patriotism has been opened within oneself, it can never be locked away or closed again. Feeling the way I do (having playing no large role in what American's might consider patriotic acts, such as serving in the military), I wonder: how do soldiers feel when returning home? What kind of patriotism do they feel, and how does it differ from my own?  I have such a vastly different perspective from such a small experience, but it changes (very much), the angle at which I view, and think about, so many things.

For example: Sports. Football! Now hang with me for a bit, I know this seems like a wild tangent, going from patriotism and soldiers to sports, but I promise it isn't. 

I almost never watched any sports prior to leaving for China. Football season always irritated me. Perhaps because I grew up in a family that didn't really follow pop-culture trends (not a positive or a negative, just a fact). Listening to people get feisty over which team would win; watching all the adds on TV;  realizing that a large portion of the year would be devoted to football parties; bars always being packed full with shouting men who bump into you repeatedly with the excuse that the game is on and they are excited-- that stuff drove me nuts (arguably petty, but hand with me a little longer).

Looking at America under a new lens, I see football as something American's have created so much culture around. Americans come together, fairly united in the sense they are all watching the games together, showing support and enthusiasm. We have formed a tradition, one that some 90% (no source for that stat, I made it up and I don't care), of Americans become crazed and excited about. The conclusion? Watching football is patriotic!!! America + NFL = patriotism ! BOOM!  If this is how everyone views football, I do not know. What I do know, is that football has become some kind of patriotic ceremony in my mind, and I have begun to try and understand the game better, following along compulsively, shouting at the television, talking to friends about it, getting involved. 

This is the positive, albeit mildly twisted, form of patriotism I have adopted, in order to cling to the sentiment I discovered while talking with expats in China. I love America. I want to understand and learn more, be knee deep in its goodness, and that reflect all the best sides of it to others. Can this catch on, like a disease? I don't mean to be a lemming football fan, but I genuinely enjoy knowing that tons of other people are all doing the same thing, generally at the same time, and with a similar amount of verve. We have shared enthusiasm. 

On the flip side, something else has recently caught my attention, and is the reason I bring football up while discussing my new found form of patriotism (bringing the tangent home here!). I caught my first game recently, on TV, and was disgruntled when, right before a commercial break, the following message came on: "this game brought to you by Hyundai, proud sponsor of NFL." Yes, this is about money. Well, sort of. 

My sense of love for my country, and all things AMERICA has transformed into a larger part of me than it ever was before-- A sense of patriotism is something that I hope to believe is in all Americans, and that transforms or grows, depending on our circumstances and experiences.  And I watch the professional football season kick off, and enthusiastically enjoy the patriotism involved in participating in the football season, I pause and consider that billions of dollars are poured into football by companies who want to sponsor the game, and my heart sinks. Not because I don't enjoy it, obviously, and not because I don't want others to enjoy it. 

I'm bothered because I wish (Oh God I wish), that those same sponsors would pour an equal amount of money into our veterans. And while I love that Americans have football as such a huge uniting cultural element (in our contemporary society), I'm also saddened, that we are so capable of devoting money and time to such a strange form of entertainment, but not to soldiers and veterans, not on the same level. And as my new sense of patriotism stirs in me, I wonder: where America's patriotism is headed? I don't mean just as individuals, but as a unit. 

I'll cling to mine. I'll also watch football, and enjoy football, but not without some aching sense of duty, that we are a country of people capable of greater patriotism than just superbowl parties and flatscreen Tvs. We are capable of representing the best aspects of our country, especially within its borders. We are capable of loving our country, and also making our country what we love. 

Oh CHINA!

WiFi! I really wanted to connect to you tonight, at the Uptown Social in Georgetown, but you are password secured (unbelievable). I'm glad I checked though, because as I scrolled down the list of available WiFi networks, I found that my phone still had all of the networks I used while in China, saved. And I can't help but think about...

"Tommy Boy on Hong Fu Lu," where Karen and I would runaway from our insane job to get our 65 RMB coffee. The shop was more like a broom closet located under a set of stairs in a strange, "Harry Potter" way, but those baristas sure knew how to make one insanely good coconut latte. Coffee in China was so expensive! And yet... we splurged if just for the excuse of not being near the people we worked with, of finding something that reminded of us home--escape. We could curl our hands around those paper cups, close our eyes, forget about the absurd humidity of the subtropics, and pretend we were home-- just for a moment.

"Visionshop," which, much like many other places I frequented, had a name surely pulled directly from some frightening translator. This bike (the two wheels and pedals kind), shop was frequently converted into a cigar lounge when guests came to find the good stuff (Cubans!). Also laced with a variety of other dainties (mind you not the kind I wanted but certainly the kind that inspired odd questions and odd behavior), was a regular crowd pleaser, and I can remember the first time I went in, and the proprietor, Johnny, did his utmost to make me feel at home. There it is again, that feeling of home.  

"OFTR visitor optical," again, I can't vouch for the person who named the WiFi network, but One For The Road was an awesome Irish themed bar designed specifically for expats. I remember when I first arrived in Dongguan and Bathabile, my roommate, took me around to show me some of the local haunts-- this was the first one. Initially, I couldn't for the life of me understand why someone would want to put a bar that looked and felt so distinctly western, in China. I scoffed at it, reminding my roommate that I came to China to be in China, not some recreated version of the same Irish pub every moderately sized city in America has. OFTR was very much that wooden floor, Irish propaganda on the wall, very classic rock on the radio, and dishes such as fish n' chips. It was like stepping out of China and back in the Irish Snug on Colfax in Denver--except that all the employees were these sweet Chinese girls. As time wore on, I found reasons to hit up OFTR, though. Reasons to step foot back on familiar soil.

"Glenn's WiFi," the most amazing couple I met in China, hands down.  Glenn and Miao showed me around the real China. They gave me dirt roads, crumbling brick walls, memorial sites, giant and very sad historical trees-- they showed me CHINA. Not just the quickly growing western influence, not just the big areas and the expat hot-spot, they showed me streets, alleyways, culture. They showed me exactly what I came to find out about.

So here I sit at the Uptown Social, looking out into the night sky, admiring the stars and remembering that this is the same sky, and these are the same stars I found myself gazing at from the garden just outside my apartment in Nancheng. DG I miss you!

Friday, September 11, 2015

On Adulthood, and Finding "I"

The thrill of sneaking around is epitomized in a child's mind as the height of sophistication. Whether sneaking out a window late at night, reading in the bed after lights out, taking a cookie from the jar before dinner, we just lived for that shit--moments of rebellion.  As kids, a lot of us weren't given many choices we could make for ourselves ( either that or I grew up on a vastly more strict household than the average). When we wanted to make choices for ourselves, the most satisfying kind was the kind we made privately-- clandestine operations.

Adulthood is all about choices. Work, friends, car, bills, right, wrong... the list goes on eternally, and with too many little, annoying details to want to think about it any closer than skimming the reality we face daily. I consider how eager I was as a kid to sneak around, how many things felt so exciting to do when I knew there was no adult supervision. The thrill of being caught (with a desire to not be). Yes please.

I've gotten all caught up in adulthood. In this mundane process of making decisions based on some construct of right or wrong. What is "good" for me? I look closely at my options over the last few years, and my decision making. Choices everywhere. How often did I "sneek out" to enjoy something for myself? How often did I take time to breathe and consider the needs of self (my self, that is)?

Alright, at the onset maybe I sound like some egocentric maniac trying to convince others to only think of themselves (hyperbolic rendition of the above, but I see how it could be misconstrued as such). So let me clarify. My point is not to encourage people to make bad choices, be dishonest, or over indulge themselves. Let me give an example.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine came from out of state to visit for the weekend. The trip was last minute, and my friend didn't give me much notice before coming to see me (the day before). When I  found out the trip had been booked, I wanted to do my best to make sure that the trip was something engaging, exciting, something to be remembered. If you are going to bother flying to another state to visit me, I'm going to do my best to make the experience rival others in your lifetime. This was my mind set. I went about planning an entire day of activities, everything from graffiti parks to good places to eat. I prepped maps, food, car music, the works.

The morning of, as I packed the car with all my well prepped extravagances, I paused, between loading an ice bag of snacks and a bottle of sunscreen. Already I'd worn myself out, just getting things together, and in order to make someone else happy. Awesome, good friend 101, right? Treat others the way you would want to be treated? Then something dawned on me: I don't ever treat myself this good. And what I mean is, I don't set aside an entire day to myself. Consider in preparation what I love to do, map out where I can do those things, and then spend a day alone, enjoying the things I enjoy for myself. I don't ever sneak out anymore.

Sure, I'll work hard to earn things, hang out with friends, go do all kinds of activities. But I have never planned a date for myself. They say that in order to be loved we first have to love ourselves. I consider the way I want to treat other people, the type of friend I want to be to other people, and then realize that I never stop to consider myself in that same light. Sure, I am alone a lot of the time lately, but I don't consciously gift myself with time alone. I don't stop and say, "hey, just myself and I, we are going to enjoy each other, get to know each other, pamper each other."

Maybe there is a host of people out there who have already figured out that they need to dedicate time to themselves; not time in which they are trying to gain, to work harder or learn more, but to just appreciate oneself. And maybe there are some people out there who can honestly say that they have never gifted themselves with themslelf. Shit, if you have friends, I am certain you have enjoyable qualities, do you ever enjoy your own qualities, for no reason other than yourself? Sneak out the window when noone is watching; stay up late reading after lights out; eat the damn cookie before dinner?!

God, we get so caught up in the wake-up-on-time-for-work, party-on-the-weekend, work-out-tomorrow, lifestyle.  When do we take time to be self aware, and to enjoy it?!

And here I think about the difference between my native culture, and my new one--old self, and new. I consider that the lifestyle I was raised in, my surroundings, advertisements, entertainment, all catered to one very consuming, loss of self, loss of mind, lifestyle. Constantly going, never slowing down, never looking. Appreciation of anything starts with appreciation of yourself. Just like the ability to love starts with how you love yourself.

Late at night, outside of huge living developments, hundreds of elderly women gathered to dance together in the darkness. Men would sit by, holding babies and rounding up children playing in the streets, while the grandma's of the community did nothing but dance. I sat and watched for hours one night, just amazed at how graceful these women were, and how totally alive in the moment they were. Not necessarily connected to each other, but connected with themselves, and in turn, they functioned fluidly as a group.

We have this mentality in America, "I can't do X because I have to take care of Z." When does this way of thinking become a trap to ourselves, a lie? Is it just an excuse we have been taught, hindering us from having what will make us truly happy inside? Freedom. Not even public freedom, but private freedom-- a freedom of the mind, of self. I've got it now, though, the idea that self exists.

I know, you're thinking Descartes already figured this shit out. But what one man has figured out, another takes for granted. Ayn Rand wrote about in her book, Anthem: humanity had become one conglomerate identity, and individuals forgot what it was to have an individual identity-- they lost "I." On a less surface playing field, have we done the same thing? Have we lost the "I" inside of each one of us?

I hear people say all the time that my generation is a "me" generation, only thinking of themselves. Chances are, you've heard this said also, although perhaps not in the exact same phrasing. But I don't see individuals truly thinking of themselves, I see them acting on a group identity, and surrendering themselves entirely to something else... something indistinguishable. If I could say anything about my generation, it is that we are a generation who has lost ourselves.

What I am really trying to get at though, is that you can. That's all. You just can. And we should all start reminding ourselves that we can. I'm going sneak some time away from everything, just to be with me. I'm going to plan it out, make it worth my time, make it unforgettable, and enjoy it, every moment. I'm going to take this opportunity in life to get to know myself a little better, make sure I can stand to be with myself before expecting others to, and then I'll brave everything that comes after. I'm going to eat the damn cookie while noone is watching, and when I do, I'm going to remind myself that I'm doing it for me.




Monday, July 6, 2015

It Smelled Like China

Tonight, my little sister and her friend celebrated birthdays together. There was a meetup at a dive bar in Texas-- one of those really grungy, only regulars go, Karaoke bars. They are dimly lit and at about 11 PM fill with middle aged men waiting for mid-twenties females who go looking for a haunt where they can sing their hearts out in a drunken haze. As a mid-twenties female myself, my comment has no intended degradation toward the females who enjoy a night out singing. I was there too remember?

I picked a high-top table in the corner that was close to my sister's party group, but simultaneously allowed for some space. The bar tender was an attentive and friendly guy, and the whole place had the vibe of a scene worthy of Jack Nicholson in China Town--grunge and more grunge and can I use the word "grunge" some more? Someone was singing the Beastie Boys, and then next was Otis Redding. A guy lying on the floor screaming into the mic, and then some old school R&B followed by country. Talented individuals who chose the nightlife in some hole-in-the-wall dump, and then people with no sense or understanding of discretion in public (I chose not to sing, but dancing is all fine by me).

But anyway, it worked. I watched as the cranky mid-twenties, "alternative" female shuffled in the door. Her long, Avril Lavigne hair and her shirt with some catchy phrase defending her "bitch" status, piercings everywhere--truly she was a 90's baby. She looked around, discontent, and grimaced at me when we made eye-contact. It was a diverse crowd--race, gender, age--, but everyone was there for something, and somehow this shit-hole bar had some kind of unity to it. It was, in it's own right, beautiful. And sad.

Someone in front of me lit up a cigarette. It's such a far out thing these days to find a place with indoor smoking, I was a little mind blown. As the bar progressively filled up with smokers, and the music continued to blast, I closed my eyes for a moment and sank into the moment-- then it hit me. It smelled like China.

My roommate and I used to troll around random joints in Dongguan, hunting for a cool hang out. And yes, karaoke was in EVERY bar. We would dip in and out of many dimly lit bars, where the employees spoke zero English but everyone magically sang in perfect and crystal clear Rhianna English. Beastie Boys English. The Beatles English. Cigarettes. everywhere.

With my eyes closed, I was there, back in China. Zoned out from the voices around me, remembering what it was like to almost never have a clue what anyone around me was saying while I listened to strangers sing songs that they didn't understand, but I understood. I understood every word. And cigarettes. everywhere. In my hand and the person next to me and my roommate. We all smoked and listened. There were no words to exchange, only the darkness and the vibration of the speakers. China.

In China, I remember the clinking and clacking of dice against a round container as people around us played games we didn't understand. They would laugh and shout and scream as they shook and then dropped dice. But I wasn't listening to their words, I was listening to their mood. Everything was controlled in public, even their fun was some proposed excitement the forces out for themselves--to try and understand a concept that was intangible to them. Freedom. I would close my eyes and drag that cigarette, sink into "DONT SLEEP TIL BROOKLYN" and listen to the sound of longing.

cigarettes everywhere.

So tonight, I drove home from my sister and her friend's joint-custody birthday party, in America, and I cried. Because I miss China. The people in those bars will never meet the people in these bars. Two worlds will never collide. But I saw them both, experienced them both, knew them both as home. And now... split between two worlds, I cry as I drive home, running from the smell of cigarettes, everywhere.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

That Final Puff

A wellness doctor, is the contemporary Voodoo expert of America. They study nutrition, human digestion, disease that stems from malnutrition, and the impact of our current food options on our bodies. The fad in "hipster" health is: the GUT! Everyone has leaky gut (but seriously, you probably do). And if you don't know what it is, you should google it. And, if you don't have it, then you are one lucky bastard.

As I'm on my quest for answers and healing with my current health issues (the ones that brought me back from China so abruptly and unexpectedly), the leaky gut has been tossed my direction along with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease ( essentially this is the pre-Lupus, autoimmune condition that is incurable, with no preventative care or measures to slow the process-- and I don't know why I feel the need to throw that helpless spittle the doctors push out into the conversation topic, but perhaps this is just my way of representing how absurd I think our current medical care and knowledge is in America).

In order to pursue all options of treatment and healing, I am also seeing one these Voodoo-gut-healing-crazies ( along with a host of mainstream physicians and specialists). I could refer to the wellness field more technically, and more kindly, as I do think very highly of them, but too often in our culture the joking titles become politically incorrect very quickly, and I'd hate to miss out on the opportunity to tease before it becomes seriously uncool.

My wellness doctor is a very friendly, upbeat, quirky guy, which makes everything he tells me to do a little easier to swallow. He has me on a VAST amount of supplements that I take several times throughout the day, as well as a very restricted diet and lifestyle. Given I've been unable to get out of bed 70% of the time since the onset of my sickness in December of last year, I can't complain too much at his requests-- when you're this young and this sick, you kind of don't care as long as there is hope for something that helps.

So naturally, when he told me, "no grains," I said, "no problem," after all, I've been gluten-free for 6 years, no big deal to give up rice too! When he said, "no dairy," I cringed, because ice-cream and cheese make my favorite food-babies. When he said, "no alcohol," I wept inwardly, but I wasn't about to admit to my love (addiction!) for that red, red wine. Then, when he said,  "no chocolate" I thought he was surely the devil, come to ruin all my joy, but I nodded patiently. At last, he said, "absolutely no coffee." This is when a great murderous desire burned in my heart. Who lives without caffeine, ice-cream, chocolate, or alcohol? Nuns! Do I LOOK like a nun to you? ....and yet, I want so badly to be well again. Very well, wellness doctor, I'll do your bidding.

My body was weak, and had been deteriorating so badly, I was in no state to throw a tantrum in defense of my much beloved foods and beverages. I gave them up, and began a lifestyle of fish oil consumption and steamed zucchini and tons of fermented foods-- dear Lord, pickles were not meant to be a food group unto themselves!

So I've been on this plan for almost two months now (believe me, it feels like SO much longer), and although I do stick to the plan, I weep every time I go anywhere near the grocery store. I like BBQ wings, and GF pizza, and Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey, and Lindt 80% cocoa, and Layer Cake Malbec, and Talenti's Coconut Gelato.  I want to surf through waves of ice cream using my mouth and my hands, and then rinse off in a shower of TEQUILA! I want caffeine for every meal, with a side of BBQ SAUCE! How else do I say this?? Uh, I love to eat. Yes, I am that fat-kid lady, who would so be content through every day with a slice of cake in each hand--and I would never complain about, or even question the calories. I embrace them all for their role in my happiness. There is no such thing as a Katy who frowns when she eats. Sorry, that doesn't exist.

But this blog is not about food (scary that we got this far in and I am just now telling you this), this blog is about CIGARS. Yes, I have been a proud smoker of cigars for over 10 years. Sometimes as many as 4 a day (back when I worked in the industry), and sometimes as few as a couple in a year. But they have always been a comfort to me. When I was younger (the age is not legal and not necessary, so I'll leave that up to your imagination), I would sit in the garage with my sister, late at night, surrounded by the scraps of my dads wood shop and tools that surely were worthy of any Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We would talk for hours into the morning, and puff a cigar together. And we could talk about anything, alone in the garage. Poetry, life, struggles, sorrows, joys, laughter; so much laughter.

As I grew older we would venture together to the 16th St Mall in Denver, and smoke in lounges, surrounded by smoke clouds in poorly ventilated and dimly lit rooms. I'll never forget the feel of leather chairs as my skin clung to them in the summer heat. The many places we would smoke-- The Brown Palace down the line. And always with laughter, always with relaxation and a ceremonious and silent agreement to cast aside the trials of life and just breathe for that cigar.

And then even older, as I moved away from home and still found time to connect with a peaceful mindset. I would hide in the bathtub of my apartment and smoke in the silence of every wonderful 3AM. Or the corners of Paris On The Platte with a chess board and all the early blooming hipsters of the night. Or walking the streets of Denver, or hiding in crowds of strangers, or seeking adventure and new friends. Cigar after sweet cigar. And when I violated my love for the stogie with work, by bar tending or working retail in various smoking lounges across Colorado and Texas, I still took time amid the chaos of a job to pause and puff, and remember laughter and peace and silence and calm and hope and youth and promise. I learned and loved and I appreciated, and this is what a good cigar is to me: it is family and gratitude, it is camaraderie and respect, it is dignity and perspective, it is life.

While I love food, and eating, and ice-cream, I gave up many a meal to the desire for a cigar, and what those moments of calm meant in my life.

And now my wellness doctor has asked me to surrender cigars.

What can I do but comply? Because if he is right, then health comes first.
So I smoked my last, with an ode-- to every moment tobacco meant to my taste buds, Casa Magna thank you:

For the deep inhale
that brings smoke
 curling along the surface
of my tongue,
 whisping along the insides
of my teeth
   pause
and respect
 your presence.
You unfurl
 your flavor
onto my taste buds bold
 and sharp, creamy and full
of bitter spice. You
bloom like wine
hiss through my teeth
slowly
 loose my lips
 let you drift
 away
watch you slink
upward, spread and disappear.
Rings of smoke.
Inhale
contemplate the complexity
of your
flavor.
And every time
I've tasted you before
memories flood back
 couches voices songs haunts
 hours
of the night. I remember
my first
and our first,
 the way you stunned
me with your
strength.
Hold no expectation
but
you never disappoint.
 In this you
were the most
faithful
of companions,
we
knew each other well.
Pause
and consider the burning
ember tips that file
toward un-warmed
tobacco. Beg another
draw from my lips. Savor
each sweet
flavored
moment each sweet
inbetween moment--
not anticipating
but
 thanking
you.
And thank you.


You see, my wellness doctor has asked me to surrender cigars. And what can I do but comply? Because if he is right, then health comes first.
But if he is wrong, God help him.


Thinkin' About Life!

I was at the local watering hole (and by that I mean the "river" all the locals dip in after a nice rain), today. The sun was still high, even though it was already well into the evening, and the onset of storm clouds left a light breeze and a calmness in the air. It was quiet tonight--very quiet. Sure, there were families with children, stomping and screaming and stuffing their faces with home made, white-bread, ham sandwiches, but I couldn't really hear them. I was busy staring up at a cloudy sky, and then down into the water that fell my direction and continued to burrow past me as it headed it's own way. I was lost.

For a while I just sat dipping my toes, feeling the water rush gently along the sides of my feet as the sun skipped between clouds and then waited. Everything was thick and slow, and I was strangely aware that every surface of my skin was being touched by some part of the day. The universe rose to meet me. A desire to be submerged with something outside of myself welled up inside of me. Slowly, I melted into the water and slid my feet along the unseen surface of the river, until I couldn't feel enough beneath me to stay above the surface. My limbs fell into the natural motion of treading water, but I turned to face the current, and began to swim.

The force of the river was equal to the strength in my limbs, and so I did not move in position, but instead stayed in the same spot and continued my stroke at my own pace, just as the river's current continued at its own. Even though we were moving opposite directions, the current and I were not in opposition to one another, but merely strengthened and more determined via that sweet resistance.

In life, it's easy to look at the resistance and groan at it; to consider obstacles as opposition. When faced with things that make us work harder, frustrate us, confuse us, we often turn to negative reactions. But that opposition is the very thing that lifts us up, and enables us to become stronger people. I encourage you to stop and consider what obstacles are in your life, how you approach them and whether your energy is spent in emotional reaction, or constructive output. I've found peace in my own form of strength, in my own pace. My inabilities are no longer obstacles, they are instead a constant work-out for the muscles of my spirit.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Keep Your Wits About You!!!!

I read this amazing article todayone that discussed what it is be a mentally strong person. The article listed five key points that comprise a mentally strong individual, and what it means to have determination. I'd like to respond to a question posed at the end of it.
I think everyone goes through a series of ups and downs in life--seasons for everything, as they say. Most recently, and as any of my readers will know, mine has been surviving China, and the return to America. I say "surviving" as a way to title the event, not intending to imply that one needs to "survive" when going to China due to X element present in the country. 
Traveling to another country, to one that I've aspired to work in since I was five, was a dream come true. I worked hard to achieve what I needed to in order to get there (though the application process wasn’t necessarily strenuous, the company I worked for did a great job of making things uncomplicated!). It was the years of middle-school and high-school spent self-studying Cantonese (sometimes with a tutor, other times without) in hopes of going to southern China, specifically where that dialect was used; it was the all-nighters, studying only to spend another sleepless day at work before hitting an evening class; it was picking up a second job on the weekends, hoping to make it through classes and 10 hour shifts while maintaining some standard for myself with my grades. These are what I would categorize as challenges. 
Finally arriving in China, after graduation, that was something other-worldly. I remember getting off the plane and being unable to read any of the signs around me, or understand any of the conversation around me. I was surrounded by people and yet more alone that I had ever been in my life. I was anonymous to myself, and yet a curiosity and an attraction to the locals. The small, city of Dongguan did not host a large number of foreigners, and I'll never forget what it felt like to be stared at, poked by people around me, and have crowds part to watch me walk through-- in the deep alleyways of Nancheng, they had never seen a female like me before,  I was a circus freak. 
At times, it seemed like someone had stuffed my airplane in a box, rattled that box for some 18 hours, and then let me out in a part of American that was populated solely by the Chinese. Was this really happening? Every moment was sort of surreal, as though I could wake up from a dream and be back on the loud streets of Denver, late for class again and hoping noone could tell I was wearing yesterday’s clothes. Unbelievably dreamlike is the only way I know how to explain it. 
Experiencing China, smells and colors, nothing was comparable to anything in America; my mind couldn't define things and had to stretch to understand the simplest body movement of a stranger approaching me. A whole other set of manners, interactions, definitions were used. Imagine your first day of a foreign language course, when you realize that sounds, punctuation, and grammar are being redefined, and your understanding of your native language is useless to you. Now expand that feeling out to your understanding of EVERYTHING around you. Can you even fathom? It is by far the most insanely wonderful and frustrating feeling-- you instantly know just how limited your own knowledge base is, and simultaneously desire to learn infinite amounts and quickly.
It was beautiful, it WAS a dream come true, and then I was sick. At first, just a little sick, a strange cough that most of the foreigners informed me was "the China cough," and that I was merely adjusting to the high pollution levels. But then I was coughing blood, and then there were fevers, and fatigue. Before long I couldn't make it into my classes, couldn't think clearly, couldn't eat. It took three hospitals, 10 days of being totally bedridden , and a host of symptoms gruesome enough that I'm sure you wouldn't want to make it through reading about all of them, before I decided that even though I had only been living my dream for 4 months, if I didn't find the help my body needed, I wouldn't live to tell about it. 
And this is where answering Marc&Angel Hac Life's post comes in, "What’s one habit or belief that has helped you stay mentally strong through good times and bad?"

I had made it to my ultimate dream in life, and I was only 24! Success!!! But mental strength for me is in learning my personal limits. Before making the decision to return to America, I thought to myself about all the other foreigners who were out there teaching, who got sick but made it through, who were perfectly capable of "surviving" in China. So why wasn't I?

Most foreigners I came in contact with were in China due to the boom in an economy that loved foreigners. We were treasured gold by the PRC (also a culture shock). But I wasn't there looking to make it big, get recognized, or flourish in the economy-- I was in China, in a small industrial city (shoe producing capital of the nation!), because I loved the Cantonese culture and the Cantonese people, and I wanted to learn everything about them and immerse myself. So why on earth couldn't I just live there and be healthy like everyone else? Why wasn’t the medicine at any of the hospitals enough for me?

I fought the decision to come home tooth and nail (isn’t that the expression?). Surely I would start to get better. But I didn’t, and the reality that my window to seek out help was closing hit me sharply when one day, after my routine treatment of antibiotics (given to me via an IV in my hand for two hours daily), I fainted in my apartment bathroom, totally alone. It wasn’t until my roommate discovered me on the floor and helped me to bed that the severity of my situation truly dawned on me. My body had reached its limit, and I had to give up my dream.

For a while I looked at this as a weakness. I wasn’t strong enough to make it in another country with living conditions that were unfamiliar to my body’s chemistry. I felt defeated—no shame in admitting it. But after making it back to America, and my family (alive!), I realized more than ever, that knowing my own limitations is what allows me to push through and continue in life.

I think all of us spend a great deal of time considering ourselves in comparison to those around us and those we are close to. Family members, friends, someone running down the street—we observe, analyze and compare. After all, it’s in human nature to consider things from what we ourselves know and feel, it seems only natural then that we would compare ourselves to what we see around us, as a means to interpret, better understand, maybe even relate.

I recently went to a park to sit and read. While I was there, I observed (stalker style) a group of women around my age, all jogging together along the path by the lake.  They were dripping in sweat(you go ladies!), some concentrated on the path in front of them, and some (God bless them), with the energy to hold a conversation. The ones who couldn’t talk knew it, and held their pace by staying silent; that was their strength. Others knew they had the lung capacity and endurance to talk while they ran, and they did. What made them a cohesive group was each one knowing their own, personal limits.

As I watched them I had some amount of envy, because my body is not at a capacity to perform that kind of physical activity, and it may never be. But knowing that limit, and not comparing myself to them, is what enables me to try harder at the things I know I can do. I could have attempted a run, inspired by the group (who doesn’t look at the person next to them in the gym and think, “damn”). The result of such an effort on my part, however, would be a few weeks in bed, fatigued and in pain. Why try at such a cost? And wouldn’t my energy be better spent doing something that I know will yield positive results?

Sometimes knowing our limits is not a cut and dry thing, but learning them can be an invaluable asset. There’s no shame in knowing what YOU personally are capable of, and thriving inside of it, instead of beating yourself down and spending useful energy comparing yourself to someone else’s standards.

I challenge you to catch yourself. Think about times when you compare yourself to others, and what it yields for you personally. Next time you catch yourself in the act, make a positive step and consider if the comparison benefits you personally, or not. If it does, how should you perform the task so that it yields fruit in your life? I still catch myself all the time, but the process of becoming more aware of what standard you hold yourself to, and what your own personal limitations are, is a sharp mental tool that will only make you stronger with time.

To see the article I read, click the link below:
http://www.marcandangel.com/2015/05/31/5-powerful-rituals-of-mentally-strong-people/

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Oh Austin, You're SO Cute!

Yes, I condescend, but the city clearly cant help itself; Austin is adorable. I love how poorly the roads are laid out (I doubt even the natives would argue that); every drive through the city is more like a car chase through the streets of San Fran Chinatown (think "tower of doom"). And how viciously rain storms can affect the traction of your tires (Austin is magical when it comes to sliding out in the rain).  Nowhere else in the world does a jeep falter on an inch of water like a three year-old on a slip and slide. It's OK jeep driver, take up three lanes as long as you need to get your tires safely grounded again!

I adore how healthy everyone is; I'm not just talking about girls in yoga pants (featured prominently in all corners of the nation), marching around with their juice they clearly juiced at home this morning (as I stare at my very own juicer on the counter-top). I'm talking about the bevy of Kombucha home-growers (if you thought weed was a growing epidemic across America, think again. this vile and vinegary little bastard is being produced in mass quantities in every true Austinites home, if you aren't growing, get with it!). And I'm not judging, either. The need for fresh juice and daily stretches could be a fact of most cities over-populated by the mid twenties to forties demographic.  However, the fact that every park in Austin is filled with running shows (man, woman, child, even the baby stroller), and noone sitting casually in the grass, or dipping their toes in the cool and clear water, is surely a sign. Rage on, health fanatics! But good luck with those joints in 15 years.

Ok Austin,  I have to give you mad props: every single man here has a beard. It isn't an option, it is a requirement. If Texas is its own country, and you want to immigrate, you better plan, and grow, a fucking beard, because they will decline your citizenship without one. You can be certain, however, that if beard-growing was an option for the female populace, mine would be a fierce competitor.

And what about the weather in this crazy state? Every single plant in Texas is presented to the beholder in technicolor. Why, you ask?  Because rain was invented in Texas. Did you fucking know that? Yeah, it was invented here. By the time the rest of the globe caught on to the benefits of rain, their sloppy seconds yielded an olive color that looks somehow dim in comparison to the greenery of Texas. They say that everything is bigger in Texas, but what "they" really mean is that Texans invented rain.

I can't stop there, though. What about the food carts (no but seriously)?! They deliver all kinds of delicacies (hello ostrich eggs) to varying parts of the city at all and very unreasonable hours of the night. Thank you ostrich egg, for being there when the drunkies need you most (at closing time), and thank you for situation your steamy caverns of greatness right between dirty sixth and the parking garage.

Yeah, Austin! Thanks for hosting some of the most massive music festivals in our great nation. You make America proud. Thanks for introduce me to bugs that look like a CT scan of Edgar Allan Poe's brain. Thanks for fireflies, clear skies, heat, sweat, daylight, and (most of all) southern ladies who sip mojitos for a living. Thank you for being so damn cute.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Technicolored Fishies

Being back in America has proven itself interesting. I stepped back into a time-zone that was once real, then became dream like, and is now demanding I play catch up. I'm not talking about what time the clock says it is, I'm talking about a pace-- a lifestyle. Marriage, weddings, family obligations, holidays, patriotism, politics, grocery stores, pets, pet food, squirt bottles, tap water, road signs... and then there is being sick.

I'm grateful for the excuse to sit inside and look out at the world through a layer of glass. My favorite thing in America? Sunshine. But runner up is soap. I really missed American soap. Did you ever realize that was even a thing?

A friend of mine turned me on to the idea of painting fish. I've been obsessed with it for months and months. So I sit inside my little room, surrounded by furniture and carpet and paisley patterns and pastel green and polka-dots and sunshine and soap, and I paint fish.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sweep Up the Girl

AMERICA!!!!!!!!

Conundrums by Karen

"Is it Chinese nail polish that is more difficult to get off, or is it that Chinese nail polish remover sucks?"

--Karen

Units

Nebby and Nini always wore black. Nebby wore black suit pants. Carefully tailored and hemmed, the edge of his pants covered his ankles but did not reach the top of his shiny black shoes.

Nebby's suit jacket matched; the same black material as his pants. Thin white stitches ran in vertical lines down the material. Black buttons on black sleeves, and black laces on shiny black shoes.

Nini's shiny black shoes clicked on the floor rhythmically. The toe-boxes were square, revealing a demand for comfort.

Nini's suit was cut from the same black material as Nebby's. Nini's suit, however, had darts that allowed shape.

She was, after all a woman.
Her hair fell around her face loosely, dark and black.
Her paleness would be shocking... her paleness was shocking.

Nebby's hair kept close to his head on the sides. The length on top was not practical. Nebby's hair was not like Nini's shoes.

Nebby and Nini were two sides to one coin. Nini did the talking.

They functioned as a unit together, and effectively.

 Nebby and Nini's feet always hit the ground at the same second, if you were waiting, you would only hear one person coming.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sharing Hospital Joy and...

I've got to take a break and write it true, like it is. I'm propped up in bed, listening to Cold War Kids. I've been hooked on them since 2009, and no matter where I go in life, they always take me back to one memory, one specific moment in time:

 I'm sitting in the bathtub in my apartment on Robb St., in Lakewood. Air filled with steam, windows covered in snow, the light yellow and low. A ball of water begins to form on the silver faucet. I watch the steam curl around it and then gather together in one corner; gravity calls the water to form there, in that spot. Then the small drop of water sags off the faucet, hesitating closer to the world below and then shrinking back toward the steam that formed it. Suddenly it drops, slowly into the tub, landing with a soft thunk on the surface of millions of other drops of water.  That one drop of water is the only sound in the room for several minutes, so it seems to echo forever, filling space and time.

"'Corinna, what's the time?"' my sister's voice echos from the speaker on my cell phone, breaking the silence. I've placed her on the toilet, next to the tub. In this way, I can imagine I'm not quite so alone, and she is there with me. She's reading to me, over the phone, "'I'm Corin I told you... are you blind? There's no Corinna here!'" I sink further into the water and the steam, and imagine myself, like that little drop, just shrinking back before a giant plunge.

Going to the hospital is normal here. The Chinese don't just go to a doctor's office when they have a cold, they go to the hospital and get an I.V. needled into their hand-- then its nothing but a drip, drip, drip. I've been sick for about a week now, and inside of this week I've been to three different hospitals. The most recent diagnosis is an infection in my pharynx (or larynx, don't judge, these words sounds strangely similar with a Chinese accent), causing swelling in the lymph nodes in my neck.

Hospitals look like airport waiting rooms. Rows of metal chairs that are all linked up next to each other. The walls are white. Maybe they look more like a prison. All the nurses wear matching little outfits that are white with pink or green trim. They look like they stepped right out of a 1950's sitcom. There is something very stiff and distant about hospital waiting rooms-- I don't care what country you are in, noone steps inside a hospital and smiles and says, "oh yeah, I missed this place!"

How much more distant and cold is the experience when you can't communicate well enough to actually articulate to someone what the problem is? How much more frustrating is to try and explain to someone who half understands English, in order for them to half explain to someone who does not understand any English? Now add into the mix being tired, and sore, exhausted from days of miscommunication and medicine for ailments you don't have.

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame anyone but myself for the fact that I can't speak the language. However, trying to tell the doctor, in a hospital in China, that your throat and mouth are swollen, is like playing the telephone game with a group of children. One of them starts with a simple sentence, and by the time that sentence gets to the other end of the line, it is no longer related to the topic we started with. This might explain why the first doctor sent me home with medicine for diarrhea after I told her that my throat had lumps in it.

China is an up and down, just like any home, and today is dark.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

(New) Habits of the Mentally Insane

I've started threatening inanimate objects with my mind. Symptomatic of the onset of Anti-Social Disorder... or perhaps not enough human interaction?

The hot water heater for my apartment requires two sources of power in order to function. First, I must pay for gas by depositing money into a card that looks like a credit card with a sim card attached to one side. Then I must stick this card in the meter so that the meter reads my prepaid gas allowance.

Now, when the water in my bathroom is turned on, the hot water heater must have BATTERIES in it, so that it sparks and then ignites with a flame, and then water heats. OK, I've never seen batteries in a water heater-- like the boilers you have in your home, only not--, but if this is what China demands from me, so be it.

See, in the winter time, shit gets cold. The buildings are  mostly stone--these marble floors look lovely, but they sure will do a number on your toes--, and your body needs heat. Well, praise God, I have a water heater. For some reason though, it only works when it wants to.

Yesterday the weather was perfect. Mild 70's, low humidity, slight breeze. I could romp around in shorts (which surely gives the locals the impression that I am a prostitute, as this weather requires sweaters and boots for those who are acclimated to the subtropical temperatures) all day, no problem. Yesterday, the water heater worked dandy for about 30 seconds--just long enough to get everything (hair included) good and wet. Then the hot water heater changed its mind. One minute I was having an, "Urge for Herbal" shower, and the next I'm screaming my head off because the cold is unbearable.  There is no warning, or slow decline of the heat; things were just perfect, and then really fucked up. It all happened so fast.

I must calm down, the air isn't freezing, I will survive this moment in time.

To reignite the heater, I turn the water off and on again, standing with frozen hair and limbs, and saying a silent prayer. The water heats up and I dip back in. 30 seconds and the torture renews its sentiments to me. Well, I fight with the water temperature long enough to finish getting soap off. As I'm wrapping up, the water heater decides to work, and stay warm--which has to be a cruel game the universe has decided to play on me.

As if I didn't already hate getting wet, China allows me to foster my dislike for showering by adding a little mental conditioning to this daily requirement. Why did God invent sweat?

Today, I get into the shower and the pilot sparks and lights-- wait for the water to warm up, Katy. As I get in, I can hear the water heater (located just on the other side of the wall my shower is on), fumbling. It flames and then dies and then flames. I find myself standing obstinately in the water and mentally swearing, "you better not fucking freeze me again today, you'll regret--" the flame ignites, "oh that is ni--" and dies, "you son of a bi--" and lights, "Jesus loves me," and dies, "You piece of --" and ignites, "deep sigh of relief" and dies, "For Fuck sake, I swear on all that is ho--" and ignites.....

Working Our "Nihao" Hand

Having worked in the service industry for years, I find it very important to treat others in this industry with as much respect and kindness as I am capable of giving. No complaining or sending food back ever, always saying thank you, stacking dishes at the table, tipping well ( must love abstractions). I don't snap my fingers, or yell, or wave my hands. These actions fall well under the category of, "bitch, bitch, bitch." This is important to my heart. If I were in a restaurant yelling or complaining, or sending something back to the kitchen because it wasn't cooked right, and the server somehow found out that I had once been a server myself, karma would personally strangle me in my sleep. When you are or have been in-industry, you kiss toes and leave your life savings before you go.

In China, much like Europe, there is no tipping. You pay the bill and the facility pays the server. In fact, tipping is sometimes considered an insult. OK, this is foreign to me, but I can deal. At least I can still pre-stack dishes and smile, using prolific, "xie xie!" Right? Wrong! All of my attempts to be western-world polite were smacked in the face as I discovered that in order to get any food you have to put your hand in the air, wave it around manically while shouting, "Nihao!" If you want to be a badass in the Canton area, you can throw an, "mgoy!" (Cantonese for please/thank you), out there, or call the server "pretty girl"/"handsome guy." Not matter what though, you must get that "nihao" hand up in the air and really mean it!

Even though I know that this is how things are done here in China, it still breaks my ex-server heart to shout at people for food. Starvation or shouting? My stomach makes a thousand and one aberrant noises that mean nothing to the beautiful people rushing back and forth with steaming bowls of dumplings...starve...or shout? shit!

Hunger drives us to do wild things we never thought we were capable of.

"NIHAO!"