I felt like I’d been preparing for China since I was a young girl. Between my ill-fated attempts to dig to China, numerous books such as Wild Swans, and movies such as The Painted Veil, China had seeped its way into my imagination. Enamored of Buddhist temples in South Korea, I knew I wanted to see China’s colorful temples. Having seen the karsts in Halong Bay, Vietnam, I wanted to see China’s karsts in Yangshuo and Guilin. As I’d seen one of China’s extravaganzas in Beijing – its amazing acrobatic and dance shows – I wanted to see at least one more.
I knew I wanted to see Hong Kong and the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian. I wanted to see junks and elaborate Chinese gardens and ancient villages. I wanted to experience life with over one billion people.
Once I got a job offer from Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC) in early 2014, I started preparing in earnest by reading more books.
I read the following books starting in January of 2014:
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie ****
- Waiting by Ha Jin *****
- The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan ****
- The Binding Chair or, A Visit From the Foot Emancipation Society by Kathryn Harrison ****
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan ****
My favorite book of this bunch was Ha Jin’s Waiting, a captivating story. Here is my review from Goodreads:
Winner of the National Book Award, Waiting tells the story of Lin Kong, a doctor in the Chinese army, who returns to his village each year to divorce his peasant wife, the loyal but unattractive Shuyu. Their marriage is an arranged and loveless marriage, and Lin has lived apart from Shuyu for almost every year since his marriage. However, whenever he returns home, he feels a comfort he can’t really explain, although he and Shuyu have no intimate relationship. Every year for 18 years, he is unsuccessful in his attempts at divorce and must return to the city to tell his lover, the educated modern nurse Manna Wu, that their wedding must be postponed again.
Lin Kong is an educated bookworm, passionless in almost every way. He doesn’t feel strongly about divorcing his wife, who embarrasses him with her bound feet and her peasant looks. Neither does he feel a strong passion for Manna, although he does find her attractive and feels he must love her because he feels very comfortable, and not embarrassed, with her. In all the years of waiting for this divorce that never materializes, there is not a shred of impropriety between he and Manna. Lin Kong is an indecisive man who questions his feelings on everything, and thus is paralyzed by indecision.
Though the story is a very quiet one, full of everyday life and mundane details, I couldn’t put it down. I too found myself waiting, and waiting, for something to happen which would give some resolution to Lin Kong’s life. When after 18 years, he’s legally allowed to divorce his wife without her consent, he does so and promptly marries Manna. Manna wants to get pregnant right away, which Lin Kong doesn’t want. He immediately begins to feel burdened by the twins Manna has and by married life. By the time they marry, Manna has aged and Lin wonders if he was ever really in love with her. He still visits his wife and daughter, who move to the city to be nearby, and he feels comfortable with them. He finally gets what he wants, yet he is still waiting. For what, I don’t know. He doesn’t see the people around him who love him dearly; he keeps thinking there should be something more. He even considers planning an escape with his last bit of savings, abandoning all his family.
It was strange while reading this: it slowly dawned on me that Lin will always be waiting. In the last chapters, I began to see myself, and everyone. It seems we all live our lives in a kind of restlessness, waiting and waiting for something to happen, but not having any idea what it is we’re waiting for. We wait, as life moves forward around us, unnoticed and unappreciated.
I also read Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement.
I so enjoyed this epic tale of Violet Minturn, who grew up in the courtesan houses of Shanghai during the early 1900s. Violet encountered one horrible experience after another during times of upheaval in China, and I wondered how anything could ever come out well for her. She is the beloved daughter of Lulu, her American mother who runs a high-class courtesan house. When her mother leaves Shanghai, Violet gets left behind due to an act of chicanery by her mother’s friend, Fairweather; she has no choice but to become a virgin courtesan. Violet finds she is half-Chinese, and her mother’s affair with the Chinese painter Lu Shing is an integral part of the story. Later, after her beloved husband Edward dies and her daughter Flora is taken from her, she ends up back in a courtesan house. When Violet looks to escape the courtesan life by marrying a “poet,” she finds once again she’s been duped and ends up a prisoner in a remote part of China, 300 miles from Shanghai, in the Valley of Amazement, the place depicted in a painting done by her father. Though the book is long, I really enjoyed reading it and imagining life in Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century.
The books that I didn’t have time to read before leaving, I took along to read while in China:
- The Crazed by Ha Jin ***
- Red Azalea by Anchee Min ****
- China Dog: And Other Tales from a Chinese Laundry by Judy Fong Bates ****
- China Dolls by Lisa See **
- River Town: Two Years on the Yangtzee by Peter Hessler
I didn’t bother trying to learn Chinese except for a few words; I knew it would be hopeless as I’m terrible with languages in general, and I knew I’d never get Mandarin’s tonal ranges.
I took a journal, but I hardly wrote anything in it; I usually just wrote directly on my blog. I added a couple more journals while I was there, to take with me on my travels; those I did use a little.
I would be in China for nearly a year, through all kinds of weather, so packing was a major ordeal. I got my equipment in order, taking my Olympus camera. As I did every time I went abroad to work, I had to work out a new phone or new SIM card upon arrival, along with bank accounts and apartment utilities accounts. And of course I had to register with the authorities for a long-term stay.
On August 30, 2014, I was off to the People’s Republic on Air China. I arrived in Beijing after a grueling 13 hour and 40 minute non-stop flight. When I landed at 6:40 p.m. on Sunday, August 31, I spent the night in a hotel at the airline’s expense. In the morning, I caught a flight to Nanning City, Guangxi Province, People’s Republic of China, arriving at 10:40 a.m. on Monday, September 1. One of the students from Guangxi University met me at the airport and helped me to get settled in. I was assigned an apartment on the campus, and basic necessities were supplied for the teachers. After a couple of weeks, I was given a bicycle to use.
Though this was the third time I’d gone abroad to work, I was still nervous. At the same time, I was equally excited. I was excited to be back in Asia again. It is such a different world than what I’m used to, I imagined each day I’d be immersed in exotic and interesting experiences.
So, I said 再見 = zai jian (goodbye) to my home in the USA and 你好 = Nǐ hǎo (hello) to China.
*August 30, 2014*
“ANTICIPATION & PREPARATION” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about anticipation & preparation for a particular destination (not journeys in general). If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
While I’m in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago from August 31 – October 25, and then in Portugal from October 26 – November 6, I kindly request that if you write an
“anticipation and preparation” piece, please simply link it to the appropriate post, this one or my next one as soon as it publishes. I will try my best to read your posts while I’m on my journey, but I won’t have a computer or the time or ability to add links to my posts.
My next post about anticipation and preparation will be on Friday, October 26.
This will be an ongoing invitation, on the 4th Friday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂 If you’d like to read more about the topic, see: journeys: anticipation & preparation.
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired! See below in the comments for any additional links.
- Sheetal, of sheetalbravon, wrote about her anticipation of and preparation for her daughter leaving to go off to college and her own journey to the empty nest.
- Pauline, of Living in Paradise…, wrote about her anticipation and preparation for a visit to the outback icon of Broken Hill, which has been given heritage status.
- Jo, of Restless Jo, wrote a piece about how she finally decided on Portugal as her dream home, and how she’s anticipating her return there in September.
Thanks to all of you who wrote posts about anticipation and preparation. 🙂