The trek was over.
I got back to Zhuhai, my home in China for the past eleven months. But though I was done trekking, I wasn’t through with traveling: I had 48 left in China to ready for a long journey back to Minnesota. This included the boring stuff like getting all my money out of the bank, squeezing all my things into two suitcases, a carry-on, and a personal bag, and selling some things I accumulated over the year.
As well, there were lots of goodbyes and reflection, the latter being triggered as I spent my final afternoon walking the docks of Zhuhai:
Because it so happens that my first afternoon in Zhuhai was also spent wandering the docks. Almost to the day, 11 months prior I took this shot:
And the day before this shot, I arrived to China fresh and not knowing what to expect. I simply exited that plane alone with my pre-conceived notions of hectic traffic, lots of people, and smog. (Thankfully, these stereotypes weren’t too common.)
I anticipated a year of boundless travel and exploratory possibilities, making all sorts of loose plans to do things “in the next six months”. It’s exciting because you really can do anything, but you gotta realize sooner or later that you can’t do everything. Then as “these next six months” are upon you; you gotta start actually doing these things. Time to buckle down…kind of. You learn to play that delicate game of planning while being open to the possibilities.
I was awkward those first weeks, as well as anxious, excited, and clueless. I don’t usually mind this when I travel, actually, but something about the “temporary permanence” of 11 months shook me a bit. I was irritable and bothered by others staring at me and grew tired of struggling through the simplest transaction at the market.
Most of the time, though, I chilled and went with the flow—open to the possibilities, as I said, and I honestly can’t recall an instance where this rhythm ever brought me to a place where I didn’t leave a better person. (Gosh. Think about that! If we could always just move through life, each day, to this beat.)
My first week in China, my clueless, go-with-the-flow self was up on stage dancing for a community festival.
The following months, I’d be in the spotlight several more times:
I didn’t create these scenarios—at least not in the sense that I went to China trying to be an emcee or a show-cook. Life brought them my way. But I did come to China, and I took advantage of the opportunities that surfaced. I guess that’s the delicate game I speak of.
And here I am, regurgitating the script for living that’s been taught to me by a compilation of spiritual role models, finding that balance of self and “other”, doing the work “assigned” to you by Life. As you make your way, sometimes it’s seeing only enough in front of you to take the next step with certainty—or sometimes even walking off the edge and trusting a foundation will be there. Belief, faith, letting go and letting Life. This corresponds to a level of serenity in one’s entire life—as it is in each infinitesimal moment. It has been written about and defined differently in spiritual terms, secular terms, self-centered terms, human-worshiping terms from every corner of the world for all of documented human history. And the weight of this lesson is no lighter today than it was 5000 years ago.
This is not to say that we don’t have to sometimes be more aggressive, creative, manipulative in getting the outcomes we want, but the year for me was an exercise in relinquishment. As a matter of fact, by relinquishing I found myself more apt to insert my ideas and organization into the mix.
Check it out.
If you’ve read my blog, you’ve seen that this year wasn’t spent in one city. I traveled around quite a bit. From the regional sights of Yangshuo, Doumen, Hong Kong, and Macau:
to the far away locales of Beijing, Henan and Hubei provinces:
Rural Henan province:
The mountains of Hubei province:
Where I practiced Tai Chi:
to the international destinations Vietnam and Cambodia:
In each place, near and far, the surface images parted to reveal deeper meanings behind the environments and people I encountered. This was more than an education about these particular people and places. It was an education about humanity in general—about you and I.
The treatment of animals here in Zhuhai had me asking about all of humanity’s treatment of animals.
From animals to people, in many places it was the locals who were on display. I always felt a bit funny realizing the double-standard: how would we react if an Asian tourist came and took pictures of how we lived?
Yet here I am in Guangxi province:
And here I am in Macau at a Buddhist funeral service:
Getting more personal, I arrived to China admittedly jaded from the politicization of education in America. But I freshly realized education’s immense importance in the continued progress for humanity. I’m grateful for this as my open mind and heart allowed for the infusion of youthful energy:
I wondered how much of this “child-like” enjoyment can be recaptured, after the initial shock of adulthood has been realized, by getting back to finding pleasure and contentment in the little things.
Referring to a deeper self in all of us, my time outside the cities and towns and into the untouched-by-human arena of nature, I could sense that mental division we have between our appreciations for both realms. Part of us likes the technological; part of us the natural:
A nugget of wisdom—actually quite a gem—I came upon one random day was the lesson that if armlessness can’t stop the painter, what’s ever stopping all of us from expressing ourselves?
Our efforts–as this artist exemplified–along with the opportunities Life presents–as my experiences exemplified, reveal that we all have a lot working for us. : )
So go and work it!
And I’ll see you next week with more stunning summary of my year: a look at all the faces.
p.s. My experience in China is also being offered as a multimedia eBook to be ready in the next two-three months! It’s a stimulating and interesting arrangement around the themes I’d encounter: poverty, education, dating, nature, etc. I can’t wait to show you!