01 February, 2014

Zen, part Two

When we last left our hero, he was brimming with optimism—the hope of a pleasant vacation to recharge the proverbial batteries and reboot the proverbial operating system on the horizon. (Is it obvious I recently had to take my computer to the Apple Store?) Alas, this happy ending was not in the cards…

That’s right. After writing about how low I had fallen during the fall, and writing about how optimistic I was going into the winter, I found myself crestfallen, perhaps lower and more downtrodden than ever before.


Well, I thought you’d never ask.

So much great frisbee!

I signed up for a week of IST. For me, it meant a week of language classes, teaching opportunities and fellowship in Chengdu. In addition to being a week of Frisbee with other PCVs (and going to the aforementioned Apple Store), it also meant I was one step closer—geographically and chronologically—to my winter vacation plans.

IST brought with it a smorgasbord of disappointment, offered here in no particular order: my favourite restaurant disappeared; I lost my voice; the pollution was thicker than it’s ever been; my go-to milk tea shop stopped serving caramel milk tea; I didn’t get the haircut I was looking forward to; and lastly, my 27-day Thailand vacation had to be cancelled.

Yeah, you read that right.

My favourite meal in Chengdu, gone. I enjoyed this restaurant so much I even wrote about it. However, Chinese cities are a very transient place. I regularly see restaurants come and go. Plus, it helped that final tragedy overshadowed this fairly minor one.

This winter, for my first vacation outside of China, I had planned on spending a month in Thailand. I was going to visit a friend and former China volunteer who lives there. I was going to see the sights, enjoy the beaches, and all of the cool things cool people do in Thailand. The coup de grâce of this vacation was going to be open-water soloing, which is basically rock climbing without ropes over the waters of the ocean. It was going to be, if I may, wicked awesome.

Unfortunately, now I say all of that in the past tense. Peace Corps put up travel restrictions for Thailand owing to the innumerable amount of protests going on in the country surrounding the Prime Minister and upcoming elections. And that was that. With a single announcement, my world came crumbling down around me. If my life were a teen melodrama, this is the scene where the camera would zoom in close, my face blank with dumfounded shock as the background blurred and faded to black (there would also probably be a slight tilt, as if the camera was rotated 34° to the left).

Now, I do not say any of this as a means of complaint. I am not dissatisfied.

Granted, when the announcement was made, I spent quite a few days freaking out. I went through the stages of grief, mourning the loss of my expected happiness and quite a bit of money.

Now, I accept it. I was presented with a choice, and I chose to surrender control.

During a panel at IST, a China 19 (one of the newest volunteers, who has only been in-country for six months) asked about the thing we have gained form this experience. Or, at least, it was something like that… I forgot the question because the answer was so important. One of my friends answered, in a very matter-of-fact tone, she has learnt how to give up control of the situation. This idea works in tandem with a skill PC preaches from Day One: flexibility. When I heard this, I nodded in agreement… because why not? However, it wasn’t until yesterday that I really started to understand.

I was on a 36-hour train ride. I was listening to another podcast, this time an episode of Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy. During this episode, she was interviewing Josh Radnor—who will probably forever be known as Ted Mosby, his character on How I Met Your Mother.

There is a lot of great stuff in this interview, if you’re interested, but right near the end, Radnor starts talking about religion and the choices we make. These choices are important. Tyler offers up traffic as an example (which, while bad in Hollywood, is nothing compared to Chinese traffic). She says, “When you’re stuck in traffic, you can choose to feel stymied, or you can choose to surrender”.

Surrender, and accept you cannot control the traffic you are stuck in. Radnor says, “Your whole existence on this planet is about surrender. It’s a misunderstood concept. It’s a dirty word in our society; [society says] ‘You’ve given up; you’re waving the white flag.’ It’s actually the source of true strength. It’s radical acceptance. Suffering is wanting things to be different than they are”.

Can I write that again?

Suffering is wanting things to be different than they are.

::pantomime your mind being blown::

That’s it, right there. It was this moment of enlightenment for me. I had been sitting on a train for 28 hours at that point, and I realized that despite my initial dissatisfaction with this Thailand situation, everything was okay. I surrendered to the fact I could not control it.

Instead, I made new plans. Those failed. I made new plans again. And here I was, on the eve of Spring Festival, sitting on a train, headed to Hainan. Everything was going to be all right.

For the record, celebrating Spring Festival on a train is not nearly as exciting as doing it with people (because lighting off fireworks is never not awesome). However, when the clock struck midnight, I was struck by one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. As the dark countryside sped by my window, suddenly everything exploded into colour. I watched multi-colour orbs bloom across the horizon. Missiles of white light streaked up through treetops, or from the tops of buildings. Firecrackers strobed in the streets, creating silhouettes of buildings and trees. All of this out my window, as I zipped by at 120 km/h. (For extra nerd points, I should also note that it was wonderful to hear the Doppler effect in action.)
I drank a coconut watching this.

Instead of leaving China, I am going to round out the southern coast and enjoy all of the warm weather I can handle—because, if for no other reason, I had my bags packed for the beaches of Thailand. I am starting my holiday in Sanya, Hainan province. I walked down the beach today in shorts and a tank top. It delighted me. From here, I want to go to Haikou, Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Macau. Hong Kong is only a boat ride away, so maybe I’ll go there. I am going to surrender control and see where this holiday takes me.

As a coda for this post, please enjoy this: 

No comments:

Post a Comment