I'm just going to warn you now. This is a long post. Very long. I didn't think it would be, but when I start going on about China.... In any case, I will not be offended if you don't read it. If you do read it, I've put in suggested breaks where you can get up and stretch, clean a bathroom, or watch a Psych episode (preferably from the first or second season).
Netflix's contribution to my day was Not One Less. Have you seen it? A thirteen year old girl in rural China agrees to be a substitute teacher. True story. One of her students drops out of school to go work in the city because his family has too much debt, and she walks there to find him because she can't pay for a bus ticket. True story. Good story. Chinese story with an ending that does not involve everyone dying. Yes!
(Not like Raise the Red Lantern which I've been trying to send back to Netflix for three days now. The mailman and I play a little game. I put the movie in the mailbox with the flag up and he leaves it there for a few days, just to make sure I really want him to take it.
Mr. Mailman, I really want you to take it. I am done with this tragic disk full of foreboding and obvious foreshadowing! I watched half-way through and I already know how it ends and I do not watch movies where protagonists are hung or go crazy. So there. I am ready to embrace the stupid chick-flick that I wasn't willing to pay to see in theatres that is next on my queue. Take it away! Take it away!...
I'm completely off subject, aren't I? Oh well. Back to the point.)
I've been to China. Have I mentioned that? It seems like I have. I went when I was thirteen and I hated it. There were no teenagers around (OK, no, obviously there were, but there was a bit of a language barrier), and I got through with all my books pretty quickly and was stuck with the spy novels my dad reads for mindless enjoyment over the summers. My mind does not enjoy them.
I went to a beautiful bookstore in China. They had built in bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling all around the store, with wood ladders that they actually let you climb and sit on. It had the right smell too, like Borders but, regretfully, minus Starbucks. Of course all the books were in Chinese. So it didn't do me a whole lot of good. But I appreciated the atmosphere.
(Suggested break. Try blowing bubbles. I find that very relaxing.)
We walked a lot in China. I'm not really sure why, I suppose we didn't know what else to do. We'd start walking after lunch, going shopping (which I hate in China even more than I hate it here because nothing is ever my size), taking pictures, and looking for restaurants. Looking for restaurants generally started around five or six and could go on to eight. Possibly nine. I remember one time Brother Beus (a family friend we were traveling with) marched us around a block three times looking for a restaurant he remembered, only to conclude that it had been knocked down and was that pile of rubble back there. We ate at the Chinese version of Wendy's that night.
Everyday I saw beautiful scenes like this.
And wore expressions like this.
Oh, come on Marissa, smile.
I don't want to.
Do it anyway.
I don't know how.
I'd claim that it was my awkward stage, but the truth is, I've bee in my awkward stage since I was ten, and I don't see the end of the tunnel yet.
The first day we were there I woke up and went down the creaky elevator in our dorm/motel to breakfast. There were three tables lined up and covered in a white cloth, rice, dumplings and warm milk.
"Where are the forks?" I asked my dad.
"There aren't any."
"But I don't know how to use chopsticks."
"Now would be a really great time to learn."
I gave up on their breakfast after a while. It got to the point where I could taste the MSG in it. I'd just peel a kiwi, eat that in two bites, then suck the juice off my fingers and wait for lunch. Usually we'd have lunch next door where there was a soup shop. The shop had been built around the trees that had stood there and stood there still, growing up through the tin roof. They had giant bowls, twice the circumference of my two hands. Inside there was enough soup for two people, steaming with beef broth, and thick noodles and herbs and vegetables. With it came orange soda, sweating next to the heat of the bowl.
My mom still dreams about that shop. She thinks they should relocate here. Lao Ban, if you're reading this, there is a spot open in our shopping center. The laundromat just closed.
(Suggested break. You could go make cupcakes. And send them to me.)
I did get very bored. And lonely. When it got to be more than I could take, I'd walk up and down the stairs in our dorm/motel/home and sing Phantom of the Opera; because that seemed appropriately depressing. I'm sure my neighbors really appreciated it. I got really good at Music of the Night.
Eventually China won me over. I caved in. Who wouldn't? I went to the Great Wall. Look! This is it! I was there! I'd show you a picture of me, but I'm wearing my ridiculous hat in all of them. I still have that hat, even though it doesn't fit anymore and it's ridiculous. I just haven't found the time to throw it away. In four years.
Besides, even if I hadn't gone to the Great Wall, look at these people:
I want to have lunch with them. How old are they? Why are they sleeping there? Where do they buy their shoes? What do they make for dinner? What's their favorite movie? Do they know the girl at the end of the bench? Is she waiting for them? She she studying philosophy? Is she reading a Seventeen magazine?
(You could take a break here, if you want, but you're almost done. Try powering your way through. Self-discipline, that's it!)
When I got home I took two handfuls of water, straight out of the sink in my kitchen, swallowing it down and savoring the fact that it wasn't boiled and it wasn't bottled, and I could brush my teeth with it. Oh, blessings.
After a while the trauma of the trip wore off, the clouds went away; and all I was left with was the silver lining. And wishing that I'd spent more time there with this expression.
Look! I'm smiling! I know how! Oh... there is my ridiculous hat. I hadn't planned on showing you that. Still, it looks better here than it did at the Great Wall.