I can hardly believe it’s almost June and I’ve been here for more than three months. The semester is coming to a close and we arrive in the states on June 24th. My Korean class ended last week and although I can barely speak any Korean after one semester, I had a wonderful time and loved my classmates. They are all continuing on with part two, a requirement for their doctoral and master’s programs. I’ll muddle my way through the rest of my time here. I learned that it’s not easy learning a new language at any age; but in my sixties I don’t think there’s enough storage space left in my brain to put a new language. The good news is, I don’t care.
Steve and I took a trip to Beijing last week for a long weekend, and although I had been to China in the past, I had never been to Beijing. It’s a very cosmopolitan city and it’s hard to imagine it’s part of a communist-controlled government until you start talking to some of the people. It seems that government officials are making money hand-over-fists, while the average person is trying to get by. The air quality is another give away that something is amiss. The air pollution is amongst the worst in the world. We never saw the sun and at the end of each day a second shower was a requirement. This was all contrasted to some of the best food I’ve had since we arrived in Asia. The Peking Duck was everything, and more, than we hoped for. The people we met were friendly, helpful and interested in engaging with us. There were the usual people who wanted their pictures taken with the foreigners. They were mostly people from the countryside visiting Beijing. People from Beijing are quite used to foreigners, while those from other parts have likely never seen a foreigner, let alone a tall blond one in her 60’s. At one point, it felt a little like we were part of a sideshow and we began to refuse the well- meaning Chinese tourists. The Internet is also controlled by the government. We tried downloading a movie and after two days we gave up. I am very appreciative of the freedoms we enjoy both in the US and in Korea. When we got “home” our movie was downloaded in a matter of minutes and the air we breath is relatively clean. We engaged in several conversations with our tour guide to and from our visit to The Great Wall. She was a woman in her early 30’s with a 5 month-old son. She told us that although she would like another child, the government forbids it. If you break the “rule” you are likely to lose your job and pay heavy fines. She has a sister and when her parents decided to have a second child, they lost their government jobs and had to pay that hefty fine. One exception would be if her sister decided not to have a child. Then, she could have a second child but her sister would not be able to change her mind. What a decision? I thought about what my life would have been like without Jacob, my second child, and I wonder what I would ever have to complain about
In my Korean class a few weeks ago, we had a conversation about electricity, something I don’t even give a moment of thought. Two of my classmates are from Nepal. They reported that in Nepal there are only certain hours during the day that you can get electricity. No one else in the class seemed startled by this information, except me. I was wondering about the times I have complained when we have lost our lights on Peaks Island for a few hours and how inconvenienced I felt. What was I complaining about?
My life here has become simpler and many small things that I took for granted, have become special joys for me. A few nights ago we were having wine with friends and my friend told me about a new website she discovered that would send special products to us that we can’t get here without any hassle if the packages weighed under 4 pounds. Thus, no custom inspection, which can hold a package up for weeks and even months. What can you get for four pounds? I thought. Then I got on the website and ordered 4 pounds worth of “gold.” I ordered dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds, licorice, anchovies and honey. Yup, that’s what I ordered and I can hardly wait for the box to arrive. Apparently it takes about 4 days. Once it arrives, I will be ordering lots of 4 pound boxes of goodies. I can’t tell you how excited I am for my delivery. Life changes when everything is not at your fingertips.
A trip to Costco is like a trip to Disneyland. I can’t just walk to the corner store and get whatever I want. I can turn on the lights whenever I choose and we have hot water on call, but everything has been scaled down and I appreciate all I have.
Technology keeps us connected. We don’t have TV but we can read the NY Times everyday and we can see day-old news from the States, and of course, there are downloaded movies. I’m sure when I get back to Peaks, I’ll look around my house and see the excess. Living with a lot less has brought a new awareness to the meaning of “stuff.”
We just bought a new mattress and a simple glass table for our veranda, one of our first big purchases, and they seem, in some ways, extravagances for us. I probably won’t feel that way after my first good night sleep since I got here. Our mattress was old and awful. My point being that I can live with a lot less and my life is no worse for the wear. I laugh sometimes at the things I miss and what I will ship back when I come again for the second semester. I miss my art. I’ll select a few easily transported pieces and some bedding. Otherwise, whoever rents my house can enjoy my excess and my “stuff” in my absence.
I must admit that I am fantasizing about the food I’ll eat when we get to the States. Our first stop is Portland, Oregon and the food there rivals Portland, Maine. I think about lobsters and fish and good wine when I get to Maine. I think about going grocery shopping and buying whatever I want. I think about hanging out with my grandchildren and cooking them whatever they want. I think about our hot tub and our outdoor shower and my garden. I think about the quiet on Peaks. I think about having friends over and serving them on my dishes and using all my serving platters and cloth napkins and knowing that everything is at my fingertips. I’ll love all of this for the two months I’m home and I will love coming back to my simple life here with some of my “stuff” to bring me comfort during the next semester. I have everything I could ever want and more. There is nothing to complain about.