Back in Shenyang with only a few days to spare, we rested more than anything else. Everyone was pretty much spent by this point. I rousted Dad early one morning and we headed out of town to the east to do some birdwatching along the river. There were quite a few groups of cyclists going by – looking sharp with all the gear one would expect, but goddamn did they ever ride slowly. These were all retirees, and they were apparently more concerned with looking speedy than being it. Exercise is exercise, though, so good for them…
After the wedding ceremony things took on a much more bucolic character as we headed SSE out of Shenyang to the diminutive city of Benxi to visit Ma Li’s family, and my new In-Laws, in situ. This picture was taken in the guest room of Ma Li’s paternal grandparents. Their dilapidated apartment was remodeled over the summer and is leagues better now. From left to right: Ma Li, Shadow (first cousin), Grandpa, Grandma, Steven, Myself, Dad, Erin, Mom, Shenshen (3rd Uncle’s wife, Shadow’s mother), and 3rd Uncle (son of Grandpa).
This is it. Two years to the day from our first date – a cozy dinner at Four Clover (“Fo-ah Ku-ro-ba”) restaurant in good ol’ Beppu – Ma Li & I celebrated our marriage. Mind you, we had already been legally married for 2 weeks, but now it was time to party. We held our ceremony & reception at the Shenyang Trader’s Hotel – a posh place even by Western standards located in the center of one of Shenyang’s biggest shopping districts. All of my visiting family were able to stay in the hotel at a discount rate negotiated as part of the deal – convenient & economical!
Back from our whirlwind tour of Inner Mongolia, our party of 6 grew to a party of 8 with the trumpeted arrival of The Mullaneys – maternal grandparents of the bridegroom. We visited Ma Li’s mother’s university for a dinner that spared no expense. The university dining hall has 3 floors – the first two are for the riffraff (students) and serve the expected budget fare. The third floor, however, woah mama! Faculty & Administrators only please, and if you can dream it, we can cook it! The large wooden tray on the table is sashimi!
And this is how it begins… Mongolia, Inner… a road to… somewhere? The first 3 hours off the plane were spent like this, driving endlessly, bumpily through the Steppes. I must confess: lawnmower jokes were made. But who among us could restrain themselves in such an environment?
The angle of this photo gives the appearance that your brave narrator is strapped to the roof. Sadly, this was not so. I just have freakishly long arms.
The July 26th ceremony was only the mid-point of a two week long wedding extravaganza. Parents, siblings, and maternal grandparents all made the long trip over the North Pole to China. Aspects of the odyssey worth retelling have been broken down chronologically into six journal entries for your viewing pleasure. Breathtaking photographs narrated by gripping captions will carry you along our journey.
Part 1 – The Arrival
~16 hours trapped in a steel tube zooming over the North Pole… my parents had been there before when they visited me in Japan, but this was the longest flight Steven & Erin had ever taken in their lives by more than 10 hours. Nevertheless, they arrived in fine shape and Erin looked positively well-rested when she embraced Ma Li at the airport after not seeing her in nearly a year.
(I broke my elbow.)
Yes, it’s true. In a moment of extreme uncoordination, at a stop I began to keel over on my road bike and failed to get out of my toe clips in time to catch myself. Instead, I bravely attempted to cushion my landing with my left arm – aka “the T-Rex arm.”
Rather than break my fall though, it broke itself, leading to the intensely pleasurable saying “Wode gebo zhou guzhe le!” Say it out loud yourself. Go on, try it. Great fun!
One of these days I’d like to write a book about my experiences out here, and perhaps it’s a mistake to give away the mind-blowing philosophical conclusion now, but who cares – no one’s reading this damn journal anymore anyway! Ready? Here we go:
Life is Life.
What does that mean? It’s simple really: no matter where you go, what you do, what you have, what you don’t have, who you’re with, what you want to be, life boils down to the same basic sequences, needs, and interactions. Put another way – you can change the quality of the TV, but the program will always be the same.
Sounds stupid? Perhaps, but it’s true, and it took me a year abroad and 2 countries stamped into my passport to figure it out. Moving to China has only further reinforced my suspicions.
Before I left America I had visions in my head of what the rest of the world was like. I was giddy with excitement at the idea of setting foot in Japan, or China, or anywhere else I might happen to end up. This is certainly not an uncommon line of thinking. It is human nature to attach – really without basis – some sort of mythical, magical quality to places and things unknown or not yet experienced.
The question I’m asked most frequently by those back in the States is “what’s it like, living in ____?” It’s a question that’s usually posed with heartfelt sincerity, the inquisitor leaning close with a starry look in their eyes as they try to imagine themselves smack in the middle of a picture series they saw in National Geographic or a documentary from the Discovery Channel. When confronted with such hopeful, wistful enthusiasm you cannot possibly give them the honest answer (it’s the same, dude) so you stammer out some anecdotes about funny cultural differences or mix-ups at the outdoor market and such. It’s just a smoke-screen though, a deliberate attempt to continue the romantic mythology surrounding the expat lifestyle.
Life is Life.
You can change the setting, the language, the currency, the religion, but life is still life.
This realization hit me like a lightning bolt to the brain one foggy morning last summer in good ol’ Beppu, Japan. I was in an introspective mood, preparing as I was to leave that wonderful country, and my thoughts wandered to those near and dear back in the States and what they would think if they could see me now… taking out the garbage.
The point of this ramble is not to dissuade you from pursuing a global lifestyle, or to deglamorize such things – quite the contrary. The point of this ramble is to make it clear that no matter where you go, there will always be constants to rely upon, and thus stepping forth into a new culture, a new land, a new country should not be viewed as such an impossibility as I know some of you see it.
Life is Life. There are 194 countries on this planet and in every single one you’ll still take out the garbage, but in every single one that garbage will be a little bit different. Why be satisfied with just one?
As you may or may not recall, I spent last Christmas in a Japanese hospital. Don’t get me wrong, it was about as rockin’ as one could hope given the circumstances, but this year I wanted more. For my first Christmas in China I was ready to rock.
Ma Li is still trying to wrap her head around this whole Christmas thing, and me being psycho Christmas spirit guy isn’t helping. She was a good sport through most of it though, and only told me a few times how embarrassing it was to walk beside me down the street when I had my Santa hat on…
I’ve been in China for just over three months, and my living routines have settled into predictable patterns for the most part. Let me illuminate you…
As mentioned elsewhere, I’m a teacher (not professor) at Shenyang University of Technology in Shenyang City, Liaoning Prefecture, China. Originally I signed on as an English Conversation teacher to bank some cash while I study Chinese. I’ve set aside two full years to get myself as close to fluent in Chinese as possible and then take the proficiency test.