« January 2008 | Main | March 2008 »

February 20, 2008

(new year's) resolutions vs. goals

i've written before about how i hate the idea of New Year's resolutions, but i can't deny that a new year rolling around does motivate one to think about changes, growth, and goals. i realise this may sound like semantics -- goals vs. resolutions -- but there is a difference. "resolutions" tend to be big, unfocused, and possibly, ultimately out of one's control: common ones involve losing weight, getting a better/new job, paying down debt or saving money, or even finding a mate. it's just setting oneself up for failure -- conventional wisdom says people make resolutions simply to not keep them.
however, "goals" are incremental, realistic, and potentially fun. i wasn't originally planning to post about this, but after a phone conversation with a good friend who challenged me to do so, here goes with making them public:
1. give up the coffee.
2. cook at least one recipe from every cookbook i own.
3. take at least one -- maybe two -- trips to visit & catch up with old friends.
4. finish my self-study German language lesson book.
5. and one secret goal that i just can't share. sorry!

so far, number one has gone really well. it helped that i was ridiculously ill the first few weeks of January and had no desire to drink anything stronger than chicken broth, but i still miss the gorgeous aroma of fresh-ground coffee. sigh. one day i will maybe go back with decaf, but for now, cold turkey is cold turkey. i'm glad we got some really good teas in China!
as for number two, it's more of a use-it-or-lose-it goal. i want to cook more, be more creative/adventurous in what i try cooking, and also cull out the cookbooks that are useless to me. this seemed to be a good way to go about it.
number three is why my friend wanted me to blog this: i've said so many times i'd love to visit friends of yore, and yet haven't gone because of schedule issues, sheer inertia, or a false sense of how complicated it would be. so with T.T.'s blessing, i've decided that if i just go for a few days by myself, i could start doing one or two...dare i say three? trips a year to visit far-flung friends that i'd just love to have a cup of coffee with. oh wait. i guess it'll have to be tea.
numbers four and five are pretty self-explanatory -- i really want to continue to improve my German language skills, and it's just laziness that has kept me from doing so. as for number five...well, a girl's gotta have some secret skills up her proverbial sleeve.

so there you have it: my goals for 2008/Year of the Rat. i challenge you to come up with five realistic, positive goals that are actually achievable and go for it! and any encouragement for me is welcome...

Posted by hadashi at 8:31 PM | Comments (1)

February 6, 2008

happy Year of the Rat!

i'm thankful to report that we are fully recovered from the stealthy attack of flu that descended upon us, and now we're just working our tails off on various jobs (for me, a dog grooming show, of all things). i've just finished making a batch of what my family calls "mudoi," but are more commonly known as bao, in honor of the Lunar New Year. it's the Year of the Rat, which means that supposedly we'll get to enjoy financial success, romance, or perhaps a tsunami (seriously). around this time i try to celebrate my Chinese heritage in some way, and that way usually involves eating...of course... there have been a few years when i've made a big feast and had people over, but at this point, making the steamed buns is the extent of my effort.
i have, however, been thinking a lot more about China. it still feels so immediate, our whirlwind 2-week trip there. although it was immensely foreign, there was still a feeling of familiarity that i couldn't explain, except to say it must be in my blood somehow. while there were the outward senses that felt comfortable -- smells i knew, food that i loved, faces that looked like family members -- there were also these inner flashes of comprehension that i can only describe this way: as much as i have longed to see China for myself, maybe China wanted to see me again too.

my mother's family left many years ago, mainly to escape the Communist regime under which they certainly would have lost everything, possibly even their lives. my grandparents never really returned, deciding to establish themselves and their children as Americans. over the years, members of the family have returned to visit, and their experiences seem to be similar to mine: an odd kind of acceptance of heritage and blood you already knew but always struggled to internalize. i'm hardwired to need to Feel Things to understand their reality; i think this is why for so many years after returning to the USA from Okinawa, where i grew up, i didn't think i was really American: nothing inside me Felt American.
so. going to China was a great vacation and a fantastic adventure for us, but more than that, i've realised it became a way to take some blurry parts of me and bring them into better focus. i can't say that i Feel More Chinese; i just know that i have a much more internalised emotional bond to that part of my family than before. (see, here you thought you'd just get a travelogue of sorts but no, this has become a big navel-gazing post instead.)
okay, the trip itself: we hit the two big cities, Beijing and Shanghai, and visited four smaller cities in between: Ji'nan, Tai'an, Suzhou, and Qufu. i'd read plenty about the intense pace of modernization & industry in China, but seeing it was jarring. it's like a gangly adolescent who has a man's size but a boy's voice: the nation constantly is presenting itself to the world as a smooth-talking 21st-century flashy grown-up, and yet it seems more comfortable using the easy slang of a developing nation within itself. an animal-drawn cart piled high with scrap wood from the latest bulldozed house ambles down a street choked with newly-purchased Audis. the old woman selling sweet potatoes roasted in a handmade tin oven has set up shop in front of another new highrise condo complex. workers in simple canvas shoes and shirtsleeves labour in the light snow to complete the $100 million Olympic Park in time for the Summer Games.
the highlight of the trip for us was climbing to the top of Mt. Tai, or Tai Shan, the holiest mountain in China. due to the snowy conditions, all buses and cable cars to the top were shut down. the only way to the top was to walk all 6,600 stone stairs, which was over 5000 feet straight up. as the only foreigners past the "Middle Gate" (which was around stair #3,400), we were the recipients of much encouragement and friendliness from fellow aching-leg pilgrims. T.T. delighted many a local with his calling out jaiyo! jaiyo!, which in this context means "although our legs feel like blocks of aching stone, i am rooting for you, yes i am!" the landscape was like a beautiful remembered dream, the stillness of the snow and stone and trees a meditation. when, a few days later, we were at the Shanghai Museum, the many landscape brush paintings suddenly had deeper resonance -- the Chinese blending of poetry, nature, and painting felt like our experience captured on scroll paper.
speaking of remembered dreams, when we were in Beijing & places north where everyone speaks Mandarin, Chinese did feel like a foreign language. however, once we got to Shanghai, the city my mother was born in, what i was hearing suddenly felt comfortingly familiar. it's like walking down a street in a strange neighbourhood and then hearing a song you used to love, years ago, wafting through an open window of a second-floor apartment. you stop, grasp at the threads of memory, smile, and start singing along. the neighbourhood suddenly becomes less unfamiliar.
despite China's frantic push to industrialize, modernize, and McMansionize, there is still a strong undercurrent of simplicity to the everyday lives of her people that exerts a powerful pull on me: i am curious to see more of those lives, experience what the everyday is like, how change at this kind of exponential speed affects a country's very cultural fabric.
we'll be back, hopefully before anything we just saw becomes unrecognizable.

Posted by hadashi at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)