A morning in Wuhan

I am on a quick trip to North America to do some practical stuff that cannot be ignored any longer, as well as get to a friend’s wedding, woot!

I found the cheapest flight ever with China Southern airlines. ($450 round trip- what?) They are often overnight layovers and you have to leave the airport. So I got a hotel and in the morning, I went to explore. I liked Wuhan. Somehow I found myself a hotel room in the historical district, which I’m sure was prettier than the area around the airport would have been.

The back alleys are everything. Light filters through and people gather whatever chairs they can find, sit around and chat. I was surprised by how chilled out things were. Laundry hangs from the power lines that cross the alley.

It is not an automatic smile country, though I did startle a laugh out of one older lady, after she stared at me for five minutes, trying to figure out what I was. I actually loved her verdict. She clearly couldn’t come up with a category or definition, so her conclusion was just to say heh heh heh and walk away.

Her work seemed to be fishing used chopsticks out of the trash. She was very old and had a hard time walking. It looked like the hardest, dirtiest, least rewarding work.

People seem relaxed and not as aware of convention as in Thailand. In Thailand you do a lot to reassure people around you. I see you, I’m for you, I’m glad you’re here. This is communicated all the time. In Wuhan it seemed like people just stared if they wanted to stare, or ignored if they wanted to ignore. But none of it felt like it impinged on the relaxed feeling.

People seemed self contained.

I ate black bean noodles on the side of the road, sitting on a plastic stool with other people doing the same thing. The noodles were okay. Kind of weird, more fermented than a similar food that I’ve had in Korea (it originated in China, but Korea is famous for their black bean noodles now.)

However disappointing the road noodles were, though, I ate hand pulled noodles at the airport and they were a noodle lover’s dream. Handmade noodles! At the airport!

I couldn't communicate with anyone. Anyone. The language is completely opaque to me. I remember when Thai was like that. It seems like a long time ago. I liked how we kept trying. I would something in English and people spoke to me in Mandarin and no one could understand each other, but even though we were pointing and gesturing, we had to talk while we did so.

The frisking at the airport was rather thorough.

There were cameras everywhere. Everywhere. Everything is recorded and they have been using some wild new facial recognition software. It is a wild new world.

I found a park and wandered through it, making my way down to the Yangstze River. The river is the whole reason I bothered to get a hotel in the city center. It was worth it, this wide, old river, though of course I found it in the middle of this city, and no one was punting any sampans along it.

One of my favorite things about travel is to truly enter into the anonymous observer space. Not talking or understanding makes the whole thing feel kind of dreamy.

My taxi driver was using some kind of app where he voiced messaged friends the whole time we were driving. Just voice recording after voice recording in a big group. That was intriguing.

I think it would be hard to do this jaunt with kids, or if you have any special dietary needs. I have been eating by simply pointing at the menu. There are no options for vegetarian things, and I cannot speak!

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By myself, though, it is an unexpected little gem.

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts, as well as my books as soon as they are available. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work.

A new patron post: Dear Rae : A Letter to Myself, is up on Patreon now!

Under the mango trees.

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It’s been a while. A few days ago I came out of the wild. Well, not exactly the wild, I guess. But a wildish sort of place. 

I volunteered at a Japanese music festival up here in Northern Thailand and it was such an interesting, rich experience. Sleeping in a mango orchard for nearly three weeks, looking at the stars at night, watching the sun rise.

I was with Kenya and our friends Tayna and Aya and spent a lot of time with them, especially for the first nine days, before the festival started. I was on a deco team with lovely Chinese and Japanese artists. We made a lot of signs, all translated into Thai, Japanese, and English. “We need a sign, three languages,” is a phrase I used a lot. I painted live and organized other live painters. 

I watched my husband play music. I sat behind our bhajan band on the main stage and sang in the response to our Jesus bhajans. 

Our car got dustier and dustier.

I learned how to say “good morning,” in Japanese.

I guided a meditation in a campsite, attended one, and kept the kids quiet for a couple.

I studied and wrote papers in a teak forest.

I went to the hot springs almost every day.

It was a busy time, full of wildness, adjustment, and lots of activity. But I came out feeling ready for the next season, and somewhat like I hit a reset button. 

Chinua leaves tomorrow for India. The kids and I will stay back, do school, and make art and writing. Tumble around, deal with smoky season, cook, water the garden, and swim. I’ll write my final research paper of the quarter. We’ll try to be creative and loving and patient, even as the days grow hotter and drier.

Fermented turtle feet.

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I am finally home after my unexpected trip. 

I walked home from the bus station with my lugguge and could hear Chinua playing trumpet as I got close. Wookie whined at the gate when she realized it was me. Then there were all the hugs, sweaty ones from kids at the end of a long hot day. I sat beside Chinua at the piano and we talked about music. I lay beside Isaac as he went to sleep. “Just one time this week, okay?” I said. He threw his arm over me and drifted off.

This morning I stepped over Solo, Leafy and Kenya, all asleep on the front porch. This is a new thing, the sleeping on the porch. I like it. I wouldn’t do it, when my bed is only a few feet away, but I like it. I like them creating adventure wherever and whenever.

Yesterday I finished my most recent edit of Demon’s Arrow. Today I sent it off to my new editor, a friend who lives here in Thailand. The book is nearly finished, although we have to hurry if we’re going to have it out on release date: October 25th! 

I have been floating, not always in the safest of spaces. Old wounds have reopened, my anxiety cat has woken me at night, sitting on my chest. And when I am away from home and family, it seems as though I am untethered. I’m not, of course. But that is easier to remember at home. 

I have wondered, at times, how it is that someone like me came to be surrounded by so many people. Such an introvert, such a strange mind. But I see it more and more clearly; I couldn’t do without them.

Here is Isaac with another sweaty hug. Here is Solomon, rushing into the room dancing while Chinua is showing me songs on the speakers, telling me his theories on the connections between jazz and rap. Solo pulling out everything he has drawn while I have been away. Leafy reminding me that he is going to be thirteen in January, as though perhaps I have forgotten. (I know, it’s impossible.) Kenya and the menu she created for dinner (I was too late for it.) Megalodon stew (sold out.) Fermented turtle feet soup. (Sold out.) Pasta with white sauce. Available for about $300. 

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Here is morning. The neighbors pull their carts out onto the street to sell rice porridge or coffee. Children on the porch. My plants need watering. A pup who needs a haircut. We’re out of eggs. I need to buy bananas for smoothies. The ladies at the market will ask me where I’ve been. They’ll pat me on the arms and tease me and the gentleness of these greetings will nearly make me cry. 

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. Last month’s patron-only post: At Home.

A New Part of the Journey

All beginnings are also endings. And sometimes, to celebrate a beginning, you also need to grieve a bit for an ending, especially if you are a fairly melodramatic, questioning kind of a mother-person. The kind of mother person who still likes to lie on the floor when she is overwhelmed by life and documents.

But the beginnings still need to be celebrated. Change is beautiful, rich, full of life, a thing to be cherished, one of the aims of raising children. 

Kai is starting high school. This is a minor miracle. He came home from camp in April and told us (with a lot of excitement) that he would really, really like to go to high school. And so we began to pray about it and then miracles began rolling in. He has received a scholarship from a loving couple to attend an international school in Chiang Mai. Another beautiful family asked if he can live with them. He will come back on most weekends. And school starts on Monday.

The last months have been a flurry of filling out forms and figuring out details and I wasn’t really sure of anything, so I didn’t write about it. But everything is finalized and our oldest child is half-leaving the house, back on weekends and holidays, living in a city three hours away. 

This will be amazing for him. His brain and brilliance need more challenge, he needs peers and teachers and a good transition point between living in a tiny town in Northern Thailand and moving to Canada or the US when he starts university, three years from now. He will thrive, I’m sure of it. I’m incredibly proud of him and excited that more people get to see the coolness that is Kai.

And also it’s sooner than I thought it would be.

There is this very instinctual, instrinsic part of my mother self that feels like Wait! Watch the kid. Keep the kid close. That’s our job. That’s what we do. 

It doesn’t help that every time I look away from him I reimagine him looking like this:

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How can you send that out into the world? How can you give that away?

But I blink and look back and he looks like this:

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For scale:

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This is a healthy, normal change, but it is the ending of an era. We all lived in a house together for sixteen years. All the family. We had a lot of time together; Kai was always home. We traveled on trains and buses, planes, boats, one tractor, rickshaws, canoes, cars or vans, and even on foot. We did it together. We’ll do more things together, I know it. Kai will still be home a lot over the next three years. But a certain time of life, a quality of how we were as a family is coming to an end, and it brings with it great possibility and the sadness of things that can’t be forever. 

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I am terrible at transition. Change often has me charging around dropping things, and stubbing my toes. I grow clumsy and vacant. I am overwhelmed. But I want to do this well. So I am writing, listening. We are in the city now, getting ready for school. Doing a bit of thrift shopping. Getting his bicycle fixed. Figuring out class schedule stuff. It’s all normal. I’m channeling my very best Molly Weasley. I’m pretending to be the mom who knows about school and grown up things, who totally has this. I totally have this. 

I mean really.

I do. 

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On our way.

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It's beautiful Easter Sunday and I’m writing from a hotel in Chennai that looks delightfully as though it was designed in the seventies and then never updated. It’s old Indian fancy, once of my favorite kinds of fancy. There is a shoe shine machine in the lobby that boasts white, black, and cream shoe polish. It makes me wish I had shoes to polish. In Madurai we stayed in a “boutique hotel,” which I believe meant that the lampshades were Ikea-style. 

What people don’t tell you about traveling is the struggle to find the cheapest hotel humanly possible that doesn’t have bedbugs. We have managed it, but I now have two grey hairs instead of one. (I could well have many more, but since my natural hair color is very ashy, it’s hard to tell. Chinua has lots of grey hair and a grey beard. When he grows his beard out I call him Greyhame.) ((I just went back and changed all the words I has spelled “gray” to be “grey.”)) We are so close to returning home. The first part of our trip was work-related. We come back when we can to visit and help Shekina community in Goa, helping our communities to stay healthy and connected. The last couple weeks was an exercise in refreshing our traveling muscles. We haven’t really traveled in India (we usually just come to Goa and then head home) since 2011, so it felt like time. Working at a Jesus Devotional Community for travelers includes remembering what it is to BE a traveler.

So we boarded trains and then taxis in a combination of travel and vacation. We traveled from Kochi over the mountains to Munnar, which was more beautiful than we could have imagined. Mile after mile of tea plantation hills stretch into the distance, and when we were there, it was a bit hazy, but the jacaranda trees were blooming, which more than made up for the haze. We huddled in our tiny taxi, guitars and trumpets jamming into our shoulder bones, gape-jawed in awe. Kenya had her birthday (she’s fourteen!) and got a pair of binoculars for her present and we each had a scoop of chocolate ice cream instead of cake. We planned to go to a wildlife sanctuary on her birthday, but we drove two hours in a jeep on a crazy bumpy road to get there and then found that the sanctuary was closed due to a fire in a different national park (?) and no amount of pleading would get them to allow us in. It was a beautiful drive, though. We sighed and watched monkeys for a while, then began the long drive back to our guest house. 

On another evening we watched some Kathakali Dance Theater and went backstage to see the actors get ready. Afterward came some traditional Keralan martial arts, which rendered us speechless because they were so dangerous! Sword fighting with metal swords that shot sparks when they hit one another hard. Lots of flips and jumps and spears and a knife fight and the kids were ecstatic. Kai, Kenya and Leafy were called to be volunteers as one man long jumped over ten people. 

We got in another car and drove to Madurai, down the steep mountains of the Western through long South Indian plains covered with egrets and herons, past giant trees filled with bats, past churches and temples, through dusty hot towns. In Madurai we stayed the night, then flew to Chennai (no train tickets available.) And now we are almost home. It has been beautiful- that kind of restful, unifying trip that we love. But we are all eager to get home and be in our sweet wooden house in Pai, reunited with Wookie and ready for normal life to begin again. I want to work in the mornings, to cook my own food, to eat salad (all the salad!) To speak Thai and to be back with our friends. 

Today I'm thankful for:

- Resurrection- Jesus who cannot be suppressed by death or earth or stone or any force. 
- Girls who turn 14 in a jeep and don't complain.
- Amazing South Indian accents and mannerisms.
- The best food I have eaten, ever, in life, ever.
- Ideas, dreams, words, and poems. 
- Chinua, who is beautiful and wise and such a good husband for a girl like me.