Of Dogwoods and Daffodils

There are days when I miss the south. Hillsides golden with daffodils,  like sunshine dappled on the green. Cross-shaped flowers cover stretching trees on every corner, dogwoods budding with the soon-to-come hope of Easter.  But sometimes, on those days when I wish for what is not–and yesterday was one–I stop, look around, and realize that this is amazing, too.

In a break between classes, I stepped outside the library (where I meet my teacher) and saw this. Hillsides golden with, not daffodils, but 油菜花,or rapeseed flowers.

It’s not exactly what I was craving. But it’s every bit as beautiful.

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Monday as Saturday

After an unexpectedly eventful weekend, I spent Monday doing as I pleased. Today, that meant crafting.

Our bedroom has been sloooowly making progress since we moved here in August. It’s nothing fancy and I’m a long way from done, but the two teensy elements of time and money have held me back. While last year our bedroom was a light blue color, this year we painted it green. It’s a bit more minty than I had envisioned, but I think my main objective–somewhere calm and soothing to fall asleep–was met.

Here’s my before: an ugly and plain sandy wooden headboard. When we moved in, our landlord promised to provide bed frames and mattresses for us, and they did. Truly, we’re thankful–I just sometimes wish it was a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

So that’s what I did today. I made it pleasing, to me, if no one else. I covered our headboard with fabric and accented with rope.

We live near an art school, so I stopped by our local art supply store and bought the cheapest canvas they had. It looks similar to painter’s drop cloth, but not quite as rough to the touch. Benefit of living in Asia: $6.64 for 3 meters of fabric. The rope: less than $5.

It still looks a bit wrinkled, but I’m really happy with the finished project, slightly sloppy as it may be.

And, although I didn’t do this today, I thought I’d show you our over the bed decor. A quote from a Mumford & Sons song: “Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.” It only took me six months to get around to this simple project… hopefully the rest of our room will fall in place a bit more quickly.


Reserved for Marriage

I stepped off the plane into the muggy, murky night, the buildings purple and gold and green with neon-bright light, the people yelling loudly in a language that I struggled to believe was really composed of words, not just the high voices of hen-pecking wives. At the airport, I found friends, or people who I would soon know as such. One of them, a tall and slender Asian girl with near-perfect English, walked me to my new apartment, a two-bedroom nest on the 19th floor of a busy downtown complex. This friend, three years older than me to the day, helped me find my way in a new country, cared for me when I couldn’t speak, ordered for me when I didn’t know what to eat, shared her wisdom when I didn’t know what to do.

A year and a half ago, Michael and I stepped off the plane again in our new-old city, a place familiar but always changing. We met a boy, kind and caring and good-hearted as anyone I’ve ever known. Although a bit older than us, this time he was the one who was learning how to speak and what to eat and where to go. We saw each other nearly every day, shared meals and struggles and laughter.

This boy and this girl, Ross and Christie, met each other and quickly took like. (On his side, at least.) After months of waiting, they finally had their first date on this night. I’m not sure who was in a more giddy state—the newly engaged couple or the newly dating one.

Where we live, the word you use to make reservations at a hotel or restaurant is the same word that is used for engagement. When two people make formal plans to get married, they are considered “reserved for marriage.” This Friday night, Ross made his and Christie’s plans official.

We couldn’t be happier.

The newly engaged couple! Ross had us organize a surprise party for Christie after the proposal.

I think she loved it.

Re-telling the proposal story. Ross asked Christie to marry him in the kitchen of her apartment, where he first asked her out nearly a year ago.

Old friends, and good ones. (Shannon is the mom who was brave/crazy enough to let Michael hold her newest one, little William.)

Dearly love this precious friend, and couldn’t be happier for her.

You had to know you were going to see at least a few of the decorations…

Sarah and I, the official Party Planning Committee of, well, our circle. We love a good shindig! (And what on earth will I do without her next year?)


Ladies Night

I’m a day late (two, actually) and a dollar short, as usual, but Happy Women’s Day to you all!

Oh? You didn’t know? March 8th is International Women’s Day (although it’s international I’d never heard of or celebrated it stateside) and women across the world, or at least this nation, celebrate by taking the day off of work, wishing each other Happy Holiday, and generally reveling in their femininity.

I, for one, was the lucky recipient of a large bouquet of carnations/Queen Anne’s Lace/ other assorted and lovely flowers all of which I don’t know the names. This, thanks to the very friendly and most likely slightly intoxicated restaurant owner down the street, who made a big ceremony of presenting Michael with the flowers and then having Michael deliver them to me. Apparently the restaurant had just hosted a Women’s Day party in the upstairs room and had a few bouquets left over…. which ended up in my hands. Just one of those times when being a foreign face worked in my favor, I suppose.

To celebrate, I had a few friends over for a movie night—Jane Eyre (after a few failed attempts at The Blind Side). The novel is one of my favorites but it turns out the movie version isn’t quite up to par, although that might be related to the sub-par audio quality which left me relying on sub-titles in my second language…humorous, actually, as even when I could read I typically only made it through half a sentence before the dialogue moved on. Really, not an ideal situation, and probably doesn’t put me in the best position to judge the movie. It was quite a fail of a night, really, as the apple cake I made tanked in a royal way, due to technical difficulties it took us about an hour to get the movie started, and Albus peed on the carpet . Ah, well, such is life.

Hmmm, what else? I wanted to write some deep reflections on what it means to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated culture, but I think I’m out of words and, anyway, I’m white and it probably isn’t really my place to make overarching judgments. I will share a quick story, though: some American friends of ours are expecting and recently went to the hospital for an ultrasound. The doctor didn’t tell them their baby’s gender at the time—it’s technically against the law here because of sex-selective abortions. Our teacher later offered to call the hospital and explain that “getting your boy” is not a big deal in America and tell the doctor it’s OK to divulge the baby’s sex, our friends wouldn’t abort a girl.

All that to say, I do think it’s important to spend time reflecting on the remaining disparities between the way women and men are valued, in this Asian culture and, quite honestly, in our American bubble as well.

So, to my mom and aunts and sisters and all of you in America who didn’t get to celebrate for yourself: Happy Women’s Day!


Grey

It’s a certain kind of morning: damp but not wet, cold but not the kind that sits in your bones, dreary without the hope of sun but the optimism of spring still, somehow, tangible.

Grey.

A certain kind of grey: the sky an impenetrable iron shield, ash-white and filling the skyscraper horizon. The sort which makes me glad to be where I am, curled in the corner of a Starbucks with books and friends and, mostly, time.

Melancholy is a familiar friend, for me at least, and I’m brimming with it this day. This Edith Wharton quote, which has been bumping about my head for weeks, seems an apt description of life recently:

“…the frail audacious permanence of a bird’s nest built on the edge of a cliff.”

But this, I suppose, is always the state of affairs, acknowledged or not. Our plans and plots are always walking the razor’s edge of success. They are substantial, real, these hopes that we see with the clarity of a bird on the wing, silhouetted in stark contrast against a slate-grey sky. But these hopes, they are fleeting, insubstantial, apt to evaporate as we claw the air.

This, I think, is the lesson of this last year in my life–and it’s a hard one. That my hands, knuckles white and fists clenched, cannot always ensure the completion of my plans. That life, in many ways, is lived on the edge of a cliff. Unpredictable. Scary. Exhilarating.

And that, itself, is the beauty of this life. My hope rests in the assurance that I am not the author. That I don’t bear ultimate responsibility for arranging twigs into an impenetrable nest. That someone else is the protector of this abode on the edge of a cliff.

What an audacious hope.