The hum of the bus’s engine lulls me, it’s up and down jerks are almost melodically in tune with Frank Ocean’s lyrics playing in my ear. I am currently on two hour bus ride across Southern Kunming. Outside, there is a slight overcast sky that emerges from the horizon of tall grey buildings that seem to be constantly under construction.
From the back of the bus, I watch as people push and shove around me in the true Chinese way. The faces of people surrounding me are blank - indifferent, expressionless, lacking depth, and their cheeks; void of colour. The elderly, especially, look tired and worn- perhaps from a lifetime of hardship, of enduring regimes and wars, of hoping for China.Their skin is visibly aged - dark circles under their eyes, long wrinkle lines representative of defeats and triumphs, and their skin, coarse and dry as a result of Kunming’s high altitude and extreme dryness. But what strikes me the most, are their eyes, and the way they fixate into mine, like a lock and key fit. Strong, bold, firm, determined, scared yet, beautiful beyond belief. These eyes - almond and mysteriously dark - pierce into my own and my heart leaps, just the slightest, just enough for the ache to resonate. And in those momentary seconds of contact, no longer do I notice the wrinkles around their eyes, the colour of their skin, the roughness of their hands, nor do I notice the strain in their forehead or furrow in their brow. Strip past these external layers therein lays a perfect passage that leads directly into the depths of their souls and the kindness of their hearts. It is, indeed, a raw, hopeful, untainted, unparalleled beauty.
And so, if you ever ask me why it is I fell in love with China, there is no way that I would be able to summarise it adequately into words. Part of the beauty of China is that it is so multifaceted. It is a country founded on such a rich culture and history and suffering that even the layers themselves, have layers. But if I could give you the tiniest piece of what I’ve discovered, it would be China’s hidden Beauty that presents itself in its people. It is the people, who are forcedly trying to tackle the Beast of their past in order to find their own Beauty -and -the -Beast fairy tale ending amidst a society that is so clearly suffering from the catastrophic effects of stringently indoctrinated notions, that makes China so unique.
The Chinese have always been fighters. Physically, in the past. But they have always, always been mentally strong, and faithful. They are still finding answers in their nation amidst its ambiguous leadership. But despite everything I’ve learnt about china, despite all the facts, despite the culmination of events of their past, despite all our individual opinions on China and it’s future - despite all this, all I need to do is lock eyes with just one Chinese person, and I am entranced. Their eyes are the windows to their soul, and has the capacity to almost absolutely defy all my logic and reasonings, all my political frustrations and all my assumptions.
For it is the eyes of their people that show me that they are indeed hopeful, and when there is Hope, there is life.
Firstly, I would like to apologize for the delay in posting this. I know that it is nearing the end of my trip, and it is only now that I am taking the time to post some of my experiences. For those of you who are not aware, I have recently been given the opportunity to come to China to teach English for three weeks. It is so so so saddening to realize that my time here is drawing to an end, as I have had such an amazingly enriching experience, and have been so many awe inspiring, motivated and driven people who have been ever so kind and generous to me, and even more so in what they contribute to here in China.
The opportunity has given me time to read, write and learn a lot about Chinese culture, which is rather ironic as I am from Vietnamese decent and grew up with Chinese friends, yet every day, I learn something new. Every day is a new adventure and something always manages to pleasantly surprise me, and I peel back yet another layer of China that I didn’t know existed. I am continuously surprised at each corner I turn, the new ideas I unravel, the plethora of cultures I stumble across and a mentality that I struggle to come to terms with.
I’ve travelled to a fair few places , but this is the first time I’ve actually really lived in a place, and really get to know the people and nestle into the way they live, and have the chance to understand why they view the world the way they do. I came to China with empty hands and empty expectations, having honestly no idea what I was getting in for. Now, I soon depart from China with a suitcase full of insight, of passion, of drive and of purpose, and a whole new found respect for the Chinese.
Part of the reason I came to China was because I love to teach kids, and I have aspired to venture abroad to teach in under developed countries for a while now. The other reason why I wanted to come was to figure out what it is I really wanted to do with my life. I have spent the past five or six years doing a course that I have always been hesitant about. I have succeeded in becoming a Pharmacist, albeit not necessarily a great one. This year, I have decided to take the time to decide what I want to do for myself, to really fulfill my dreams and make myself happy. I knew that it would involve risk taking, making it exciting and absolutely petrifying at the same time. I have no idea if I’m doing the right thing by straying from the norm path. Most other graduate Pharmacists are expected to continue onto full time positions in order to further their experience and become better Pharmacists. But I have chosen to take the road less travelled, partially neglect my potential career as a Pharmacist and follow my gut feeling that seems to be leading me to trust in my dreams.
Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I could find so many answers in merely two weeks.
I actually started writing this blog piece when I was on the plane from Melbourne to Bangkok a few weeks ago. I wanted to express my frustration towards my brother – something that I have been trying to refrain from writing about. But that particular day was upset, because he had made me a promise – and yet again – let me down. It hurt. And writing seemed to be the only thing that helped ease the hurt. But I was conflicted internally. I had promised myself that I would try to concentrate on only the happy elements of my life, to prevent the negative aspects of my life from pulling me down. Writing has always been my scapegoat, and once I put pen to paper, the ache and throb and disappointment flowed through my fingers and onto the page. As such, lately my writing seemed to becoming nonsensical. It reflected confusion and frustration, rather than happiness. The thing that aggravated me even more is that I hoped so much to find answers in my writing, and I didn’t always find that.
I recall one particular night; my brother had yet again, let me down. The hurt was back. And again, I resorted to writing. It was past midnight and everybody was fast asleep, except for my brother of course, who had not been home for the three days without telling anyone his whereabouts. Irresponsible – as usual. I was used to it, which in itself is disappointing. I shrugged it off. I had learnt to ignore the looming worrying feeling in the back of my head. What fuelled my anger, though, was that he had forgotten to pick my Grandmother up from the bus station, leaving her stranded there for hours and waiting in the cold. I was furious. He knows very well that our grandmother’s health was not the greatest at that time, and yet still left her there for her bones to feed on the cold. I was furious.
The house was eerily still. I quickly flicked on my bedside table lamp, the only source of light in my room, and picked up my notebook. I hesitated, a little reluctant to start as I was unsure whether I should allow myself to write about it. Where would I begin? When it all started? Or this isolated incident? I couldn’t even begin to imagine trying to piece all the complexities and layers of confusion together. It would be one web of complete and utter chaos.
I began to jot down my feelings. I voiced my anger at his irresponsibility and his lack of maturity. I wrote about how hurt I was that he could so easily escape commitments without even a second thought about the consequences on other people. I was angry at how childish and unreliable he is. I was frustrated that I couldn’t tell him exactly how I felt. But above all, I was afraid. Afraid of what might happen if I confronted him. Afraid that he’d retaliate in anger – and act impulsively. But above all, I was afraid of pushing him further away. And I’d lose him again. And I couldn’t risk that.
And so, I kept it all in. Sometimes, it would all come tumbling down on me like planks of bricks – the pressure from my family, the expectation that I was the one to fix it all because I was the successful older sister who always knew what to do. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe. I was stuck, pushed into this little corner in my room where my lamp resides. I sought refuge in the blank lined pages of notebooks. As I flicked through the prior pages of this notebook, my eyes quickly scanned pages and pages of writing I’ve done in the past. As of late, they’ve mostly been about my brother. None of which I’ve actually posted on my blog. And I know essentially, they are all about the same things over and over again. His hurt, and my hurt. His temper and my patience. His unreliability and my disappointment. His pain, my heart throb. His sorrow, my anguish. I kept reading. My almost illegible handwriting waffled on and on, until eventually it looked like black wobbly lines of gibberish.
I tore my eyes from the pages, waves of repressed emotions start to surface and I could feel a knot in the pits of my stomach starting to form. This is stupid, I thought. Why am I even bothering? The tension in my brow started to build again – a familiar yet always unwelcomed feeling. I wish there was a way to just link all these passages in a way that made sense so that everything was in black and white. Maybe then I’d understand what I needed to do, as his big sister? Sometimes, I felt so trapped that I just want to scream.
I remember sitting at the edge of my bed for a while after reading all those old entries. I pulled my knees to my chin, hugging them and stared aimlessly at the wall. The silent gaps in the room were soon crowded with the voices of the thoughts in my head. I sighed, feeling some momentarily relief in my heart. Grabbing my notebook again, I flicked through to an entry I wrote a few weeks ago. It was right after my birthday, and I had been angry at him because he was asleep my entire birthday and would not wake up. But the following day, he snuck into my room when I was asleep and gave me a red pocket containing three hundred dollars. Three hundred dollars was a lot of money, especially for him. But it was the words he wrote on the pocket which was worth more than all the money in the world: ‘Happy Birthday Hong. Love Huy’. My heart melted. He could’ve given me an empty red pocket with those words, for all I cared. I had almost forgotten about that day, and was so glad I wrote it down.
Suddenly, I felt better.
The entry was about how much I loved my brother, and how much it broke my heart to see him the way he is. It pained me so much to see his life stagnant but pained me even more to see him sleep for days and not wake up. It scared me so much. I still get shivers down my spine thinking about it. I know his moodiness equated to unhappiness and his anger is linked with his deep seated melancholy. But I didn’t know how to fix it. I am his big sister and it made me feel completely and utterly hopeless. I am supposed to be his protector and guide him in the right path. But how am I to do that when all his lights are switched off? He is so deeply inundated by a convoluted darkness that he can’t see through the fog. It has taken me a long time to fight through the fear of losing him and concentrate on being there for him. Every day is a challenge. His moods are unpredictable and it is tiresome trying to keep up. There is never a day where I don’t worry about him, wonder how he is doing and if he’s safe. Even now, from half way across the world in China, I think about him and wonder why he won’t return my messages. But all I can really do is hope he knows I’m thinking about him, that I miss him and care about him and I’ll always be standing with him in his darkness no matter where I am, with a huge beacon of light surrounding me, hoping to God it’s bright enough for him to see through the foggy darkness.
It has taken me so many entries regarding my brother to finally figure out a way that it can help me. I’ve realized by looking back on those passages that my brother has unknowingly contributed to my own development as a person. It is from him that I have learnt the importance of patience, and what that can mean for another person. He has made me realize how ferociously some people have to fight to make it through a day and how lucky we all are. I have always believed that every piece of writing is beautiful because it provides a piece of insight into the internal workings of our mind and soul and every situation, no matter how bleak and dire, can always be viewed in a positive way. An optimists’ view, certainly, but pertains many elements of truth. It seems what optimists fail to inform us is that being able to view something in positive way is a gradual process. We are human, after all. And it is the very essence of human nature to be inquisitive and profoundly confused. Clarity does not happen overnight. It certainly does not happen as soon as I start writing something. Sometimes, it takes us a little bit of time before we are able to make sense of something. It took me so many entries about my brother until I finally gained some clarity. And this has given me hope. Even still, I know I have a long way to go.
It is only now, in hindsight of all this, that I realize that it is okay to write nonsensically and that I should not punish myself for it because one day; I will make some sense of it all. Life puts us through these ordeals. It tests our strength of character. It is only when we push through these extremely emotional moments that don’t seem to make any sense – those moments of frustration and of disappointment –that we are able to see some clarity amidst all the chaos. And with clarity, comes our own sense of self worth and contentment.
Just dropping in to say sorry for the delayed posts. I have no excuses. It must learn to find more time for myself in my hectic schedule. I’m still working on on it, so my apologies but promise to post some of my thoughts soon.
In the mean time, let’s get some Mark Twain into our systems, shall we?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”
Brillant. Don’t let people tell you that your life is a game. It isn’t. Every day is a dream waiting to come to life.