Thursday, December 6, 2012

Closing a Chapter

I've passed the crown, relinquished the keys to the kingdom, I am no longer the chief editor of That's Beijing. I am appropriately sad, or I was last Friday. Now, I'm sitting in a French Concession cafe feeling supremely relaxed. I took the high-speed train to Shanghai sunday night. After six months away, it felt like coming home.

But for the times when being chief editor was exceedingly stressful, I had a comfortable life up north and I learned a lot. I was sent to Beijing to make major changes to the publication and I'm satisfied with what I accomplished. I had excellent roommates and I formed meaningful friendships with my work teammates. Last Tuesday evening I went for my final free massage. Alas, as I step away from the swaggy world of lifestyle magazines, I reckon I've had more spa treatments in China than I'll have for the rest of my life.

Even if it hadn't come with a generous helping of free facials and comped dinners, I couldn't have dreamed up a better way to have spent the last three years. I went to rural schools in the mountains of Anhui Province, to crab farms in Jiangsu and to China's richest village, Huaxi. I've been to Tibetan mastiff kennels and movie lots and inside plainclothes police vans. I went to Guangzhou and Hong Kong and all the way to the Kazakh border in Xinjiang where I scored a Saddam Hussein nesting doll.

Last week my mom sent me a note she found on her computer. She'd typed out a conversation we had early one morning my freshman year of high school. I had awakened her to write a letter for me to put in a time capsule to be opened my senior year, and I was waking her up because I'd forgotten about it and it was due. So far, this all sounds about right. I didn't usually forget homework, but I was always a bit contemptuous of any assignment I saw as sentimental. Not for any good reason, in retrospect it was a nice thing for our teacher to organize, I think my feeling at the time was if you weren't challenging me then you were wasting my time. Or in this case, my mom's!

I recall she wrote a longer letter later, but the one she sent so I wouldn't miss the deadline was as follows:

You are a great daughter, a good student, in wonderful shape from all of your JROTC drills and RECONDO training.  I appreciate your sense of humor, wit and ability to write, how you read books all the time, how you pay attention to current affairs and engage your father and I with questions about world events.  

I like looking back on this now because, thought it was something she wrote quickly, I think it shows that at 15 I was well on my way to becoming who I am today. Three years of JROTC was enough to learn that the military wasn't for me, but I still try to make fitness a part of my life, except when I get too busy, or when the temperature drops in Beijing (a cold apartment is deeply demotivating). Reading and writing are still the two most fulfilling things that I do. And I'm still insatiably curious about the world. I want to see the whole goddamn thing. This winter I plan to take a sizable chunk out of that goal. I'm going home for Christmas and then flying to Bangkok in January. 

I'm only in Shanghai for the week to finish up a bit of banking and say goodbye to friends. I've taken a lot of long walks. Last night I went to my second Shanghai Sinterklaas celebration (the Dutch version of Santa, only their Santa rides a boat manned by his black "helpers," and he stuffs naughty children in a sack and hauls them back to Spain - horrors!). I've fielded the "what are you doing next" question a dozen times now and still haven't perfected my answer. So far I'm responding with something along the lines of "uh, writing?" Question mark included, as if the person I'm speaking with will maybe have a better idea than I do.  

But actually, I'm very excited about what's coming next. I'm thrilled to be the sole master of my creative energy for this next season, to have time to read and write, and to keep filling up my passport.

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