Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dublin Highlights

Despite the rough beginning to the trip, my three days in Dublin were pure delight.  The weather was pleasantly cool and mostly blue-skied sunniness, aside from the occasional five-minute bursts of rain (I was glad I kept my umbrella in my purse!).  Here are just a few of my favorite things from Dublin:

  • Christ Church Cathedral -- Beyond a doubt, it's my favorite cathedral I've ever been inside.  I visited in the evening, while their choir rehearsed, lending the most lovely and perfect ambiance to the experience.  I gazed up at the stunning, larger-than-life architecture, marveled at the beautiful stained glass windows, read the inscriptions on all the tombs, and was quite fascinated by the crypts underneath.  When I had explored to my heart's content, I sat down and let the choir move me to tears with their singing.  I had actually been a bit emotional that entire day -- being in the midst of so much beauty and so many interesting things made me even more grateful for the success of my eye surgery.
  • The Book of Kells at Trinity College -- I have long been enchanted by illuminated manuscripts, so for years now it has been a dream of mine to see the real Book of Kells in person.  It did not disappoint.  Even though you only get to glimpse just a few pages of this priceless masterpiece, the entire exhibit on rare manuscripts was riveting.  I also really enjoyed getting to see the exhibit on the preservation of rare books at the Old Library, which, I have now decided, is absolutely my dream library.
  • St. Patrick's Cathedral -- It has long been a desire of mine to attend a choral Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral.  In fact, that was one of three reasons that I settled on Ireland for my summer vacation.  Unfortunately, jet lag chose to strike on Sunday morning.  The service at Christ Church starts promptly at 11:00 . . . and by that time, I had taken a wrong turn and wound up at St. Patrick's.  Sadly, I had to give up on my dream.  But, then I noticed that St. Patrick's does a choral Eucharist, featuring their excellent Men and Boy's Choir, at 11:15!  I hurried in, found a good seat, and tried not to feel too disappointed at not getting my first choice.  When the service began, I was shocked to learn that I had accidentally stumbled in on the perfect Sunday - it was the 300th anniversary of the first Sunday that Jonathan Swift preached there!  In the end, I was very happy with my "second choice".
  • Street performers in Temple Bar -- The Temple Bar area encompasses loads of restaurants, shops, bars, and markets.  It's a busy, bustling, excited, energetic place to walk.  Although I enjoyed browsing through shops and markets and feasting on some very nice gelato, the real highlight for me was all of the street performers.  I saw folk dancers, acrobats, and various musicians.  My favorite was a group who played traditional Irish folk music.
  • The fantastic bakery in Rathgar -- In the interest of saving money, I stayed in a B&B (Abrae Court Guesthouse, heartily recommended) in the charming little village of Rathgar, about 15 minutes from Dublin's city center.  There was a little bakery in the village that had really friendly employees and the most delicious veggie paninis I have ever tasted.  For two nights in a row, that was dinner!
All in all, I was a little sorry to leave Dublin, as I had quite a wonderful time there.  But, I couldn't be too solemn about leaving - I was on my way to see neolithic passage tombs!

Ireland: Getting There Is Half the Fun?

Three weeks before leaving for Ireland, I had eye surgery on both eyes.  In the following weeks, I slowly recovered, finished the school year (mostly by having to depend on other people), packed up all my worldly possessions, and, on the same day that I left for 23 days of Ireland, I MOVED!!  In hindsight, it is really not surprising that the trip did not have the most auspicious of beginnings . . .

My friend Linda (who's also the cousin of my Chinese teacher) wanted to take me out for dinner that last day and also wanted to drive me to the airport.  Since that solved two potential stressors for me, I was overjoyed to accept.  We had a wonderful meal during which I was privileged to eat beef tail soup for the first time (and in China, phrases like "beef tail" are always brutally honest translations).  I actually really liked that soup!  We got to the airport in plenty of time, and the flight from Qingdao to Beijing was smooth sailing.  No problems at all.  But, there was a very wise nagging sense of impending doom in the back of my mind. . . .

The troubles started in Beijing.  The line for Etihad Airlines was the longest I have ever seen in a Chinese airport (to be fair, I have seen longer lines a few times in other countries).  Apparently, half of Beijing was bound for Abu Dhabi -- or at least that's how it felt.  I started to get a headache and a neck-ache while in line, but didn't think too much about it.  I was more interested in whether or not customs would confiscate the bag of shrimp in my backpack (Linda had thought I might want a snack on the plane).  Regrettably, as I would later learn, I had very foolishly packed all of the emergency medication in my suitcase, not my carryon.  Oh stupid, stupid Stephanie!

As the plane from Beijing to Abu Dhabi took off, all you-know-what broke loose from my neck up.  The headache accelerated into a massive migraine.  My eyes, probably overstrained (I had only slept for about three hours in the past three days), started to feel tremendous pressure and excruciating pain.  Cold-like symptoms kicked in about half an hour later, with a sore throat, runny nose, and rapidly stuffed sinuses that made my whole face hurt like a second migraine.  And then my neck, not to be left out, started having spasms of pain that were almost beyond my already-strained tolerance level.  Tears were streaming down my face for hours as I alternated between desperate prayers for relief and failed attempts to sleep.  No doubt, it was the worst pain I have felt at one time since my stomach burn years ago.  Even breathing hurt.

Although Etihad has fantastic in-flight meals, I could only force a few bites down.  I did manage to drink some soda, hoping it would help.  I even kept biting my finger, hard, hoping to divert some of the pain to another region (that does actually work for me sometimes).  For six hours, then seven hours, I continued in this pitiful condition.  I started to feel nauseated, so I got up for the bathroom, but someone else had apparently taken up semi-permanent residence inside.  As the minutes ticked by on my watch, the nausea grew from just a hint to something serious.  Desperate, I darted back to my seat to grab the barf-bag, then went back to desperately wait for the bathroom . . . And then started projectile vomiting, quite spectacularly, into the bag, IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE PLANE.  Humiliation now added to my list of woes.

When we finally landed in Abu Dhabi, after arguably the worst flight of my life, I did a frenzied search of the airport shops  and managed to locate a pharmacy.  I bought some pain pills that claimed to be both maximum strength and fast-acting, then had a quick thought and snatched up some eye drops, too (I had my antibiotic drops, but I thought maybe some soothing moisture might comfort my eyes more).  I bought a bottled water for an ungodly price and then found my gate, breathing thanks when I saw that it had reclining chairs.  I dosed myself up and then curled into a limp fetal position on the nearest of these inviting chairs.  The drugs started noticeably working their magic within about fifteen minutes, and soon I had fallen asleep.

A two-hour nap, followed by a meal of yogurt, mango, and coffee soon set me to rights.  I took some more medicine to finish the job, and by the time I boarded my plane to Dublin, I was weak and a little shaky, but no longer in agonizing pain.  I was able to both eat and sleep on that flight, and felt just fine when we reached Dublin.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


For about six days after my eye surgery, my stomach did its best to steal some of the attention back from my eyes.  Oh yes, power nausea . . . and projectile vomiting.  For six days, I was one fun lady (please be sure to admire the stellar sarcasm).  And my roommate Debra, bless her heart, willingly held my hair out of my trajectory and emptied/cleaned my basins (I had a two-basin rotation going during the worst part of it).

On the second day after surgery, the vomiting was particularly powerful — so powerful, in fact, that one rather awful heave actually popped a stitch in my right eye.  I will pause my narrative politely so that you may gag as needed.  Yes, that eye was very picturesque after that, as Debra shudderingly informed me.

And that is how Brutus came into my life.

The popped stitch resulted in a long (about 1 cm) strand of suture coming free on one side but remaining anchored on the other.  I know it's well anchored because twice now, at approximately 4 am,  when all forms of behavior seem quite logical, I have grasped it with tweezers and attempted to gently yank it out of my eye.  Fear not, I stopped when I felt resistance (I'm just as grossed out by eye stuff as the majority of you).  And so, for three weeks now, this loose suture has taken up residence in my right eye.  Since he has no immediate intention of leaving, I felt that naming him was appropriate.  And no name was more imminently suited to him or our relationship than that of Brutus.

Imagine, if you will, the feeling of an eyelash stuck in your eye.  Now imagine that the eyelash is made of steel wool and is bound to you with greater dedication than most Hollywood marriages.  Yes, that is precisely my relationship with Brutus.  He likes to do aerobics and yoga, being a rather spry fellow, so there is never a chance to get used to him in any position.  Thus, my eye constantly itches, aches, and waters.  Many nights, I am unable to sleep because there is nothing capable of distracting me from Brutus's late-night calisthenics.  I get by with naps, but I really miss sleeping an entire night.  Some nights, I don't fall asleep until 7:00 or 8:00 am.  I methodically scan the eye in the mirror multiple times per day, assessing whether or not Brutus has loosened himself enough on the anchored end to get out the tweezers again.  So far, he is remaining stubbornly fixated.

Et tu Brute?

Communist Infiltration of Our Precious Bodily Fluids

I think the general anesthetic had an odd reaction when it reached my brain during my operation, because for some reason it made me think about Dr. Strangelove.  I don't know whether I dreamed about that film or whether the anesthetic coupled with the pain meds (no idea what they gave me, but it was goooood) awakened the part of my brain that obsessively remembers movie lines and plots.  Either way, when I awakened with my leaky eyes, I kept giggling thinking of the poor general's obsessive fear of Communists gaining control of our precious bodily fluids . . . because here I was, in Communist China, rapidly losing my own precious bodily fluids!

I know, it was the meds talking.  Not nearly as humorous now that they've long worn off.

So, how did the surgery go?  Well, let me illustrate for you:

I arrived at the hospital to learn that I needed to retake the urine test because, and I quote, "something was wrong."  (That something later proved to be nothing.)  I was then told that my chest x-ray (in China you need a chest x-ray before eye surgery because . . . because . . . yep, I'm stumped, too) showed a serious problem.  "You have a mass," the doctor informed me.  "You will need to get a CT scan right after surgery."

Cancer.  That's immediately where my brain leapt.  I pondered whether or not to call off the surgery — after all, why operate on my eyes unnecessarily if I only had months to live?  A mass, in my chest . . . lung cancer, I decided.  From all that second-hand smoke in elevators and restaurants . . . curse you, smokers!  It's not fair!  I've never even so much as sampled a single cigarette and now here I am approaching my deathbed . . . common sense came back after a short jog around my brain.  Best to hold off panicking until after the CT scan, I reasoned.  And you might as well get those eyes fixed so that at least you can read in your remaining months, if you do happen to be dying.  It was reasonable, so I took a deep breath and went in the room to be prepped for surgery.

Dr. Ai (her name, most appropriately, is pronounced "Dr. Eye") wanted my eyes thoroughly flushed.  The method for accomplishing this was not, as I had expected, one of those sinks with the emergency eye flushing faucet like factories and laboratories have.  Instead, the friendly, smiling nurse asked me to lay on my back, relax, and remain perfectly still while she stuck that needle in my tear duct?!?!  I really wanted to be a good patient, the sort that nurses beam approvingly at, but in all honesty, who exactly in this world can actually relax while a needle goes into their tear duct?  Any takers?  I didn't think so.  My tear ducts, apparently, bear much in common with Goldilocks:  one needle was too big, another too small, and, in the end, no needle could be located that was just right.  Maybe I have oddly shaped tear ducts, or perhaps the hospital just forgot to order my size.  Regardless, I was relieved beyond belief when Dr. Ai showed up and said, "Let's just pour water into her eyes with this tube."  Ah, yes, that I could stay calm and cool for.  No problem (or mei wenti as we say in Chinese).

After the eye flushing, they sent me upstairs to my private room (my surgery was inpatient) to wait.  "Think of some stories to tell me while we're doing the surgery," Dr. Ai told me as we parted ways temporarily.  In a little less than an hour, the nurses and stretcher arrived for me and I was carted off downstairs to my fate.  Personally, I would have preferred to walk, but I guess the nurses wanted some exercise.  They wheeled me into the operating room, which was decidedly cold and reminded me, unpleasantly, of Dr. Mallard's morgue in NCIS.  Since I knew I had lung cancer and was likely morgue-bound in the next few months anyways, I tried not to ponder that idea too much.

On the bright side, he shares all sorts of fascinating trivia with his patients . . . 

Now, I should pause here to explain why I was still awake and alert at this point.  The reasoning behind this was that, in order for the best possible chance of success in an operation that I only had about a 75% chance of success in, the doctor wanted me awake and alert enough to be able to tell her what I was seeing.  This was to help her get the adjustments more accurate.  Unfortunately for me, this also meant that I would have to be awake while both eyes were being cut . . . and I would need to be able to feel much of the pain.  It was no easy choice, but I did opt to try for local anesthetic just to give my eyes a better chance at being fixed.  I was more terrified of a future of only being able to use one eye than I was the pain of the operation . . . or so I thought, pre-surgery.

As I lay on the VERY narrow table, reflecting on the fact that it clearly was not built with a western body in mind, the nurses and Dr. Ai bustled about preparing for the Big Event.  They set up instruments, sterilized my entire face, gently scolded me for touching my newly-sterilized face, and draped several coverings over my head so that eventually only the left eye was exposed.  They offered to tie down my arms and legs, but I felt that I would be more comfortable untied.  I tried not to think about my lungs, pitifully heaving against that encroaching tumor.  I focused on the surgery instead . . . and that decided that it might be better to think about butterflies and mint milkshakes.

As I tried to think happy thoughts, I felt my arms begin to shake.  Clearly, they were not listening to my brain telling them, in soothing terms, to relax and ponder Irish sunsets.  My lungs felt heavy in my chest . . . probably that tumor weighing them down.  I decided to think about how selfish and evil smokers are for polluting the air of innocent bystanders . . . and that's when that needle came into view.  Yes, the one aimed DIRECTLY FOR MY EYEBALL!!  "Don't look," Dr. Ai commanded.  A reasonable request, which my eye had no intention whatsoever of following.  An enemy is approaching! my dutiful left eye informed me loudly.  Captain, enemy vessel in sight.  Initiating closing procedure . . . Dr. Ai put the needle aside momentarily and captured my wayward eyelids in a most uncomfortable clamp that clearly was designed during the Spanish Inquisition.  Captain, Captain, enemy vessel in sight again!  Approaching rapidly — abort, abort!  Closing procedure denied — Captain, whatever are we to do?  My poor left eye screamed in terror as the needle plunged into the eyeball.  My brain winced in sympathy, but then reminded me that chemo would definitely hurt a lot worse.  With that comforting thought, I forced my forsaken left eye to abandon its post and focus on the wall rather than that other rapidly approaching sharp object . . . 

Dr. Ai paused and asked if I felt that we should give up on local and switch to general anesthetic.  She reminded me that there was an anesthesiologist standing by for that very purpose, if I should feel that the pain/fear/outright trauma was too much for me.  "No, I want to try for local," I resolved.  I could tell from her voice that my doctor was pleased.  I tried to feel happy about that, but there just wasn't room in my brain for another emotion.  Dr. Ai made pleasant small talk as the sharp object approached again . . . she reminded me not to look . . . my left eye feebly tried to warn us all about the encroaching danger before submitting to being redirected towards the wall again . . . and then the excruciating pain and pressure started and I knew quite certainly that my eyeball was being forcibly ejected from my scull.  Traitor! my left eye whimpered as the pain overpowered it.  I involuntarily cried out and shuddered.

"I don't think you can do this, Stephanie.  I think we need to switch to general."  Dr. Ai told me.

"Yes," came my strangled response as I fought the wave of nausea that accompanied the pain.

I drifted in and out of awareness as they prepped me for general; perhaps it was a result of pain coupled with far too much fear.  I apologized over and over again for not being strong enough to handle the pain.  Dr. Ai kept patiently reassuring me that it was fine, most people can't stay awake.  I drifted in and out again.  At one point, I thought that maybe I was awakening and the surgery was over. But then I heard the anesthesiologist informing me that he was about to give me the good stuff, and I knew that we had scarcely begun.  Another flight of panic welled up within me as they inserted the oxygen tubes in my nose.  I'm going to die on this operating table . . . right now . . . oh, Lord Jesus, into your hands I commit my spirit . . . I don't recall anything further after that frenzied prayer.  

The next thing I knew, I was awakening, blind, in what I decided was probably the recovery room.  The sound of a man somewhere within the room shrieking in agony confirmed my hypothesis.  I was in quite a bit of pain, too, but I decided to just whimper quietly until the nurses gave him his morphine first.  After all, even on my deathbed I'm polite.  In a short while, the screaming man's voice petered off into something dazed and rather loopy, and I knew that he was well-dosed.  A nurse came to me then and asked how I was feeling.  "Hurts," I gasped out.  And then, moments later, I felt the very nice sensation of whatever she put in my arm, and the pain was just a memory.  I thought about asking to go home now that I was all better, but then I remembered that I was inpatient.  After an hour or so, they finally carted me back to my private room.

And that's where I started thinking about Dr. Strangelove, as my eyes dripped something that I instinctively knew was bloody, and as I drooled slightly on the pillow.  Hee hee, the Communists are getting my precious bodily fluids! my brain gleefully chortled.  My eyes, having lost their sense of humor, ignored my brain, but the rest of my body enjoyed the joke.  I continued to privately ponder my macabre little jests as I was slowly weaned off the heavy pain drugs and onto the lighter sort.  The next day, they carted me down and performed the CT scan.  I tried to think positive thoughts.  At least I've done a few good things with my time here on earth, I reassured myself.  No matter what happens, I know that I tried in good conscience to do the right thing, to brighten my corner, and to serve God and others.  I guess that's a pretty good legacy, even if I didn't get as much time as I had hoped.

In the early evening of the day after surgery, Dr. Ai uncovered my eyes and did an adjustment to the suture in the right one (because I had to be put to sleep, she had opted to put in an adjustable suture so that she could try to be more exact in getting the angle of my eye right).  The time came to test my eyes:

"Stephanie, how is this Q-tip?"  Dr. Ai asked me.  "Can you see it clearly?  Only one?"

My heart sunk deep into bleak despair.  For, after all that suffering and all that fear and those three months of nearly constant migraines and worsening vision . . . the surgery had failed.  My eyes were still seeing two Q-tips.

"Oh no," I told her.  "I see TWO of them, STILL!!"

Dr. Ai cast a startled glance at her hand.  

"Oh no," she laughed, "There are two!"

And then she shared the CT results with me:  No mass at all, just swelling because I apparently had pneumonia a few times in the past year or so without knowing it.  No cancer.  But I probably should do better about going to the doctor the next time that I'm sick.

My eyes, about two weeks after surgery.  Red, sore, and itchy, but only seeing ONE of everything!  (Unless there are supposed to be two.)  Surgery was a success!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Day Before

Well, tomorrow's the day.  Tomorrow at 11:30 am, I go under the knife.  Last night it was impossible to sleep; tonight will probably be the same.  So many thoughts keep galavanting through my mind, all crowding into one another like over-stimulated aristocracy at a  Regency-era cotillion (oh, thank goodness all this has not hindered my ability to make metaphors):

  • Will my three months of nearly constant headaches come to an end (or at least lessen) tomorrow?
  • How are my students going to do on their finals without me helping them prepare?
  • Did I teach them well enough?  Oh gosh, what if I didn't?
  • What if I can't bear the pain and have to switch to general anesthetic during the operation?  What if that means Dr. Ai can't do the adjustment correctly?
  • How am I going to get dressed the morning after, when both eyes are bandaged up?
  • How will I keep from going crazy having to sit out the last weeks of the school year in order to recuperate?  Could I maybe go in and just stay on the first floor . . . . no, too many stairs just getting there.
  • But what about the students who are leaving our school?  I want to see them one last time!
  • How much more help am I going to have to ask for?
  • I hate asking for help!  Argh, I don't want to keep burdening other people!
  • I know it's going to hurt, I know it's going to hurt . . . how much?
  • What if I accidentally move during surgery, right when she's cutting?
  • Thank goodness Jane is coming to help me make it home; she's so comforting.
  • Oh man, I am going to be blind at Beijing airport!!!  How the heck is Jane going to get me through there?
  • What if it doesn't work?
I know it's going to be fine; I know I will survive.  I really am focusing on the 75% chance of success — I'm no gambler, but I do know those are good odds.  I am still keeping my sense of humor, even when I've got worries tumbling around inside.

I thoroughly appreciate the fact that my flight out of Beijing Friday night is a red eye!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An Oasis in Beijing

I found a pleasant park nearby my hotel for escaping from Beijing crowds:

As I was taking in all this peaceful beauty, I enjoyed a few minutes of not seeing double before my eyes started acting up again.  I am fighting to be brave and to only focus on the positive possibilities, but for a few minutes I couldn't help but contemplate what will happen if the surgery is unsuccessful.  How long would I have left of being able to use two eyes?  How would my daily life work out?  I would try to stay in China, certainly, but how much longer before I just needed too much help or couldn't be at all useful?  It was terrifying to think about it.  I need my eyes so much . . . the thought of them failing me completely and forever is a nightmare that catches in my throat.

Fortunately, I'm usually able to keep my mind on the 75% chance that I'll soon be back to seeing only one park instead of two.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Eye Saga, Day Three Point Five: "I'm Not a Klutz After All — I Just Have Miserable Eyes!"

Today might be best summarized as a "whiplash day":

After the initial meeting with the specialist, the afore-mentioned Dr. Ai, she said that surgery would be necessary on both eyes, as expected, and that this could be done on Thursday.   She did some pre-surgery measurements and then patched over my left eye for some further tests she needed to do.  I had to wait for about an hour and then return to her.  So, I began to make plans to go ahead and return to Qingdao tonight, since I would not need to be back in Beijing until Thursday . . .

. . . And then we did the other tests.  I completely and spectacularly failed the binocular vision and the 3D tests!  This was something that had not been expected — I figured I wouldn't do great at those tests, but I never imagined my eyes were that bad.  Also, my binocular and 3D vision is steadily getting worse (thus the lousy depth-perception).  This means that a little more needs to be done during the surgery, making recovery a bit longer and the procedure more painful.  I was startled by the results, but also a bit relieved in some ways:  For so long now, I have felt like I must be stupid or inept to be so clumsy all the time, and I have been driven nearly mad trying to establish why I get so many headaches, migraines, and eye aches.  I am relieved to at least have answers about all of that.  It's truly amazing just how important your eyes really are!

Then Dr. Ai very gently dropped a bombshell:  There is about a 25% chance that the surgery won't work - it's really hard, apparently, to fully correct issues like this in an adult.  However, since there is still a decent chance of surgery fixing the problem, it's worth going through with.  Basically, if it doesn't work, I will keep worsening until my vision is permanently double — I would then have to start using only one eye for the rest of my life.  If I do nothing, it will definitely happen, so I have opted to take the 75% chance of saving my vision.  I know that it is possibly to have a very meaningful and rewarding life without vision or with terrible vision, but I am going to take every possible chance not to have to experience that firsthand.

So, I will remain in Beijing until Friday of next week.  On Tuesday, I will complete pre-surgery examinations and testing.  On Thursday, Lord willing, I will have the operation on both eyes.  Because I had a previous operation as a child on the easiest eye muscles, this time it will be on the two most difficult muscles of each eye, which is a little more complicated.  Furthermore, in order to have the greatest possible chance of success, I need to be awake for it, so I have agreed to do local anesthetic instead of general.  They need to be very certain with positioning my eyes and such.  Dr. Ai explained that this means I will feel a lot of pain during the surgery.  I will also need to stay in the hospital for one night.

The recovery will take a while — at least 2-3 weeks, and I will be quite uncomfortable during that time.   Also, during that time, I cannot use computers or read — that part is going to be really tough.  I need to be resting my eyes as much as possible.  I cannot wear contacts again until my retinas are fully healed, which will be about 4-5 months after surgery.  I will be more sensitive to light for a while and I have to be careful about the possibility of infection.  I will likely have red "rabbit eyes" for about 4 months as well!  That should come in handy for scaring my new students next school year . . . (^_^)

Obviously I am a bit scared about the surgery, especially since I know it will be very painful.  I am trying not to think about the possibility of it not succeeding, since that is not helpful.  I do have the comfort of a very good doctor — I took an immediate liking to Dr. Ai.  She is very intelligent, kind, compassionate, and just has a great way of being both reassuring and factual.  Also, the hospital where I am having the procedure done is, quite honestly, the nicest hospital I have ever in my life seen.  So, on the whole, I am in a reasonably okay state mentally/emotionally.  I am just going to take this whole business one day at a time and stay focused on the positives.

As the Andrews Sisters memorably sang, "You've gotta ac-cent-u-ate the positive, e-lim-i-nate the negative, latch on to the a-firm-a-rive, don't mess with Mr. In-Between."

The Eye Saga, Days Two and Three: Frankly, Boredom Is a Nice Change

Despite not leaving a forwarding address, my birthday still had no trouble locating me here in Beijing.  Yup, today starts my last year of my twenties . . . I'm not sure how I feel about that, to be honest.  Part of me feels like I'm already 40, but then there's also a part of me that is frolicsome and young and bears absolutely no resemblance to the slightly frumpy ole gal I'm starting to get glimpses of in the mirror each morning.

I was, admittedly, initially rather sad about the prospect of spending my birthday alone in Beijing with an impending surgery dangling its black crepe over the day.  I live in an environment where it is pretty easy to feel or be forgotten, so that mixed with the general migraine-created gloom that had descended over my life for the past few months.  I quite frankly was all set to skip this birthday entirely because it just didn't feel like a day worth remembering after the past few months that I've had.  But, thankfully, my natural self is starting to return little by little (especially now with a cure in sight . . . pun unintentional), and I actually feel pretty good today.  I'm not entirely alone, either.  I was awakened by a text message from one of my two dearest friends here wishing me a happy birthday, and by the time I had blearily texted back a reply, my other dearest friend texted me.  It was a nice way to wake up.  And then, at noon, I'll be joining my new friend Diana for lunch before we head off to my appointment with an eye specialist (whose name, appropriately, is pronounced Dr. "Eye" — although it's actually spelled Dr. Ai).

Yesterday's appointment went well.  I saw a Dr. Xi who was friendly and quite competent  — I liked her immediately and felt like she took my problems seriously.  She agreed with the previous diagnoses, but wanted me to see the strabismus specialist before actually having the surgery (I like the whole "measure twice, cut once" philosophy when applied to my eyes or other body parts).  I do not have glaucoma, which is a HUGE relief.  I do have something a little off about my left retina, but it's nothing worrisome.

After the appointment, I spent some time with my friend Kathryn, who had come to Beijing to join me for a day, and then from 1:00 on, I was on my own.  I elected to stay in the hotel room and do absolutely nothing, since my eyes were really bothering me (particularly after some of the eye tests I had to do).  One Beijing is bustling enough  — when you see the whole thing in double, it's beyond overwhelming.  It wound up being a very dull evening, but I honestly appreciated having a boring night.  I dealt with necessary correspondence, listened-rather-than-watched to some television programs, and decided that impending surgery justified eating some of the birthday cake Oreos that my roommate bought for me before I left Qingdao.

After the meeting with the specialist in just a few hours, I should finally have a surgery date and know exactly what is about to be done to me.  And then I'll have another pleasantly boring evening, I hope.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Eye Saga, Day One: "A Hospital by Any Other Name . . ."

As people may or may not know, over the past 2-3 months I have had a troubling increase in my migraines (actually, there has been a general increase ever since the May 2011 car accident, but the past few months have been surging out of control).  It reached the point where I truly felt like I was a poor, battered little rowboat adrift in an endless typhoon of migraines.  I eventually concluded that I must have a brain tumor and perhaps only weeks to live (migraines tend to stifle logic).  So, I reluctantly trudged to the local international clinic at the hospital, where I was subjected to more tests than my body has seen in years: MRI, blood work, you name it.  All came back normal or at least un-worrisome.  Finally, in desperation, I thought about having my eyes checked.

Previously, I had always assumed that such issues as double-vision, severe eye pain, and other vision problems were merely symptoms related to the migraines — it had not occurred to me that these might, in fact,  be the triggers.  Since the conditions with my eyes were getting worse even in the rare moments when I did not have a headache or migraine, it seemed that an examination was in order.  As the initial eye visit and a visit to the local eye hospital concluded, this was in fact the case.  Furthermore, both doctors said that surgery was necessary, along with further testing.  They were positive that I had strabismus (a condition that causes double-vision), but also concerned that I may additionally have glaucoma.

And so, "hi-ho, hi-ho, to Beijing I must go . . . "  I took time off from school and scheduled an appointment at an excellent hospital up in Beijing.  I booked a hotel.  I booked a flight.  With my magnetic attraction for trouble and disaster, what followed was perhaps quite inevitable:

The Trouble with Visually-Impaired People Booking Flights
The night before I left — around 11:00 pm to be precise — I wisely remembered to double-check my plane ticket to determine the exact time that I would need to leave home.  As I soon learned, it is perhaps not the wisest course of action for a person struggling with vision issues to book her own flights.  Yep, the flight that I thought left at 9:30 am was actually a 9:30 pm flight!  Panic!  Forehead smacking!  Lamentations!  I rushed online to change the ticket and learned another important lesson:  Orbitz sucks.  Sure, they may have great prices and convenience when initially booking, but the minute you try to change a flight . . . grief.  It could not be done online, the phone number that Orbitz provided for overseas customers did not work, and finally my only recourse was to call my father in America over a deplorable Skype connection and beg him to call Orbitz on my behalf.  I emailed him all of the details and finally, at just past midnight, the flight had successfully been changed.  Whew!

On the plane to Beijing, I enjoyed perusing two complimentary newspapers.  After fully digesting all of the highly amusing heavily-biased articles (I do love Chinese newspapers), for lack of anything further to read, I happened upon the page where horoscopes are listed.  Now, of course, I never read or regard such idiocy . . . but maybe I should have just this once.  Mine read, "When things start to get tense today, don't lose your head.  Make sure that you're keeping a cool mind.  Patiently arrange everything and handle those tasks one by one.  You are going to make it!"  (I recall thinking at the time, "Sheesh, good thing I don't believe in omens!")

I got in and found my hotel with a delightful lack of trouble.  I relaxed briefly, then asked the hotel concierge, in Chinese, which bus to take to the hospital from the hotel.  She cheerfully informed me that it was actually within short walking distance and gave me directions.  I was perhaps a bit too prideful at completely understanding the entire conversation . . .

A City Tour of Beijing's Hospital Industry
Indeed, a short walk away and exactly as directed, there was a hospital . . . but it looked too small and the name wasn't quite right.  Since my Chinese friends have graciously overloaded me with phone numbers of complete strangers to ring in case of trouble, I texted one lady whom I had at least met once before to ask what the characters were for the hospital I was supposed to go to.  She texted back, "协和医院".  Nope, that definitely did not match the name on the sign.  So, I walked a bit further, found nothing, and decided to ask for further directions.  I was still about an hour early since I had not wanted to run the risk of being late.  The nurses at the front desk of the wrong hospital were quite friendly and immediately told me that I needed to take a taxi.  Although catching a taxi in Beijing is much like snipe-hunting at times, I actually got one rather quickly.  He understood my accent and cheerfully headed off to the hospital with me.

It was a long drive.  Too long.  People had told me to book that particular hotel because of its convenient proximity to the hospital.  Now, granted, convenience is often largely in the eye of the beholder . . . but I cannot think of any definition in which a 40-minute drive across gridlocked Beijing is considered "so convenient!".  I began to worry that perhaps the driver thought that I was out sightseeing and had requested transportation to the Summer Palace or some such location.  Was my accent that bad?  Quite possibly, I told myself.  To test this theory, I oh-so-casually struck up a conversation with the driver about the quality of hospitals in Beijing.  Was this a good one?  Oh yes, quite famous, he reassured me.  Ah, good.  So we were headed for the hospital after all . . . but still a nagging doubt persisted.  Convenient distance?  Really?  Something was off . . .

We got to a ginormous conglomeration of buildings with the correct characters (协和医院) on the front of one of them.  It was a bustling, crowded, not-terribly-clean place with an overlying aura of hopelessness and a lot of people in lab-coats rushing about.  There did not seem to be any way to enter the buildings, as every single likely door was labeled “出口" (exit).  I glanced at my phone — only 20 minutes until the appointment, and they had asked me to arrive 30 minutes early to handle registration paperwork.  I quickened my step and beseeched the first non-harried-looking lab-coat wearer, in my best slightly-stressed Chinese, to please tell me where I could locate the eye clinic.  He pointed abstractedly to the left and muttered something unintelligible.  I sprinted in that direction, located another exit, and hailed another lab-coat wearer.  This lady smiled encouragingly, pointed back to the direction from which I had come, and told me to go to the third floor.  I was still outdoors at this point, so the mention of a third floor was not as helpful as the mention of where an entrance existed would have been.  The next four wearers of white lab-coats directed me to four additional directions.  It seemed that this was a hospital from which patients leave, in droves, but seldom actually enter.  Was it like the Ministry of Magic with a phone booth or toilet entrance?  I noticed, with no small amount of concern, that I was now exactly on time for my 2:30 appointment.

Fighting back some inopportune tears of frustration and also fighting to convince my eyes to see only one hospital instead of two, I battled my way through a crowd of people who seemed equally baffled by this entrance-less fortress.  My eyes alighted on a sign that bore glorious English words.  Once I managed to focus my eyes better, I saw that the sign said "International Clinic" with an arrow pointing towards a direction that none of the lab-coat wearers had sent me toward.  I raced into a quite forlorn entryway (Huzzah!  An entrance!  Who cares if it isn't a pretty one!), found a bored security guard, and begged him to direct me to the eye clinic that, frankly, I had begun to doubt the existence of.  Furthermore, I was growing increasingly uneasy that this might not be the correct hospital, despite the characters on my cellphone matching those on the front of the (I assume) main building.  The guard directed me to the third floor . . . oh, so the first lab-coat wearer was partially correct — just a bit geographically challenged.  I was now definitely late for my appointment, so I charged up the stairs with all the vigor of Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill.

Ah ha!  I spied other people with non-Chinese faces.  Foreigners!  Yes, this was indeed an international clinic . . . crowded, old, quite dank, but unmistakably a place where a foreigner might seek aid.  I wasn't so sure that I wanted my eyes being operated on in this place, but it seemed preferable to limitless migraines.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  After all, appearances can be deceiving.  Some of the best-tasting Chinese food bears a troublesome resemblance to a bowel movement, after all.  I could be brave and seek treatment here.  I took a deep breath and sought out the nearest nurse.  She didn't seem terribly fond of humans, but she did direct me to a different dank hallway when I asked about the eye clinic . . . sadly, there was no eye clinic down that hallway.  I did find a urology room, but felt it wouldn't quite suffice as a substitute.  Timidly I returned to Nurse Frightengale, who sternly directed me back down that same hallway.

I found a nurses' station and asked another nurse about the eye clinic.  By this time, the eye clinic was beginning to resemble Xanadu in my mind — a mythical and lovely land that cannot be found.  I was, by now, about 15 minutes late.  This nurse smiled and reassured tearful me that this was the right place . . . but she had never heard of the doctor I was supposed to be seeing.  "Isn't this 协和医院?!" I semi-shrieked.  The nurse nodded.  Something was very, very wrong.

I called the hospital (the one I had made the appointment with) and asked them, as, in retrospect, I should have from the beginning, what the name was in Chinese.  "和睦家," the very friendly and perky operator helpfully informed me.  "和睦家?!?!?  I'm at 协和医院!"  I gasped.  "Oh, that is very far away," the operator sympathetically clucked.  "You definitely will not be able to see the doctor today."

The Comfort of a Semi-Stranger
I walked about, blinded by tears, as I struggled to track down a taxi.  A bus nearly ran me down, followed by a car and then a motorcycle.  I felt very alone and utterly despondent.  I would never make it to the hospital.  I would not be able to get the surgery in a timely fashion.  I may have weeks of waiting ahead of me . . .  3:30, and I was still semi-blindly struggling along, hopelessly lost and taxi-less.  And then, my friend's friend texted me.  I texted back a terse reply about seeking out a taxi after going to the wrong hospital and she immediately called me.  After a confusing interlude of walking and scanning crowds for a Chinese face that I had only seen once before (and briefly at that), we amazingly were able to find one another.  I felt a bit like Stanley located Dr. Livingstone at last, minus the cannibals.

Diana (her English name) was deeply apologetic over the mix-up and immediately made me a fresh appointment for the next morning.  She sat me down in a KFC and held my hand while I poured out, in a mixture of English and Chinese, the tale of my tragic day.  She led me by the arm back out to the street where she located an elusive Beijing taxi.  She then located the correct hospital (just down the street in the opposite direction from the first one that I had walked to . . . about ten minutes' walk from my hotel).  Diana saw me safely to the door of my hotel and then left, with a promise to accompany me the following morning.

I love my new friend Diana.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Three Lessons Learned from a Month of Migraines

Wisdom can be gleaned from any experience; some grant it less painfully than others.  Over the past month, my overabundance of migraines have been among the less pleasant teachers of my life, but they have certainly taught me three important lessons:
  • "Stephanie, you have limitations."  I lived a very worthless life until I became a Christian and realized that the world did not revolve around me.  I brought unhappiness into the world, and I wasted chances, time, and God-given talents.  Now I cannot bear to live like that.  I worry constantly about not doing enough, about squandering chances to do good, about letting time slip away with nothing to show for it.  So, I compensate by trying to do too much.  The migraines have certainly showed me just how much can realistically be poured into one day or one person.
  • "Stephanie, you can't always be an island."  Being an introvert and being single means that I get stuck in this mode of always feeling like I have to take care of myself.  When I'm brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes it's pride that holds me back from asking for help.  Other times, I think it's fear -- fear of being judged as weak somehow, or fear that people will refuse.  As a Christian, I sometimes get stuck in this mode of leaning on myself instead of God and instead of other believers.  Migraines remind me that I can't depend on myself alone.  I need God's strength and help, and yes, I need other people, too.
  • "Stephanie, you need compassion."  When I'm at my best, zooming along, perhaps I don't always have as much compassion as I should for those who are weaker or struggling.  I like to think that I do, but the truth is that sometimes I get impatient with others.  Migraines remind me to stop and think about the many struggles that weigh down many, many other people.  They remind me, too, to stop taking for granted things like abilities.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It Works by Scaring the Migraine away . . .

I spent most of the weekend with a migraine, just taking a bit of time out for a Sunday school lesson that did not go so well as planned (when you plan for nine kids aged 6-10 and instead get about twenty kids, aged 4-10 . . . things fall apart).  I suspected that the origin stemmed from my neck, which still has not recovered from that car accident two years ago.  Unpleasantly, my migraine enjoyed its comfortable life in my head so much that he even stuck around for Monday.  So, after school, my friend Maggie insisted upon taking me for some good ole Torture Treatment (my special name for Chinese medicine).

It works . . . but oh, does it hurt.

I've done this type of treatment many times before and although I hate it while it's happening, it actually does improve things.  For example, when I had a very serious flu (might have actually been pneumonia) last October, I simply could not get better.  I had all kinds of Western medicine to deal with symptoms, but none of it was even touching the real problems.  When I finally did three days in a row of even-more-intensive-than-last-night Chinese medicine, I radically improved.  In three days time, I went from feverish and miserable to all the way better.

When I went last night, the lady who treated me was able to tell exactly what was wrong with me from just touching certain places on my back.  She knew all sorts of details like exactly where the migraine was, where my blood was not circulating well, etc.  She said that my neck was badly jammed and spent a long time working on it.  According to Chinese medicine, the darker the purple left by the cupping, the more serious your problem is.  If your body is doing well, the cupping actually only leaves light red marks (I have in fact seen and experienced this).  As you can see in the picture above, my neck turned VERY dark purple, in exactly the areas that were hurting the most over the past few weeks.

Today, I am quite colorful:  covered in dark purple marks from last night's cupping therapy, some areas are red from scraping treatment, plus I am also nicely be-spotted with bruises from the heavy massage treatment.  There is a bit of swelling, too.  It did actually end my three-day migraine.  Of course, I am quite sore everywhere else today!  I feel a bit like some hamburger meat that got beat up by a gang of bullies.

My left arm is a work of art:

I have my own theory about how and why Chinese medicine works, though I am at a loss as to how to prove it scientifically:  I believe that the pain or illness, upon personally witnessing exactly what you are willing to go through to rid your body of it, becomes horribly frightened and flees the scene.  Judging by the amount of pain I went through last night, my former migraine currently is probably huddled in a fetal position somewhere in the middle of Canada, whimpering as it self-consoles to recuperate from its abject terror.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

No Longer Seeking Mr. Right

The 'M' word seems to come up more and more these days.  "So, are you married?"  "Why aren't you married yet?"  "Don't you want to be married?"  "Oh, don't give up — I am sure that many men would be interested in you.  You should be married!"  "But you're such a nice girl — aren't you ever going to get married?"  "Don't shortchange yourself; you would make a wonderful wife."

The thing is, I have given up on the idea.  And there just is no way to admit that in a conversation without people jumping to all sorts of assumptions and offering all sorts of unsought advice.  The biggest objections seem to be:

  1. You're too young (I'm almost 29, so yes, I admit I am still young).
  2. How can you just give up??  Don't you trust God at all?
  3. Aren't you putting yourself in the place of God making this decision?
  4. Oh, you poor thing.  You must really have been hurt.  But don't let a few hurts make you give up on marriage!
  5. You must be bitter.
  6. You can't possibly know the future.
  7. You know, I used to feel the same way and then one day I met my husband . . . 
  8. Have you prayed about this?
  9. God wants you to be married.  He has someone out there for everyone.
  10. Maybe you just have standards that are too high.  (I like to joke that my standards are "Christian, male, and breathing" — if that's too high, there is no hope for the human species.)
People mean well.  The ones bringing up the subject of marriage are, almost always, loving and dear people who wish to see me happy.  They want the best for me, I'm sure.

I spent my entire teen years and the first eight years of my adult life praying for God to send the right man.  When you add it all together, I'd say I spent at least thirteen years of my life praying for someone who never showed up.  I joined dating sites.  When you add those endeavors together, I'd say it adds up to about $500 total (multiple attempts throughout multiple years).  It all seemed worth it if I found the right partner for my life — because where marriage is concerned, no sacrifice is too great, right?  What is money in the face of love and a future?  But the money couldn't find "him" either.  I just wasn't the woman men were seeking.

And then one day, I said, "This has gotten ridiculous.  I am an intelligent, capable woman of God, and I have more important things to do with this priceless time that has been entrusted to me!"  I didn't stop because I doubted God — I do not doubt God at all.  I do, however, recognize three concrete, unchangeable facts:
  1. Sometimes God says no.
  2. If God wants something to happen, He is omnipotent enough to see that it comes to pass.
  3. An endeavor that wastes time, energy, and money without results is utterly foolish.  At some point, it is no longer faith; it's waste.
I awoke one day to the realization that it just wasn't worth it.  If you added together the insecurity and the hurt from feeling unwanted and rejected by every man who sent a message and then faded into the electronic void before meeting me or every man who never returned my hopeful smile . . . well, I could certainly do without the weight of it, and what idiot would pay good money for that sort of baggage?  If you added up all those prayers for the non-arriving man, it would total so many hours that it would, in fact, make up entire days out of my life spent in pursuit of this one object.  If you added up the daydreams and the hopes and the plans and the furtive glances at men who just might be "the one" and the six months spent dating the "the one who wasn't The One" because I thought I couldn't do better — I'm sure all that could fill a year or more of my lifetime.  

What might I have instead accomplished with all that time, energy, and money?  What could I have learned?  Most importantly, what could I have contributed?  Instead of praying for someone who likely doesn't even exist, why not instead pray for those who do exist, those people I see and hear of day after day with needs that I am insufficient to meet — needs which God is fully sufficient to meet?  Couldn't the money instead have been given to someone who needed it, rather than a website full of snazzy photos of smiling couples with flawless teeth and skin (and, of course, a kindly looking fatherly figure reassuring you that true love was only a click away)?  What acts of kindness went undone because I was too busy in a fruitless quest? 

I may be lousy at math, but I can still see in every place I have lived, the trend within churches and within Christianity itself is increasingly that women outnumber men, particularly among singles.  The odds are just not in the average single Christian woman's favor.  Among single Christian women with higher education, it becomes even more difficult.  And when you throw an overseas calling into the mix, it just no longer makes any sense to waste resources on such an endeavor.  The fact is, there is simply no way for every single Christian woman to have a partner — unless we start sharing.  So, the simple and unavoidable fact is, that unless God is so weak that man has thwarted His will for our lives, there is absolutely no way that it can be God's will for every Christian to marry.  That means that for some people, the answer has to be no.  And if the answer for me turns out to be no, I cannot live with the guilt of reaching the end of my life and realizing that I wasted that much in a quest for something that God never planned for me.  

I am not saying that I do not believe in marriage, or even that I would oppose marriage.  Truth be told, if I could be married, I would be.  But, no one ever came along.  And I couldn't risk throwing away my life on what might be when I can instead spend it on what is.  I was bought with a price beyond value by Christ.  I cannot squander that.  And so, I made a decision that was not flippant, bitter, selfish, or anything else of that ilk.  It was a mature acceptance of the fact that I have to place God above my dreams — and that means giving some of them up, and moving on.  Making the decision hurt a little, though far less than the rejections had; carrying it out was painless and surprisingly peaceful.

I don't pray to find a husband anymore — I pray for people with needs or I pray to be more effective, or sometimes I just praise God.  I don't search for a husband.  I never knew how to flirt or had the nerve to try, so in that area there was nothing to give up.  I'm not bitter; I don't blame God or men; and I don't fault other women who are still searching (hey, maybe I made the odds a little better for you!).  Accepting singleness while I'm still young means that I can do more now; I can live my life making and carrying plans (and accepting that God often changes them).  I don't have to stop and say, "But wait, how will I ever find a husband if I do that?" or "Maybe I should wait until I'm married to go there or do that." I'm not filling my life with substitutes while waiting for the 'real thing'  — this is the 'real thing'.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Candle on the Window

Today, I worked hard to create a lovely space in my bedroom for lying on the floor (on my very soft rug), studying or perhaps enjoying a pleasant novel.  All that was needed for the perfect ambiance to add to my most recent Kindle acquisition was a nice lavender-scented candle, in its pretty glass holder.  I spent a very happy interlude with my book on the floor, then went off to the kitchen for a glass of water.  When I returned, less than two minutes later . . .

The candle somehow reached a temperature hot enough to send flames leaping from the glass holder.  Concerned for the safety of my bedroom, I tried to blow it out, but the flames happily lapped up my expelled breath and grew larger.  Thinking rapidly, I became aware of the glass of water in my hand.  Now, I am smart enough to know that pouring the whole thing on the fire would have likely ended badly, so I instead opted to slowly dribble a bit of water on the fire, hoping to shrink it down gradually and calmly.  What happened next was a massive sizzling, followed by some spitting and hissing (it sounded not unlike an angry stray cat), followed by an explosion of glass, wax, and fire.  My glasses and window were splattered by the wax and the glass had enough force to send some of it more than three feet away.  As I opened the window to release the billowing smoke afterwards, I observed a moment of silence for the ten years of my life that fled in panic during the explosion.  An hour later, my hands were still shaking!

Who knew that cheap candles could be so dangerous???

All that remains of my dearly departed candle.

Here's What I Was Eating:

Without further ado, here are the answers from my previous post about odd comments made during mealtimes:

  • "So, do I eat the whole foot in one bite, or am I supposed to eat it one toe at a time?" - This was during my first encounter with chicken feet, in a recipe where they are served hot.  I can report that although the texture made me a little squirmy, it was actually quite tasty.  Not much meat, though.  I will add, however, that I was NOT in favor of chicken feet when I had them served to me cold on another occasion.  
  • "I don't swallow the toenails, right?" - Also from the chicken feet incident.
  • "How on earth do I eat this animal??  He looks like he could fight me to the death before I can even get him in my mouth!" - This was my second time seeing but first time eating an odd little sea creature called a 'pipa xia'.  The best English translation I could find called it a 'slipper lobster'.  He was so delicious that I consumed many of his friends and relatives as well as him.
  • "So you suck the brains out?" - Also from the previous creature.
  • "Hmmm, I think this one was pregnant when she made it into the pot." - I was eating a shrimp whose egg sacs were still intact.  
  • "And you said this was what part of the cow?  . . . . . Oh." - Yes, your first thought was correct.  I did consume a bull's, er . . . yeah, THAT part of the bull.  Ew.
  • "Sorry, his body armor got caught on my lip." - Those pipa xia really fight back!
  • "Maggie, I'm pretty sure Diana was pulling your leg.  I really don't think you're supposed to serve them frozen." - My dear friend/adopted sister Maggie prepared shrimp . . . and served them frozen.
  • "Wow, judging by the leg, this one was the Marilyn Monroe of the species!" - My friend Linda and I had decided upon rabbit legs for our lunch.  Quite possibly my new favorite meat!
  • "It's a very handy animal.  All that labor, and delicious, too!" -  I really love donkey meat.
  • "Wait, I'm not sure if I understood you correctly.  Sorry, my Chinese isn't always so good.  Did you say this was fish brains or some kind of vegetable?" - It was not, in fact fish brains (although I have eaten those, too).  It was a taro, and the Chinese name for it sounds almost the same as the Chinese for fish brains.
  • "You know, I really thought this part of the body would taste bumpier, but actually I really like it!" - First and definitely not the last time eating cow tongue.
  • "It's sort of like poetic justice eating him, considering what his relatives have done to me in the past." - My salad included some jellyfish in it.
  • "You're sure you're not pulling my leg?  Civilized people actually eat that and enjoy it?  It's not just a fun trick to play on a foreigner?  You're going to eat it, too?" - This was when my friend invited me out for fish brains . . . and yes, I really did eat them.  Odd, but not awful.
  • "Once you get used to the sliminess, it's really delicious." - This was a special type of fungus that I had never tried before.
  • "I'm pretty sure that corpses smell better than this.  How did anyone ever get the initial desire to find out if it was edible?" - Durian smells absolutely dreadful, but is quite delicious . . . if cooked.  It's horrendously disgusting if not cooked.
  • "Yeah, the tentacles really add something to the texture of the dish." - Just your average dish of octopus noodle soup.
  • "Do you realize, I have never once eaten ___ cooked?  I've only ever had it raw!" - Salmon!  Someday I'll find out if I like it cooked as much as I like it raw.
  • "Well now I've got a tail stuck in my tooth . . . " - There are hazards to eating very small shrimp.
  • "So the poison has a lot of health benefits?" - Ah, scorpions.  Yummy!
  • "I just wish he wouldn't look at me with quite so much pleading in his eyes as I'm getting ready to start tearing into him with my chopsticks." - This was from the time when I ate fish brains.
  • "The fungus just adds so much flavor to the dish." - Black fungus and eggs, one of my new favorite dishes.
  • "This smells like dead feet, but it sure tastes good!" - My first time eating aptly named 'stinky tofu'.
  • "Oh, you're right — the texture is a lot like mashed brains!" - One of my favorite tofu soups translates into English as 'tofu brains' . . . although there are no actual brains in the soup.
The long, long list of other foods I've eaten, either in China so far or in Korea includes such delicacies as:  Fried silkworm larva, a grasshopper, a cricket (both adult and pupa), sea worm (I thought it was a weird type of noodle), sea snail (I thought it was beef), raw beef, "thousand year old egg," and sea cucumber (the most revolting thing I have ever put in my mouth -- although the fried silkworm larva is a definite contender for that honor).  Sometimes I eat things just to be polite, other times out of a sense of adventure, and still other times because I have no idea what it is.  Life overseas is definitely an experience that broadens your horizons!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Twenty for the Twenties

I realized today, courtesy of a wretched friend with far too good of a memory, that I have a birthday coming up in two months.  And it's the last birthday of my twenties.

I need a pause so that I may suck in my breath dramatically.

Thank you.  I think that helped a little.

Yes, I know that 29 is not old, that I have plenty more years ahead of me (well, probably — I mean, I've cheated death so many times now that I'm starting to think that I might be part cockroach), and that birthdays are not the enemy.  But, I still am having a hard time realizing that the twenties are almost over.  I mean, where did the time go?  And how did it go so quickly?

I used to make lists of things to do each year, and I got out of the practice after completely failing at the list I made before turning 26.  This year, however, in honor of 29 being the last year of my twenties, I have made a list of twenty things to do before my twenties are over (sort of a 'bucket list'):

  1. Go to Ireland.  See the original Book of Kells, Skellig Michael, Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College, and about a dozen other sites.
  2. Go to 桂林 (Guilin), one of the most beautiful places in China.
  3. Go to 云南 (Yunnan) province.
  4. Pass the HSK 4.
  5. Pass the HSK 5.
  6. Learn to crochet.
  7. Get a dog.
  8. Finish editing and publishing Sidhe Eyes.
  9. Write my second novel.
  10. Start my second master's degree (an M.Ed. this time).
  11. Write a textbook.
  12. Read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in Chinese.
  13. Figure out Evernote.  
  14. Try a hobby that I've never tried before.
  15. Eat a fruit that I've never seen before.
  16. Lose the weight that I gained in grad school.
  17. Decorate my next apartment.  (I have avoided this in the past two apartments.)
  18. Make my own cookbook of recipes that can 'easily' be made in China.
  19. Start keeping a journal again.
  20. Have a qípáo made.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"