Monday, August 29, 2011

It's the Small Things in Life . . .

Sometimes, it surprises me to discover little things that are missing here in China that REALLY make life immeasurably better.  Dental floss is one such thing.  Oh, I'm sure it must be around here SOMEWHERE, but it is currently doing a splendid job at hiding.

On Sunday, following a night spent with a massive migraine and no meds for it (ran out last week and haven't had time to get to the international clinic), I decided to force myself to move forward in my transition between cultures.  For the past month, I've been sort of stuck in one phase.  I eat out and I eat when friends cook, but the only cooking I myself have done has been ramen or oatmeal, with the single exception of the night I made special dip for friends (which met with the most enthusiastic reception that delicious dish has ever received).  For some reason, I have felt afraid to cook -- I guess I'm just too bewildered still by all the differences and such.  On Friday, the day after payday, I forced myself to buy some raw meat.  On Sunday, I forced myself to cook it.  It was delicious and . . . bits of it and that night's popcorn got stuck uncomfortably between my teeth.

Have you ever desperately wanted one little thing and been completely without it?  You know, like in church when there's a really long-winded speaker and you have a sinus infection but no kleenexes?  Now imagine knowing that those wished-for kleenexes are thousands of miles away.  I was absolutely miserably, all for want of a little piece of dental floss.  Ridiculous, isn't it?!

I tried several alternatives.  I brushed my teeth, which didn't help.  I tried to force the toothbrush bristles between my teeth, which only marginally improved the situation.  I don't have a sewing kit, so thread was not an option.  I tried bending a paperclip and using that . . . and successfully got it stuck between two back teeth.  That would likely have lessened my authority in the classroom, but after a desperate struggle, I managed to wiggle it out.  That experiment should never be repeated.  I next tried using the bit of thin plastic from a price tag on my new bag, but it was too wide to fit between me teeth, and after the paperclip incident, I was unwilling to try too hard.  It looked like the bits of meat, the popcorn hulls, and I were just going to have to grow old with one another.

Tonight, after dinner at Canvas, a wonderful little slice of Americana here in China, Beth and I stopped by our local Carrefour (a huge store) to pick up a few things.  We needed a rice cooker for our new ayi to use and I needed playing cards, spoons, and stickers for the high school girls' fall camp later this week (I'll explain about that in another post).  While at Carrefour, I was overjoyed to discover packages of little tooth flossers (those plastic toothpick and dental floss hybrids that one occasionally gets from the dentist).  Few moments of life have held as much rapture as the moment when I got home, opened the package, and finally flossed that gunk out of my teeth.  As I remarked to Beth immediately after releasing a very happy sigh, "It's the small things in life."

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"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"