My New Year’s Resolution

2014 New YearYou know, when I first came to China, everyday was a new journey for me. Things like going grocery shopping or getting to and from my school were adventures on their own. Every morning, I woke up with excitement of what the day would hold. What new challenges would I face? Who would I meet? What experiences would I share with my friends and family back home? I was so immersed in each moment of everyday that I forgot what it was like to live back in the States–a feeling that I maintain to this day.

As great as the excitement and adventure was, everything must come to an end. Every peak has its valleys and over time, the excitement has faded and the adventures have become routine. My daily Chinese lessons on Rosetta Stone have turned into biweekly lessons and my weekly blog posts have become almost monthly.

It seems to me that this is common with any new enterprise we undertake; whether it’s a new diet, exercise routine, or discipline. Eventually the excitement wears off; it’s no longer fun to tell our friends about the new changes we’ve made in our life. All that’s left is to persist each day, or not.

In the spirit of New Years, I’ve written this short post; not only to share some perspective with anyone open to receive it, but also for me to work on writing more often. I find that when I don’t express my thoughts through writing, my mood changes and I spend more time in my head and less time living in the moment. I don’t want to miss out on this incredible opportunity that I have out here and I really do enjoy sharing my experiences–even if it’s not quite as exciting as it was the first few months I was here.

I’ve decided to stay here in Hefei for a second year. My contract will expire at the beginning of March, when I’ll spend a month in the US. But once April hits, China round 2 will begin. So for my New Years resolution this year I’m going to recreate the excitement and adventure of living as an expat in China. Now that I’ve hit a valley in my journey, it’s time to charge back up the mountain path and see what lies ahead!

In my next post I will tell you all about Christmas here in China. And about my trip to Chengdu to visit my wonderful Chinese friend, Lin, who I actually met in the States! But until then, Happy New Year to each of you and cheers to 2014!

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The Next Chapter

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A beautiful clear day along Nanfei River

“Wake up! If you knew for certain you had a terminal illness–if you had little time left to live–you would waste precious little of it! Well, I’m telling you…you do have a terminal illness: It’s called birth. You don’t have more than a few years left. No one does! So be happy now, without reason–or you will never be at all.”

What a nice fishing area.

What a nice fishing area.

This quote is one of many similar quotes that have helped me in more ways than I can express. But I’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk about things here in Hefei, China.

Nearly 3 weeks have passed since my last post and once again, my experience has been peppered with new experiences and adventures. I’ve tested the limits of my new ebike batteries (about 45 miles), I’ve tried new foods, started martial arts training, made new friends, both Chinese and foreign, and thrived all the while. Rather than going into detail of everything like I usually do, I’ll have to do quite a bit of summarizing on this one.

About 2 weeks ago, I finally found the main community of foreigners here in Hefei. I got an invitation to go to the Hefei Expat Bar that’s run by Aussie Mike, who is somewhat of a legend among expats here. Upon arriving at the bar, I was greeted by several new foreigners from all over the globe and ended up meeting 20-30 of them that night. The theme for the party was Canada Day and we celebrated by drinking whiskey shots with maple syrup, which was pretty awful. After a few hours we all migrated to a different bar called Stone and Wood because it has air conditioning and no angry, bottle-throwing neighbors to upset.

This bar was much better and it’s where I met my new Chinese friends. They came by to tell me that their friend thinks I’m handsome, but she was too shy and ran out the door when they told me. Ahh Chinese women. Anyway, I drank with them for a while and they invited me to their art studio where they do oil paintings. I eagerly agreed since I used to paint quite a bit in America and I would love to give oil paint a try. After a long night of celebrating, I finally made it back to my apartment as the sun started to rise.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the next day, but I will say that I was more tired than I’ve been since I first arrived in China and that the summer heat here makes it much worse. Also mixing alcohol is never a good idea.

Let’s skip ahead to earlier this week. I spent Monday morning at a mixed martial arts gym with a Bulgarian guy that I met at Stone and Wood named Elizar. Ironically, he specializes in Chinese Kong Fu, but we mainly focused on boxing, sparring, and knife defense. It was the first self-defense lesson I’ve ever had and I’ll be going back there every Monday from now on.

On Monday night I went back to Knight Bar to climb again and made friends with several Chinese rock climbers so that was a nice experience. I climbed my heart out and at the time of writing this on Wednesday, I’m still sore all over from both experiences. But I really can’t complain; after all, that’s how we know we’re doing it right!

So I wrote about my friends’ art studio and I did go there last week, but I didn’t have enough time to do any painting. I went there again yesterday, but I brought my guitar this time and once again didn’t paint anything. I did have a hell of a time though. I rode my ebike all the way there, which was about a 30 min. ride, and tried new Chinese food. As it turns out, chicken feet, which are highly popular here, are exactly as good as I expected. Which is not at all.

One of Rui's paintings.

One of Rui’s paintings.

Another great painting. I'm not sure who made this one

A great painting. I’m not sure who made this one

I still can't believe how real this one looks. well done Wong Shan

I still can’t believe how real this one looks. well done Wong Shan

I was extremely impressed with the art that was scattered throughout the studio; ranging from beautiful landscapes to lifelike stills to dreamscapes. Most of the artists I met studied it in college and it really showed in their work.

The quote at the top of this post is from my favorite author, Dan Millman, and it has helped shape my life perspective. When I first read it, I thought of many similar quotes; “We only have one life to live.” or “Life’s short, live it to the fullest.” But like those clichés, I read this one only to think to myself “Good point, heard it before.” Later, after pondering it further, I realized the truth within the words. It reminded me of what nearly every child is told as they grow up, “You can do whatever you want in your life.”

While this is a great idea to spread and it gives us a warm feeling inside, I’ve found that it isn’t particularly effective unless it is followed by real-world application. For instance, it wasn’t until let go of the social constraints of what I’m “supposed to do” that I realized I really can do anything with my life. It wasn’t until I had a flight itinerary to Beijing that I truly believed that I could travel the world.

I’m trying to find the best way to articulate what I mean without writing a novel, so here it goes. In order for us to fully realize our freedom and potential in this world, we must test it. So take chances! Ray Bradbury had it right when he said, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.”

Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m putting myself on a pedestal, as that is not my goal. Also my balance isn’t that great. There are countless others who have done much more than I have in my life and I know very well that I’m still quite young and I have much to learn. But I don’t think we need to constantly compare ourselves to others. I prefer to see who I’ve been in the past and how far I’ve come. This helps give me a better perspective of who I am, as well as who I wish to become.

I apologize that my posts have become more and more infrequent, but as our center gains more members, I teach more classes and have less time to write. This is great though, because it shows me that I’m doing well as a teacher and it means we will need a second foreign teacher in the coming months. That said, I finally ordered a new computer and when it comes, I’ll focus on writing more often. On a side note, if you’d like to see more pictures from my recent adventures, you can see them here.

As usual, thanks for reading,

Cheers

What Will Happen Next?

Giving my podpoi a spin at Xiaoyaojin park.

Giving my podpoi a spin at Xiaoyaojin park.

It is said that through our greatest difficulties, we discover our true selves; we make the greatest strides in our characters during our most daunting challenges. Whether it’s illness, injury, loss of loved ones or material items, a new job or big promotion, a college career, or a new city or country. Such difficulties test our spirits while providing us with the opportunity to learn and grow.

It’s no secret that I’ve faced many challenges since I arrived here, but I cherish each one as they’ve pushed my boundaries of what I thought I was capable of doing. I feel a sense of bliss when I think about all of the changes I’ve made in my life.

I’ve written about change several times before and those of you who have read my posts know that I am a big proponent of having it in my life. I believe that my acceptance of and desire for change is a major part of why I’m here now. In an ironic way, change is the only constant in my life. And I’ve gotta say, some days I feel a little like Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Who are you?” Asked the Caterpillar.
“I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied, rather shyly. “I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

In the time since my last post, not only have I changed some more, but my circumstances have as well. I’ve faced difficulties, made new friends and learned a lot in the process. Let’s jump back to last week.

After some relaxing time during my days off Monday and Tuesday, I was invited to go out with our newest Chinese teacher, Elva, as well as her husband and former coworkers. So I hopped on my electric moped and parked it at a mall near the restaurant and met up with them. Among her friends was Carl, an Englishman who has been teaching here in Hefei for 4 1/2 years. We all had a good time together and it was refreshing meeting more people who speak English. Afterwards, Carl invited me over to his apartment to hang out so we headed back to my moped so I could drive us there.

Now, I knew that I had parked it in a safer part of town, but it was nearly midnight by now and the place was all but deserted. As I unlocked my bike and got ready to go, I discovered that my batteries had been stolen while we were in the restaurant. Now, I knew it would be fairly expensive to replace them, but surprisingly it didn’t really bother me and we just grabbed a taxi and pressed on. Since I no longer had to drive home, I ended up drinking quite a lot and was proud that I was able to catch a taxi and make it home with no more problems.

Since that night, I’ve gone to Carl’s apartment twice and met about 6 other foreigners, mostly from the U.K., but two Americans as well. Its great finally having some friends who are foreigners. I also have new batteries thanks to my Center, but they came with a 700 RMB price tag (Just under $120). These batteries last noticeably longer though.

One if the things I’ve learned since coming out here is that after arriving, most foreigners try to find other expats to befriend. This is great to help with the culture shock and homesickness, but it can seriously limit how much one experiences the culture. Since I had been out here for 4 months before making any foreign friends, I had the opportunity to jump in with both feet and I am very grateful for that. I’m more comfortable and independent being on my own here than I would be if I had built a bubble of friends right away.

Now, to make sure that doesn’t change as I spend more time with my friends, I’ve made a promise to myself to also spend more time with the locals. I’m telling you all this so I can remain accountable.

Playing guitar at Xiaoyaojin Park

Playing guitar at Xiaoyaojin Park

So far, I’ve done a pretty good job. Last week I went back to Xiaoyaojin park with my guitar, but this time I was joined by one of my fellow teachers, Winnie, who took pictures and translated. I brought my poi this time as well. We had a good time and made some new friends who joined us at the bar a few nights ago. I’m getting more and more comfortable pushing my boundaries.

Earlier tonight, I took my guitar and poi down to the courtyard in my apartment complex and made a few more Chinese friends. I even got invited to go on a road trip to hike up Huangshan (try googling Bridge of the Immortals), but unfortunately my schedule won’t allow it. Don’t worry, I will go there someday.

After the sky became dark, I put my guitar away and pulled out my poi. I always love people’s reactions when they see me spin my lights, I even had a Chinese girl tell me that I’m handsome and perfect, but I wonder if that’s all the English she knows. After I had been performing for about an hour, I had a 15 minute conversation with an elderly Chinese lady that consisted of her chatting it up and me repeatedly telling her that she’s talking too fast and I can’t understand her. After she left, I packed up and headed back home. I’m getting very comfortable with these little performances.

The more time I spend here and the deeper I immerse myself, the more at home I feel here. And while my future remains uncertain, you can be sure that I’ll keep my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.

Finding True Love

Photography-Love-Wallpapers-Backgrounds

As many of us are well aware, the world of media is flooded with attempts to manipulate our emotions, our thoughts, and our desires. Among the most widely exploited as well as most sensitive is the concept of love. While each of us searches for our “one and only” our senses are relentlessly stimulated by movies, images, and thoughts about our perfect match. She/he who recognizes our strengths as well as our flaws and accepts us completely. The one who holds a place in our heads and our hearts for years to come.

Many search their whole lives without finding someone to grow old with; while others find them during childhood. Is this fair? Does fairness really matter? Maybe, maybe not. After all, if the world had always been fair, the dinosaurs would still be here; instead of being unfairly decimated by a meteor and rising temperatures. It’s a lack of fairness that forced our distant ancestors to evolve over millions of years into who we are now.

But I digress. What I was talking love fingersabout is sexual attraction and love. Like everyone else, this is something that I have put much thought into. What will my future wife be like? How will her eyes capture mine? What will her personality be like? But when it comes down to it, we have no way of knowing what our special someone is like, especially if we are still getting to know ourselves. It feels good to think about “the perfect someone” but it is a tragedy to cling to that one image when it can cause us to miss out on someone with whom we could happily spend our lives. After all, what more could we ask for?

This has been something that I’ve struggled with throughout my life. When I consider having a relationship with a lady, I think about the possibility of it going somewhere and if I don’t see a strong potential, I back off. Yes this is a difficult and harsh way to look at it, but I trust my emotions and my instinct. They haven’t let me down yet.

Luckily for me, I have several role models who I can look to for guidance. Each of my five older brothers are either married or in serious relationships with wonderful women. While each of my new sisters are different, they all are incredible individuals who I’m happy to call family. The variety in their personalities makes me curious and excited about what kind of lady I will ultimately introduce to my family.

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Ever since I told my friends and family that I got a job in China, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I will bring home a Chinese wife. Additionally, I’ve been asked numerous times since I got here whether or not I will marry a Chinese girl or an American girl. One thing that I’ve learned is that I can’t choose like that. It’s simply not how life works.

What I can say is that I know there is a lady out there who I will be honored to share my life with. But until that time comes, I will work towards making myself the man she would like to spend her life with. I will better myself with each passing day. Many of us are searching for a lifelong partner, but many forget that we need to be great for them as well. This is a disconnect that I feel troubles many.

I don’t necessarily mean we should carve ourselves into the “perfect” person; especially  when we have no way of knowing what perfection really is. But I am a big fan of remaining flexible. We can see by observing nature and history that flexibility outlasts rigidity. The same can be true in our everyday lives, including our love lives.hearts-0

But how is any of this helpful or practical wisdom? To me, the inherent wisdom comes from acknowledging that out of the billions of people on this planet, there is more than one lady with whom I would be happy to spend my life. Plus, realistically speaking, finding “the one” out of billions is outlandish.

So what I will do is focus on getting to know myself. At the same time, I’ll remain open to experiences and relationships as they reveal themselves. Maybe I’ll get a Chinese girlfriend. But if I do, it won’t be just so I can say that I had a Chinese girlfriend, it will be because I meet a smart, charming girl who I like to spend time with. That said, I would love to find a girl like that while I’m out here.