The only thing worse than to be left in the middle of China by your husband is to be left by your husband in midlife.
My name Ginger MacDonald or 麦静洁 which translates into Pure and Peaceful Hamburger Bun when you put it into Mandarin Translators. I know this because I lived in Southwest China for four years, the only place on earth it’s fashionable to wear a rice hat with a Gucci jacket and drive cars on sidewalks.
That’s where I was this spring, the day before my fifteenth wedding anniversary, when my husband announced he wanted to leave.
Not China, but me.
To make matters worse, our anniversary fell on Good Friday. Really, God?
But unlike you, I couldn’t go into Walgreens and numb my pain with large quantities of marshmallow peeps and jelly beans from the candy aisle. Nor could I get lost in the crowd because I was what caused a crowd. A crying big nosed white woman in the middle of Yunnan, China is as rare as uh… a crying big nosed white woman in the middle of Yunnan, China.
So I called my friend Kim, a saint with the three qualities needed to survive living in China for fifteen years: faith, a sense of humor and an endless supply of hand sanitizer. I asked her to join me at a new coffee shop that boasted of an Asian brew known as Copi Luwak. This fancy schmancy variety is affectionately known as butt bean coffee since it’s made from coffee beans secreted from an Asian civet cat’s exterior. That’s right. The feline foodie creature swallows Arabic coffee berries and some brave soul decided to brew them. Whatever you call it, Copi Luwak or butt bean coffee seemed like the perfect way to drown my sorrows on that anything but Good Friday.
That is, until we found out the price.
“Forty dollars a cup for the pooh brew?” Kim exclaimed. “We’ll take the local barley tea.” She stomped back to our table with two cups of a hot murky liquid that tasted like dirty Grape Nuts.
As I wiped away my tears, we talked about the irony of my anniversary falling on Good Friday. Maybe, just like Jesus, my marriage would miraculously come back to life after being dead for a bit. But then, we discussed the other not-so-popular Easter message. That being the story of Judas and forgiveness. Maybe I was being betrayed by an intimate friend and would have to forgive him. But either way, God wasn’t going to take the cup away from me.
“I’m hoping for option A,” I sniffled.
“But prepare yourself for B,” Kim advised.
I knew Kim was right but didn’t want to go there. This was supposed to happen to someone else, like a former coworker who said her vows to Captain Kirk at a Star Trek themed wedding, or my Chinese friends who dealt with infidelity and abuse. Or the hip barista wearing large black glasses with no lens. It definitely wasn’t supposed to happen to me, a Christian. After all, my faith promised marital bliss without ever having a striped Asian cat cross my path.
Or did it?
“Excuse me for a moment.” Kim twirled her scarf as she headed towards the coffee counter, flashing her smile at the barista. His large frames teetered on his nose while he listened to her rapid fire Mandarin. Whatever she said, it prompted the barista to get his manager. Before long, all three were nodding and looking in my direction. A few moments later, Kim returned with a big smile and a small surprise.
“Close your eyes.”She took my left hand and put something inside, then clenched it shut. “It’s all I could afford.”
I slowly opened my hand.
“What is it?”
It’s your very own a butt bean, pooped out by a constipated civet.” She paused to reapply some hand sanitizer, understandable after handling feline droppings.
My puffy eyes lit up as I examined her gift.
“Your anniversary is no different than this butt bean. A hard experience that can be worth nothing, or, be turned into something of value, something that will propel you to change.” She handed me a napkin to blow my nose. “It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with it.
I looked at the small bean and knew my friend was right “When life gives you butt beans, you can do nothing or make coffee and sell it for forty bucks a cup.”
“You got it girl,” Kim smiled. She fluffed her colorful scarf and stood up. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. Do you want to take a taxi or electric rickshaw?”
My girlfriend’s words of wisdom still brew in my mind.
This year, I experienced enough “butt beans” to make a whole pot of coffee. Along with separating from my husband, I experienced the grief of my mother dying and a favorite student getting killed. That was followed by a case of the shingles, marriage counseling in a foreign speaking country, then returning to the flip-side without a home, bed, income, or a key to the storage unit, moving into a faith based community with a seven foot marlin and eight pairs of socks.
And oh yes, that coveted bean.
I ended being a cook at a community for a year, a group of Jesus Happy Hippies who had never heard that cleanliness is next to godliness. But my story is no weirder than any of theirs. Each resident has their own pocket full of butt bean experiences that get them to press on.
So I started every day the same way: with a cup of no brand coffee, followed by chopping onions, an average of forty pounds each morning, without shedding a tear.
I guess I left them all in China, too.
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(originally posted in 2015)