It was like cleaning out a junk drawer before a move. It was the last few boxes of our storage unit containing the remains of our marriage. But instead of rubber band balls and expired coupons, it contained fragments of my life that I could not part with or bring with me to China. Diaries. My grandmother’s China. My purple Doc Martins.
And there it was, underneath the other half of my bike lock.
The black leather cover of our wedding Bible.
I froze. Just what do I do with it?
I picked it up and leafed through the onion skin thin pages, surprised at the memories that jumped out. A picture of a friend, a letter from my mom. A program from a funeral for a baby, his little foot prints on front.
I flip through the pages again finding more surprises. A door tag from a hotel in Bangkok. A frayed tag from my dad’s navy days. I put the Bible down on a stack of boxes I was ready to haul to the dumpster.
I look at the date embossed in gold on the cover. 1999. My marriage was a thing of the past like floppy discs,Y2K emergency bunkers and Wow potato chips.
I had an Olestra moment. It was time to get going.
But throwing out a Bible? It would be bad luck like walking under a ladder or drinking tap water in China.
I hummed and hawed. Do I donate it to a shelter or give it to someone who needs it more than me? I thought of a favorite Bible that I gave it to a down-and-out friend who was trying to kick her habit. The gold trim was worn off. Verses were highlighted like rainbows. She ended up using my Bible as a place to write the phone numbers of her drug dealers.
Don’t want to do that again.
I brought the Bible back to China as part of my hundred pounds of checked-in life, along with my chunk of cheddar cheese and Pepperidge Farm goldfish in a box that the TSA would slice apart.
I felt like a jet set bag lady schlepping my life in a luggage cart.
Thirteen time zones later, I arrive at my new apartment and make a hundred pound mountain of me in the center of the floor.
I pick up the Bible and leaf thru the pages again. I find something I never did before, a fan folded letter from my husband scribbled on a piece of legal paper. It was tucked in the Old Testament prophets.
Dear Dad, I’ve been kind of a jerk to Ginger…
A few tears come out when I realize when it was written— closer to the date on the cover than the date flashing on my phone.
I returned the note to Nehemiah where I will never find it again.
I go back to the mound of my life spreading on the floor of my apartment. I dig out from a tangle of socks a package of Sharpies that a friend bought for me.
“I thought you might need these in China,” she said.
You’re damn right.
So every day as I watch the sun come up, I do what I should have done before. I open the Bible, grab a Sharpie and share my thoughts in technicolor: lamenting, celebrating, underlining and recharging and take in the distinct smell of something permanent.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever. Psalm 100:5
I had to get off the train.
The duck intestines I had in my Chengdu hot pot a day earlier were finally catching up to mine. While the 114 local from to Chengdu to Kunming was an adventure in itself, I picked a stop by chance just to break up the journey.
Emeishan. 峨眉山. Or Mt. Emei.
Little did I know Emeishan is one of those places you see in the tourism videos when you’re tired of watching Hollywood flops on the plane.
Emeishan is a sacred Buddhist mountain with dozens of temples and monasteries, the oldest dating back to the first century BC, way before the days of good hiking boots and Northface jackets. Tourists can walk fifty km to the gold Samantabhadra statue that tops the summit like a plastic bride on a wedding cake. But not me.
Since my trip was impromptu, I decided not to cram 75 temples in two days. Instead, I wandered around the temples at the foot of the mountain, making a pilgrimage to the Sacred Pool of Underpants.
Kids stripped down to their skivvies and plunged into the cool streams to get a break from Sichuan’s heat…heat that’s akin to being inside of a bag of microwave popcorn.
Captain Underpants was more memorable than any gold bellied Buddha. I saw this kid when I first arrived splashing from ten in the morning until I left at five. If I wasn’t wearing granny panties, I might’ve joined him.
A day and a half and five bucks is all you need to kick back at the bottom of the mountain. That includes temple fees and a refreshing pot of tea at a riverside café.
You can visit the Luofeng Nunnery or Fu Hu Temple. The steps moss covered, the cicadas ignore the “be quiet” signs and monkeys are known to be kleptomaniacs.
As I wiggled my toes in the cooling waters, a stream of curious onlookers came up to me to practice their English or their duck face.
Along with your selfie stick, you’ll want to bring a wad of cash. Buses, cable cars, and park entry fee will cost about $75. Or, you can take a Chinese Uber, otherwise known as a hand carriage chair.
Emeishan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning, it’s one of the places aliens from another galaxy would travel light years to see.
If you’re travelling on the cheap like me, you can book a clean room at sites like Agoda.com for under twenty bucks, hostels being less. Prices soar with the elevation, so if you’re hiking to the top, book in advance and bring a wad of cash, whether you choose a swank hotel or modest monastery.
And if you’re plan on swimming? Bring something other than dingy underpants.
To see more posts, go back to TastyFaith.com
It was not a good day for the squirts.
A twenty hour train ride.
I know. I’ll spare the details but that’s what I endured to make it the American Consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan, to reclaim my maiden name.
While I have flown over China numerous many times, this is the first time I’ve taken in the landscape of the People.
It’s not what you see out the window as much as who’s sitting next to you that makes train travel interesting.
The train from Kunming was packed, passengers carrying their own snacks. Passengers brought buckets of eggs, hermetically sealed packages of spiced mushrooms, chicken feet, beef flavored crisps, seaweed chips, and strange flavored horse beans. I brought a can of Pringles and a sleeve of Digestives, both of which I devoured by noon.
Many travelers wore their best ethnic outfits with embroidered hats. Others wore all that they had: dusty sports jackets and pants and broken zippers.
Then there was me, the American in yoga pants.
Rice sacks, twined covered boxes and tattered shopping bags were common forms of luggage.
The train sliced through the most outrageous landscape on the planet, the China of yesteryear. Red brick houses with tiled rooves and toppling satellite dishes, cornfields with scarecrows, lush mountains drizzled with wild rivers foaming like Yoohoo chocolate milk.
You’d be teased by insane beauty for just a moment before zipping through a tunnel, getting a peep show of nature. Pictures should be prohibited as you can’t capture the overwhelming power of nature in a 2 MB Jpeg.
I booked a hard sleeper, which is comfie enough, but be sure to book a bottom bunk, or you won’t be able to sit up without bumping your head. My round trip ticket price from Kunming to Chengdu was $75.
Then once off the train, I treated myself for a morning bowl of mie xian, just over a buck.
The most unusual thing was what I didn’t see: Westerners. When I finally spotted one, 26 six hours after my odyssey began, I shook his hand.
I bumped into him at Dujiangyan, a world heritage site outside of Chengdu with ancient irrigation systems from the China of yesteryear.
Expect Chengdu to the armpit of China, as well as the duck intestines, cow stomach, gizzards and pig kidney. It’s hot from the humidity to the Hou Guo 火鍋 or hot pot, which I enjoyed with a former student, Sky.
The bubbly blend of Sichuan spices can make anything short of an old shoe taste good. The gizzards were especially interesting, specially sliced to blossom into flower like shape once they hit the oil.
Surprisingly, my digestive track didn’t get derailed, even with the rope of duck intestines, pictured above. I survived without a hitch.
For more posts, visit TastyFaith.com
The only thing more exhausting than visiting 10 countries in five days is visiting one country in thirty. My trip to the USA was stuffed like my suitcase, bursting at the seams, starting in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, a mere 7589 miles from Kunming, China to finalize my divorce.
No happy endings, but I do get my maiden name back-and my husband’s lawyer has temporary custody of my seven foot marlin. (Don’t ask).
But I will be staying Mrs. Mac in the classroom as Mrs. Sin will not play well at a faith based school. And I did pass up the doggy chewy toy sold in front of the Trump tower.
But God must have known about the date of this hearing before he hung the stars. The very night the judge pounded his gavel, my gang of high school girl friends had a sleep over in Michigan –a drive almost as daunting as my flight. It was a scene out of a hallmark movie, four of my classmates till married to their prom dates, our conversations starting where they left off years ago, as we passed glue sticks and made scrap books.
All the spinach Popeye ate couldn’t supply me the strength that get together did.
Laura, the sage member of our band of sisters, recalled seeing our faces outside of the church when her father died in during the eight grade then seeing the same faces years later when her mother passed.
I didn’t want to think whose funeral we’d attend next.
I kept cruising through Michigan, one of the only places on the planet with roads worse than Loas. I visited family and friends, llamas in Indiana, WWII vets and former work colleagues in Chicago, and emerging female artists at the Women Made Gallery in Pilsen. I love the honey bear in the space helmet.
Finally, I made it to my old stomping grounds at Jesus People in Uptown.
“Don’t mind the police.” a friend said with a hug. “Shootings have been way down this year.”
I sampled some honey harvested at Uptown Apiary, which surprisingly tasted the way the Body Shop smells, not like crime and gunpowder.
I spent a few minutes with a Texan Belle named Brenda, who had a jewelry box with more rings than Saturn.
“Take one and think of me, sweetheart.”
I picked a thin band with a squiggly design. After putting on my cheaters, I realized it said, YESTERDAY.
A perfect replacement for a wedding band.
I asked questions to a Holocaust survivor at the Holocaust Memorial in Skokie and talked to my grandmother at my family’s cemetery in the orchards of Michigan (she didn’t answer back) . This tombstone is of a distance cousin who died of appendicitis in the days before penicillin.
I attended a graduation party where Alexia was the annoying recalculating recalculating recalculating DJ.
Favorite meals included bread that actually tasted like bread and bottles of wine that had corks instead of screw caps, salads where I didn’t fear getting the giardia parasite plus ho-made strawberry waffle shortcake from Mrs. Bohn, who I haven’t seen since high school.
I visits to bankers, played phone tag with friends, and finally met my tenant whose mother thinks my condo is haunted by a ghost, hence his reason to move out.
But the last stop on my trip was Madison, Wisconsin for an international instructor conference put on by WIDA. I took the mega bus back to Chicago, sitting next to a teacher from Shanghai who is originally from Sturgeon Bay where my adventure began.
You got to be kidding me.
“I miss the smoked trout pizza at Northern Grill” she said. “I worked there in the summer.”
“Where are you headed in Chi-town?”
“Me too. We can take the L.”
I swiped my fare care for her and she repaid me with two bucks, the only American cash I had.
I got off at Belmont only to see a familiar smile. It was Robert, a panhandler from my Jesus People Cooking Days, who would parade around the lobby in hot pants. “If your legs are this good looking at my age, you would, too!” Robert would laugh. He sold trinkets in Wrigleyville, from glittery American flags to Mardi Gras beads.
Robert smiled, his teeth weathered by living outside on a diet of tobacco and soup kitchen coffee.
“Are you still at Jesus People?”
“No, I’m at a man’s shelter down town.”
I gave him my last two dollars.
He gave me the smile I needed.
I returned to China without a penny in my pocket. Just a mind packed with memories.
I don’t know what smell was more alluring, the smell of old books or the red peppers. It was a hole in the wall Thai book noodle shop in Ayatthaya, Thailand. The eighty cent train ride from Bangkok transported me back in time to the land of ancient temples and cheesy paperbacks. I browsed the browning pages while waiting for my Pad See Ew.
Under a pile of Thai spy novels, a small blue book catches my eye. It is a diary. My eyes want to devour the author’s secrets. I can’t resist. I crack it open. The first few pages contain passwords written in the secret frosting language and translations of important words such as donut and shampoo.
This is my kind of writer.
But the rest of the diary? It is empty.
“How much?” I ask the shop owner.
“You can have.”
The proprietor hands me a pen, sensing my need to write.
I start scribbling my thoughts in a diary that is not my own. Would the original author’s story be mingled with mine? Would our paths somehow be intertwined, our adventures switched like a Disney movie?
I thought about the diary I lost two years before while making a mad rush for a train, a train I ended up missing in Surat Thani สุราษฎร์ธานี . I wondered if my story ended up in a used book shop like this. I wondered if a Thai tourist in a parallel cafe was trying to decipher my brain ramble while waiting for mac and cheese.
I leave the noodle-book shop and enter a rat maze of a local market. I make a left at the sleeping egg lady. I see the Blind Massage.
The masseuse reads my story with his hands. He can tell I’m American by the sour smell radiating from my skin. He feels the walnuts of tension I hoard in my shoulders like a squirrel does acorns in its mouth. He can tell I’m thinking about next week’s forty-four-hour-one-way commute to Wisconsin — to bring closure to a chapter of my life that didn’t end with “they lived happily ever after”. He skims over the part where I’ll be getting fifteen years ripped out of my binding. He can tell the only thing I’m looking forward to is the Hindu vegetarian meal.
Actually, the dish is niú ròu 牛肉– a beef specialty with red peppers and a slippery pickled vegetable, giving it a spicy kick and sour swing. I woof it down along with a bowl of rice speckled with corn. I chase that with a cold Dali beer. I enjoy the meal but there is one thing missing.
I have nothing to read.
Time to write my sequel.