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 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.
So, between my semi-annual my-body’s falling-apart check upand street-food crawl in Bangkok, I stopped at a café for a cup of WiFi when I started talking with a guy named James.
He has your typical ex-pat bio. James is a former country dancer employed by a high-tech business in Portland but he’s working at the India branch.
Like I said. Typical bio.
“So, what are you doing in Bangkok”
“I’m here for the Brazilian Salsa Festival.”
“Excuse me? I think you have the wrong continent.”
James exchanged his cowboy boots and ten gallon hat for a ruffled red shirt and passport with extra visa pages.
“I teach salsa in Asia on my spare time. You should check out the class tonight.”
“Will you be teaching?”
“No. Alex, a Romanian will be teaching. He’s a whiz at the Brazilian Bachata.”
It was too weird to ignore, just like a Thai informercial. I had to go.
James wasn’t there as he was taking a martial arts class with a Russian instructor, but I went to the Salsa class taught by Alex. Ex-pats came out of the woodwork. A sales guy from Guam. Giggly girls from the Philippines. A polo horse trainer working south of the city.
My conversation was as clumsy as my feet but I had fun meeting all sorts of oddities. So I learned a few things. First, let the guy lead. Second, learn to laugh at yourself. And finally, divorce after fifty is like exploring a new country. You don’t need a passport, just slip-free dance shoes.
Salsa today, silk spinning tomorrow. And don’t confuse Thai Silk Worms with Lunch Larva!
Cha. Cha. Cha.
I was at a local dance competition yesterday at the Aegean Mall , in Kunming, China. Is this China or Chicago?
I wonder what kind of dance moves the next generation of Chinese will pass down to their kids?
Will it be hip hop in backwards baseball caps or traditional folk dancing with ethnic group headdresses?
When I went to a Chinese Wet market today, I stood out. It wasn’t because I was a dà bí zi 大鼻子, big nose American, but because I didn’t use my phone to pay. No one uses cash anymore.
The Peanut-butter lady couldn’t make change, so I had to wait until there was another cash carrying shopper. The blue sign under the Stonehenge Peanut grinder is what you scan with your phone. The black stuff next to the peanuts is ground black sesame seeds.
This girl was making the Chinese version of Rice Krispies treats and took payments with App! Crackle! Pop!
The line for noodles (Mixian) would have been twice as slow if they didn’t accept payments with phones.
Luckily, the potato chip maker still took cash, unlike the Vegetable Man behind him. (You can see his little green sign).
There’s a few of us left in China who still use cash.
What’s WeChat? It’s the Chinese Facebook with a payment application that is accepted in more places than American Express. About a billion more.