Every year, various lexophile groups select a word of the year.  Top contenders for 2023 included AI or Artificial Intelligence and Hallucinate, a term for what AI does when it spits out gibberish that is indistinguishable from gibberish naturally created by middle schoolers who do not use AI. Barbieheimer didn’t make the list, which was more ubiquitous than in China than riz, which did make the list. And my favorite word, thanks failed to make the list again.  I guess if you have riz, you think you don’t need to use the word.

But I have my own word list of 2023, which I contemplated during this past month while stateside.

Word #10. Deported

I did not leave China because I was deported, but it does make a good story. Maybe Word #10 should be repurposed. My life, like the duct tape, plastic bags and suit hoses used to salvage the crew of Apollo 13, consists of the contents of five boxes shipped from China (two which were returned to Kunming by China Post). Hopefully, it can be transformed into something new.

Word #9 Lima

Not just the dreaded bean, but my new home, starting January 12th.  The capital of Peru was not named for a legume, but is the evolution of the Quechua word Limaq which means yellow flower.

Word #8 Apostilled

I didn’t know what this word was either, until I moved abroad. Apostilled is a red-tape process needed to get a work visa in countries that are a part of the Hauge Apostille Convention, something I only know because it’s a pain in the wazoo.  WARNING: You won’t save a few bucks using the college diploma still hanging on your bedroom wall at your parents, as diplomas need to be reissued and notarized by your university for this official seal. Each state has their own version of red tape to cut through, but all have similar prompts on their phones as well as on-hold music.

Word #7  Time Travel

Eighteen thousand six-hundred fifteen days, or four hundred forty-four thousand hours, or even more daunting, one point six billion seconds. That’s how far I traveled over the past month visiting folks from almost every nook and cranny of my life, giving me the chance to be George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life.

We all hope to be stalked by a wingless Clarence, being reminded that we’d each leave a tear-jerking hole in this world if we weren’t born. But would we really?  I asked this to my life-long friend Laura, a friendship forged in junior high while smoking cigarettes hidden in a Sucrets box. She is the same as ever, though she no longer dots her i’s with flowers.  

“Not in high school,” she gave her classic should shrug. “I liked our biology teacher, Mr. Bednarowski,  but when did I ever have to label a paramecium?”

I thought about Mrs. Krall, a fixture as permanent at our high school as the drinking fountains and card catalog. She wasn’t just our teacher, but the teacher to many of our parents who also sat in those same wooden chairs. I don’t remember anything other than her red lipstick, black turtleneck dusted with dandruff, and dreaded reading list. My despise for Henry David Thoreau can be traced back to her third hour period.  I have tried reading Walden on three occasions since high school, each time, realizing Thoreau is better than Ambien if you want to sleep. “Why on earth we could read Scarlet Letter in the seventies if kids can’t read Roald Dahl today? I learned more from you than any teacher,” I said.

“What about junior high?” she asked.

We gabbed about Mrs. Rodgers, the rotund librarian with cat-eyeglasses, who allowed us to take cover from bullies in her bookshelves for thirty-five minutes in exchange for putting recent titles away. Laura mentioned another science teacher, this one a former marine, who sported a recruitment poster buzz. Then our sixth grade English teacher with the hissing radiator. But none of our memories were tied to what we learned, but to a smile we needed when we got lost in the shuffle, or when someone poked fun at the corduroy skirt with the mis-matching seams we were required to make then wear for our home economics class, which should be classified as cruel and unusual punishment for middle-school girls.

I learned more from my friends between classes in the girls’ john than any instructor with their overhead projectors. Friendships that have outlasted curling irons and bell bottom jeans, or puke stains on carpets due to Sloe Jin (Do they still make that stuff?) Others whom I owe thanks include my high school principal, who smiled at me with open arms along with the others who had permanent chairs in his office. And also, to my chemistry teacher, who told me my creativity was more valuable than anything on the periodic table.

Word #6 Hugs

These are something you can’t pack but stays with you.  

Word #5 Pill Box

My cool souvenir from Bangkok. It is not covered with kitschy glitter but is similar to the one your grandmother or you have on your nightstand. I have joined the forces that spend Sunday evenings loading the compartments with pharmaceutical all sorts. It was my gift to me after my annual Poke and Probe.

Word #4 Wordle

My daily brain exercise.

Word #3 Extra Napkins

What I needed for all of the wonderful meals purchased on my behalf, from the Little Horse burger to Brussel sprout tacos to Red Lobster platter, which I devouted with my sister, in memory of the tenth anniversary of our mom’s passing.

Word #2  Leg Room

What I won’t splurge for on my flight from Chicago to Peru.  I am will fly to Peru six days from today, a short eleven-hour flight. That’s half the time it takes to fly to Chicago from China, the flight longer than my legroom since planes no longer can fly over Russia.  But when I gaze with coveting eyes at folks nestled in their airborne cocoons in first class, complete with drinks, slippers and hermetically sealed headphones, I ask myself, is that really bag of complimentary peanuts really worth two thousand dollars more?  Would you be willing to sit in this chair on a lazy day watching TV or would you pay two thousand dollars to lay on the couch?

Word #1 Tadioto

Name of hip hangout in Hanoi, owned by. Nguyen Qui Duc, a journalist I wrote while in Hue, Vietnam, wanting to meet, unknowing that he was in the hospital with cancer. His bar’s whimsical name comes from the first word he learned as a child, Tadioto meaning “we go by car.” A relative said when Ngu returned to Vietnam, it was like learning all over again.  Nguyen died in Hanoi, on Nov 22, 2023, the day I left the city.

I too will be learning all over again once that plane lands after a flight with no leg room I will lack riz and miss the items in my lost luggage, hopefully, my apostilled documents arriving, with my Thai Pill Box, fresh memories of life long friends, their hugs being my kryptonite.


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