Into the Great Wide Open

Tonight I pushed shuffle on my baby ipod while I was washing dishes and like a trinity of signs came three songs consecutively which whisked me into separation. I could feel my feet spreading further apart, straddling continents as my back bent a little lower, a little lower to accommodate the Chinese-sized kitchen sink in my little apartment overlooking the steps to the back gate. In the frequent furious rainstorms, water would careen down those hewn stone steps, turning them into a torrential waterfall that never failed to delight me. In the misty moisty mornings after such rainfall, the tiny frogs would peep as we walked to the morning bus.

Tonight I hear the bullfrog galumphing out by the pond, as the cool mid-night breeze moves like a shadow through my brightly lit house.

Striking off, finding adventure, following the direction of your heart without allowing the Lilliputians to confine your mind – these are not just the realms of the young. I need to remember that.

The brilliant joy and pain and brightness and dusks of journies – perhaps nothing quite so poignant as the unexpected and wholly disarming bone-deep missing of home.

The anticipation of returning, so keen it sometimes hinders the enjoyment of the now, the culmination, the familiar scents and sounds –

Except the cities have been sterilized. Where is the distinct “pah” of cool, damp meat sliding into hot oil, the rising and falling cacophonous cadence of old ladies fanning themselves as they chat, the constant blaring of car horns and sellers calling out.

But I don’t miss the “Laowai!”

I miss the smells, knowing what was cooking by the oily wisps from window screens, the smothering smoke of frying la jiao. You could tell when the two weeks of strawberry season had begun because you could smell them when the bus brought you into town. They almost covered the scent of the exhaust as the bus screeched to a halt at Gaosuntang. Then – popcorn sweet with sugar and lard, floating up from the man popping it in the white-tiled stairwell, the malodorous stench of cho dofu – literally, stinky tofu – frying poisonously in rancid oil, unperfumed bodies working hard, fresh vegetables and urine, warm hops and hopes. It all churned together in one terrifically off-key symphony of sight and sound and smell.

Running my hands through bins of rice, feeling each individual grain brush my sensitive fingertips.

Chicago smelled like nothing, comparatively. Home smelled like cow poop, but after time away it makes you smile. You should believe me.

As familiar as the sights and sounds and smells are, home isn’t, not entirely. A bit of it will always exist elsewhere; more than a bit if your foundation of family isn’t solid and true and ever, like mine.

I’m missing my China tonight, and wishing for redemption and closure. To venture back Into the Great Wide Open, to seek and find and live and love, until I find myself Almost Home. Still, I know – with neither sadness nor resignation, but something like visceral recognition – that I’ll always be the woman with Seagulls in her Eyes.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ma Ke
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 04:45:04



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