The wind is blowing, the sky is grey and there is a definite possibility of snow. It might as well be Christmas Eve in Crosby, but instead I’m sitting in my chilly, concrete apartment in downtown Hangzhou.
This Christmas will be strange and sad, no doubt. Alex and I celebrated the holiday the past two nights with our closest Hangzhou friends, all of which are fortunate enough to be enjoying their families in the flesh on either side of the Pacific.
Rather than getting ready for church and wrapping presents this afternoon, I’m off to the gym. Instead of noshing on my mom’s lasagna for dinner, Alex and I are going to check out “December Chief,” an odd little burger joint down the street.
No, this Christmas is certainly not traditional. But in the spirit of keeping at least one little nugget of tradition, I present to you my Christmas letter for 2010:
2010: The weirdest year of my life
2010 brought the promise of a college degree and what I hoped would be the jumpstart of a fantastic career. Though I got my degree, each month threw something new and unexpected which consequently kept the GPS for my life’s direction continually recalculating its route.
My new years resolution in 2010 was to write something down each day that I learned. My first entry, January 5: “I need more practice at baking banana bread.”
January 6: “Even crazy people have their moments of sanity sometimes.”
Thankfully, my banana bread baking skills improved though regrettably I don’t remember which crazy person had gone sane. No doubt I was talking about the internship I started in January.
My last semester of school was a 50-50 mix of working in a professional office and going to classes. My internship put my communication skills to the test and it taught me a lot about the inner workings of the government while having to gauge people’s feelings and reactions to decisions the government made.
Let me tell you, people on all sides of the issues are passionate – occasionally crazy? Definitely. Sometimes sane? Of course, I learned that early on in the internship.
February 12: “Wildest day ever: flowers, security guards and breakdowns at work…and I became an auntie!”
Little Greydon showed up in the world on my dad’s birthday, and now I get the chance to try be the coolest aunt ever. I was fortunate to be able to spend the better half of June through September with him and watch him grow. I’m a little heartbroken he won’t remember me when I get back home, though.
March can be summed up in two sentences:
March 21, “Healthcare passed!”
March 22, “I’m beginning to doubt the sanity of our nation – nothing like a personal death threat after lunch.”
Wait, check that… five sentences. I decided to accept a job in China in March. It was on a whim and completely random, I had always been indifferent to China and never thought I would live there… why not, I guess?
April passed and May brought graduation and Guatemala. I predicted back on January 14 that, “Guatemala might change my life.” I was right. Ten days of kids, smiles, village tours, homeless shelters, backbreaking (literally) labor, concrete mixing, and plenty of Spanish-speaking interaction with my host family…how could it not be life changing?
I came home with a completely different perspective on the cycle of poverty and international development… and an immense feeling of gratefulness for all that Guatemala had given me and for everything that I had waiting for me back home.
June was spent playing mom and “rent-a-baby,” with Greydon. He loved watching me practice Chinese and I even helped him start to learn how to make bumbling noises with his lips.
I had anticipated July being my last full month in the states for a while, so most of it was spent at home. Mid-month I had a random opportunity to play the journalism card and help Al Jazeera produce a documentary on the oil boom in North Dakota.
For two weeks I traveled around my native stomping grounds with two seasoned journalism veterans learning all about energy issues from locals and picking the brains of my new colleagues to learn as much as I could about the business.
It sounds silly, but doing the documentary was really a dream come true for me. When I decided I wanted to study journalism, I imagined the field to be exactly what my experience in July was like. It was a rare and exciting learning opportunity, and hopefully my first documentary won’t also be my last.
August 1 was supposed to send me to Hong Kong. Instead it took me to Denver.
I felt betrayed, dejected and embarrassed. Subsequently I spent the majority of the month hiding on my farm trying to decide exactly what I wanted to do with my life and relying on the encouragement and advice of my family and friends.
I was a lion that month, and I’m so grateful I had a lot of patient trainers.
September 14: “It’s ok to be angry. 50 days of homelessness justifies that!”
Since I had moved out of my apartment on August 1, I was essentially a drifter until my second attempt at flying to China. That meant squatting in my friend Jamie’s apartment for two weeks, spending random nights on my downtown friends’ couches, an invading the guest bedroom at my brother’s house.
I was broke, technically homeless and wondering why in the world I was putting up with so much hell for a country I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to.
October 7: “24 hours travel + bronchitis = a jet lagged hot mess.”
October 9: “Information overload. I cried a lot today.”
October 14: “Today we accidently ate pork fat. Oops.”
October 15: “I’m not terrified anymore.”
October 22: “Chinese girls want foreign husbands and think that American girls are the ticket to their success.”
October 26: “Walmart-esque stores are a cluster fuck no matter which country you’re in.” (pardon my language, mom).
October was all over the board. It was the strangest and most challenging month of my life. Looking back on it is rather comical, but I have never been psychologically pushed so far to the edge.
November and December have melted into defining my “normal” in China. The past two months have been devoted to making friends, figuring out work, learning more Chinese and making Hangzhou my own.
2010 has brought cataclysmic changes to my life and the lives of most of my friends. As fledglings in a very hawkish world, it’s nothing short of terrifying when trying to find a worthwhile path. 2010 challenged me and forced me to re-evaluate a lot of things… I’m still trying to figure out why exactly I came to China. No doubt, 2011 will be a tornadic adventure as well.
So, from the other side of the world, I’m sending you all my love and Christmas wishes! May you enjoy your family and be grateful for all of 2010’s blessings and tough times, remember each moment is an opportunity for learning. And most of all, may every day in 2011 bring you adventure – however large or small!