I learned at a very young age that life doesn’t go according to plan. At least not your own plan. (I don’t know if I believe in fate, though.)
At the age of 11 my biggest goal was attending the high school my brother went to. It was the ‘coolest’ high school in our area, and I always thought my big brother was cool. Right to this day, of course. I had achieved my goal, and my new life at high school was waiting for me. I enjoyed it for about six weeks, and then my family and I moved to South Africa.
That is a massive change for a 12 year old. I am not all too familiar with children, since I do not have any. I have also never really been surrounded by children outside of school life and what a person comes across on a daily basis. But I remember that life at the age of 12 still ended and started again every minute. Maybe every hour by that time. But all of that changed rapidly when the entire world I knew was replaced by a different reality. One that those around me were familiar with but I was not. It was a confusing time; it was many things.
13 years later, I am so grateful for that change and the lesson I learned from this experience. When it was announced we were moving to a new country, it became so clear to me that the only constant thing in life is change. I starting taking note of all the things that did not go according to plan, and the things that did not follow my desires. And I only observed. It didn’t make me feel upset or afraid. I became so comfortable with change, and change became my normal. Sure I was upset if I didn’t get something I wanted for my birthday, or if other desires weren’t fulfilled in some way. But the unknown made me excited and I realised that when a plan changes, my previous expectations suddenly wouldn’t play a role in the new experience. This only fuelled my excitement every time. I learned that if I go into an experience with little to no expectations, I am so much more present in the moment. I take note of the little things I would have otherwise missed looking forward; only looking forward. The way I made choices started to change, leaving room for unexpected but at times necessary side roads. I wasn’t consciously building that into my plan, but I generally felt less attached to what I wanted and had in mind.
That doesn’t mean I always weigh out my options in the best way, though. Perhaps at times I have been too lax when it comes to decision making. But something I am trying to work on is being present all the time. That includes being present when planning for something that will take place in the future. I think setting goals is still important. But I think that it is through being present in every moment of your life that the idea of what you truly want and need will be more clearer than ever.
I am at these cross roads now. Last month I graduated from a master’s degree in Chinese Philosophy. I had no idea what I wanted or where I wanted to be the most. As I’m writing this I still cannot answer these questions clearly. As I’m writing this, I am reminding myself that that is okay. Like all the unknown situations before, I now find myself there again. Only on a slightly bigger and more intimidating scale. Wanting to make my own money but doing what job, choosing a place to settle for a while, all these choices…
Four months ago I had three criteria: 1) Not staying in China, 2) If I would stay in China (because that decision would give me many options) I would not stay in Shanghai, 3) If I would look for a job in China, I would definitely not become another one of those English teachers.
Here I am. In China, in Shanghai, teaching English (and maths). Did I fail? I felt like I did for a while. I still feel like I have failed sometimes. But what I didn’t know and didn’t include in my criteria is that I actually enjoy the work I do. I am tutoring, not teaching a whole class and I enjoy working with kids. I have discovered they are really funny, and their questions inspire a sense of creativity within me. I am earning my rent and extra money for other ideas I have, which are obviously subject to change. I am in the country where Chinese philosophy is likely to be most present. And I am seeing new opportunities for in my future that I could have missed out on had I not stayed here. Things that make me excited and feel happy, things that challenge me and help me grow. I now see being in China as the biggest part of my process of self-cultivation, living in and with a culture that is so different from my own. But it is through this idea of accepting and going along with change, (and the poster I have in my room reminding me to ‘make life interesting, not perfect’), that I am making the most of everything I am going through every day and doing the best that I can with the resources I have. And I think that is pretty cool.
A quick Thank You to my friend Augi, who inspired me to write. What came out was definitely helpful for myself. Maybe even helpful for you.
In this section people from across the globe will share a bit of them with you. They talk about one of their
native idioms or sayings, and tell you how it relates to a part of their life. Respect, love, joy and humanity are at the centre of this chapter.
(Pronounce as: Kra-Tai-Mhaii-Chan)
“This Thai expression means Cry for the Moon. It is my favourite because it involves the moon. Every time I hear it, I picture a chilly night and a big, bright and yellow moon in the sky. When I was young, and as many others were young, I believe we had a similar experience looking for a sheer rabbit stamped on the moon as we listen to various tales and bed night stories.
The meaning of this Thai expression is longing for something impossible. In this case specifically, a man fell in love with an out of reach woman. I am not a man, nor am I in love. But I do love the romance that comes with this expression. For me, the rabbit has every right to fall in love with anything he wants. It doesn’t matter if people see him as a fool and even if he was a fool, it is still very romantic to me.
Personally, this saying has nothing to do with being pessimistic. It rather represents freedom of a heart that has a clear, loud voice. And I hope that whoever looks at the moon in the night sky can also feel that freeing energy from it. Feeling in your little right to love, to feel that towards anything or anyone out there. I hope the moon is kind and generous enough for every rabbit out there.”
In this section people from across the globe
will share a bit of them with you.
They talk about one of their native idioms or sayings,
and tell you how it relates to a part of their life.
Respect, love, joy and humanity
are at the centre of this chapter.
Anh đi anh nhớ quê nhà,
Nhớ canh rau muống, nhớ cà dầm tương.
Nhớ ai dãi nắng dầm sương,
Nhớ ai tát nước bên đường hôm nao
“This saying is about a man who travels away from home, but his heart always remains there. He misses the simple dishes the poor in Vietnam usually eat, such as morning glory soup. He misses the girl he loves, who worked hard under the sun.
It’s about the love Vietnamese people feel for their home when they are away from it. Because home is such a special place for us all, and there is no place like it. But sometimes it is only the feeling that we have. It’s a pretty memory. But when you go back, the people, the scenery, the town itself may not be the same. Just like the man from this saying, he misses the hometown from his memory.
I have also experienced this. I have beautiful memories of my hometown from when I was a child. Now whenever I go back home, it’s bittersweet because I realise how much things have changed. I think this idiom conveys the feelings one has for their hometown that is no longer there, the memories that have gone too, and the people one once loved, who have since moved on.”
Both exciting and scary times are ahead. I am about to graduate from a degree I was so enthusiastic about starting. Naturally, in my case at least, that calls for some reflection. It seems like just last week I was notified that I got accepted to Fudan University in Shanghai. The degree is called Chinese Philosophy, and it came at a time in my life when I desperately needed direction. I am now seeing a glimpse of the new coping mechanisms it has taught me, in order to deal with trauma reaching dark depths I could never have imagined. Through an internship with Freeland Foundation in Bangkok, I learned too many things about the shaded side of humanity that I wasn’t exposed to before. Freeland works on the frontline, combatting illegal human and wildlife trafficking. I have so much respect for my colleagues from that time who fight this exhausting battle to this day.
My sensitive personality couldn’t cope with what I now know to be the extent of the dark world, which sadly is created by other human beings. If you think I may be too sensitive, too involved, too caught up or too weak, I ask you how anyone who doesn’t contribute to this suffering but tries to help it, can feel otherwise. And if you feel the need to judge me on my ‘how’, I strongly suggest you give this information a try and immerse yourself in it. The fact is that it is extremely distressing and awful, and different people cope with it in different ways. At times I am able to see and feel the humbling side of the bad experiences. I have learned about the fucked up part of the human world. It is both a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have known what would come after this experience, either. From my side, it is a cauldron where feelings of disorientation, loneliness, fear, sorrow, and anger are mixed and are often actively boiling. But I am not able to pour it out of this massive pot and give it a place, and so it sits there. And I am continuously stirring it with a tiresome effort to not let it boil over. I couldn’t have known how it would affect those around me either. They saw a sad pile of a confused girl not able to put into words how horrified and small she felt. I needed my family and friends to pull my strings like a puppet and show me again how to be a human being in this human dominated world. Only I couldn’t tell them, because I didn’t know.
I think using words such as darkness and light is rather cheesy and cliché, but I can find meaning in what they represent. Especially how it relates to so many things I have learned in the last 2 years. Dark and Light. Yin and Yang. Two opposite forces that flow from the one into the other. It is because of the one that the other one exists. I don’t quite know yet how it fits in with what I’ve experienced and learned about the dark, the bad, the negative. Perhaps I need to be another light to balance out the dark. Perhaps we all need a bit of both, so that we are yet another balanced unity that participates in the balanced natural world that already exists outside of us. As I am about to graduate from this degree I feel grateful for it and I am afraid that I will miss it. It opened up my eyes to a segment of knowing people who maybe knew of or experienced the same or similar things as I did. Or who speculated and theorised. Or simply assumed this truth. The knowledge I have gained and books I am reading have provided a framework for me in which I can puzzle together a healing process for me now, and a framework with which I can continue to shape the rest of my life. I am so happy and excited to continue learning from these great minds and their realities.
I feel quite safe, sharing this with you. I didn’t think that I would, but I have done a lot of work to accept my own reality. And regardless of you fully understanding me or taking me seriously, I am happy to know that in the very least I am still trying to better myself, and positively contributing to the people and natural world around me. The reason I am sharing this is in part because I need to push myself on a little bit towards a more joyful and peaceful existence and by writing this, I am holding myself to a promise.
Some weeks ago after talking to my friend, my fellow intern at Freeland, I felt empowered again for the first time in a long time. Together with many other personal attempts and attempts from my loved ones, I have started healing. I want to thank you, Cha, for being the person you are and sharing your strength and love with me. I hope my words do you right, too, because you are on your own journey and I want to send you nothing but love and strength in return.