I’ve lived abroad for seven years now, and have usually made it home to California once or twice each year during that time. During my brief annual returns to my old stomping grounds, one of my biggest unfounded fears was always running into someone from high school at Target or Safeway. Me, the most social of people, was scared of making small talk with a person I hadn’t seen in years, attempting to think of clever questions to ask and then just trying to end it gracefully and walk away, to inevitably, end up behind them in the check out line. This fear made me drive thirty minutes away to different cities to shop for Rainbow Chip frosting and Pumpkin Spice Lattes and others things my inner basic ‘needed.’
But the thing about 2020 is I would do questionable – nay – illegal things to have that happen to me now. I want to be caught in Walmart buying only underwear and wine and glitter by a former student, or a boy I turned down for prom who never got over it, or an anti-masker I used to go to church with. I want to pull up to a Jiffy Lube to get the oil in my mom’s car changed and have the manager be someone I was mean to in junior high (this has happened). I would roll around like a pig in mud to be sat at a restaurant table next to the “one that got away” with his wife and adorable children. Like. I’m dying for some actual human connection, something meaningful, a hug, but. At this point, I’ll take anything. Just inject me, directly in the veins, with awkward encounters of any kind.
It’s arguably a terrible time to be single. I’m not bad looking, but I can’t see myself getting any hotter after 36 to reel in the (insert all my fantasy requirements, mostly concerning beards, financial and emotional stability, must love dogs) men I am looking for. Also, I can’t safely make contact with anyone at the moment, and can’t see an end to Covid, so like, HOW am I supposed to meet and marry rich and retire to write lazy novels and create my rescue goat farm/apiary scenario?
It’s arguably a terrible time in world history to be a teacher. You feel like you’re failing and not doing enough at all times, and I’ve never been so tired in my life. There are no good ideas or resources or ideas out there to make it better because the enTIRE world of education is also trying to recreate itself on the fly, while being asked to put our lives at risk, which was never part of the bargain, but dammit I love my kids.
It’s arguably a terrible time to be an expat, which is a fancy word for immigrant, which I am. I am far, far away from my family, seeking the same job I’m qualified for at home, but has better standards, pays way better and is respected way more here in Hong Kong. However, no one can visit me, and I can’t go home. I was reminded when I was in hospital a month ago, that if I were to fall extremely ill or even die, my mom would have to fly over and then stay in a Hong Kong government hotel room for two weeks before being able to see whatever state I was in. That might be too late to say goodbye. It has been for far too many people worldwide.
I’m tired. I have Zoom fatigue. I have pandemic boredom. I have an app on my phone that reminds me it’s been 317 days since I last went into public without wearing a mask.
And I’d give a pinky toe and maybe even the nameless toe next to it to eat garlic fries, drink beers, heckle the Dodgers, and get sent away from watching the game so the Giants can score (it honestly works too well, I am a curse). I want a stranger to chat me up at a bar and buy me a drink, I want to hold sweaty hands in a prayer circle I didn’t want to get invited to, I want to kiss hands and shake babies like a politician, to share popcorn with a group of middle schoolers at a youth group function, to pee without panic in a public toilet.
And I want for five freaking minutes to not be worried.
But I can’t. Cannot la. It is the year of Covid, and I think I just remembered it is also my Chinese calendar year? Year of the Rat? So, sorry, guys, this one’s kinda on me. And we are just doing things differently. So I’m a deep breath, release the tension in my shoulders, take a sip of water, look off into the distance.
There are, in spite of it all, a million beautiful things I get to see every day if I remember to look for them. If I remember to Pollyanna my life. My mom challenged me that there are 21 days left before 2021, and can I find something positive each day until then? Well.
Well, I reported in to her the first day, but forgot, of course. Let myself get wrapped up in the daily dramas I create. But I will try to catch up a bit now, I think I owe 5 or six or 7? So here goes.
- I have a few girl students who like to stay and chat with me when they don’t have to, and I always let them. I refer to them as my “movers and shakers” or “future leaders of the world” because they ask for more math problems or want to talk about books or poetry. We’re working on long division, which is hard no matter what, and even more difficult trying to teach online. But they were getting it and they made a “monster” problem for me, with like 37 digits in it, divided by 7, and I put up poster paper in my kitchen and they encouraged me for like eight minutes to finish it. At the end one made me a certificate, and it was actually really beautiful.
- I have become that crazy lady who can’t walk past a garden shop without buying a plant, but they bring me so much joy, and one just made purple flowers with white spots I didn’t know it could make, and I am so proud.
- I have signed up to foster a cat. Fingers crossed.
- I’ve done it. I’ve found the softest pair of leggings on the planet and ordered several pairs.
- My fish bring me a lot of joy. I like to say hello to them, to see them react when I turn the light on in the morning, to know that they rely on me. I’m wanted and needed. I sing them Christmas songs a lot, as it’s quite easy to change words to “Fishmas,” and I pretend they’re trying to kiss my fingers when really they are jumping to get food I dangle at them.
- Hong Kong is finally creating a real recycling program! I have to walk my stuff a few blocks away but will do it with great joy.
- My annual Friendsgiving party went just under the radar of another round of Hong Kong restrictions – even though we did have a visit by 7 cops! This was a first. I had quite a few people over, but we all work together already, and it was outside, so we felt fine about it, and sanitized the heck out of everything. It was so good for our hearts to be together, and force my annual “tell us what you’re grateful for!” tradition. Living so far away from our families, this was just a beautiful night for us all. It was the first Thanksgiving for three people, which makes me so happy.
- I’ve set up a movie projector outside, which is nice for me to watch all my old favorites and invite small groups of friends over for Christmas game and movie nights.
- My nephew Ellis is scientifically the cutest baby there ever was.
We’re all on a ride here.
Yesterday was a weird day, where everything was hard from start to finish, and I had to say out loud “get thee behind me, satan,” as my Gma taught me, several times.
Teachers never sleep well on Sunday nights, because of the inherent Monday morning anxiety, so I was on edge. And then my internet was terrible, and we have to work from home, and my students wouldn’t stop complaining. My coffee machine exploded grounds everywhere, I think because I put too much water in. It was that time of the month. In order to get hot water at my apartment, I have to flip a switch about 20 minutes before I want water. I had carefully planned my day so I had the exact time to take this shower, but alas, something went awry with the wiring and I instead spent two hours crying to my landlord, googling how water heaters work, taking apart my cabinets to find an electrical board, all while teaching my kids on Zoom.
It was really important I took a shower, because I was leading our school in a Zoom Christmas Carols night.
Unable to solve the problem, I took a cold shower. In the winter. All Hong Kongers know that this could possibly kill you. I was shivering and crying and cursing but I reminded myself I wasn’t the first person on Earth to do so and I certainly wouldn’t be the last but boy, I felt like shaving my head a la Britney in her ‘walk barefoot in a public bathroom’ years.
“I’m just trying to sing some songs for baby Jesus,” I kept thinking. “Why is everything going wrong.”
But in the end, with frizzy hair, the only one in the room allowed to not wear a mask, eyes still swelling with tears every 30 minutes, I did sing, we led carols for the community and it was lovely. It was odd and I fought a hollow feeling to sing carols in a room full of silence except for my accompanying instruments, trying to look like I wasn’t terrified to have a camera on me the whole time. But we had a Zoom hookup to a smartboard, so I got to watch my students go absolutely nuts over “Feliz Navidad.” I dug deep to find that peace and eternal hope in my heart that has felt really hidden and dormant this year but is still there, and lights up when I watch kids tell Bible verses in their home languages, or see their Nativity drawings, or watch them belt out carols.
Maybe not one single thing is going the way I planned it, but I never made a ton of plans anyway. Maybe the entire planet is going to feel on fire for a while until we work better together. Maybe this year absolutely sucks in a lot of ways, but I know I’m a million times stronger because of it. I have learned more about myself, my behaviours and reactions and choices and eating and sleeping habits and friendship patterns more than I probably ever would have under “normal” circumstances. This has forced the best and the worst of all of us up to the surface. I’m responsible for how I react to it.
You can’t put a price on self-awareness and growth. There are moments I feel quite grown up. And I’m not scared of it. I just throw a million terrible Santa jokes at it.
Tomorrow is my last day of teaching in 2020, and I have absolute silliness planned: Christmas scavenger hunts, an “Elfies” photo booth, class snack time with movies, Jeopardy based on our class novel (trying to make Trebek proud), a really cheesy Christmas quiz I made you can try here, (good for kids!) story time from Miss W8, Christmas cards, Christmas pictionary, cut snowflake tutorials, make snow at home tutorials, no learning whatsoever. And, of course, a joke telling contest.
When it’s all done, I’ll probably cry a tear or two, because I do love my little chicken nuggets. Then I will delete zoom/seesaw/gmail from my phone/tablet/computer 1 and 2 for the next three weeks, pour THE largest glass of wine, and fall asleep on my patio until Friday or so. Grateful 2020 is almost over (because Covid will just naturally decide to end itself on Dec 31, right?) and looking forward to closer, meaningful encounters of any kind at any time. Can we do this, guys?
Let’s do this, world.