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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The End of the Year

2008 has been a long year. I suspect I won't be the only one happy to see it go, and yet, 2008 has help some wonderful memories.

This year began for me ... well, let's see. My earliest memories of this year are of Harbin, China, and its Tiger Park and Ice Festival. I remember bundling up in every piece of clothing I had, in our Soviet-era hotel which felt like there was a blast furnace in every room, and stepping outside into the coldest weather I had ever experienced. An entire city made of ice, and not a single drop of melt from those sculptures.

And then ... whew. Too many places to count. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, southern Yunan province, traveling with Sarah and meeting up with Jim and Kat in Ayuthya and James and Caroline in Luang Prabang ... wonderful memories of those first months of 2008.

And then came my return to Jilin: teaching again, Chinese lessons and tutors, dinner with friends, reading The Baroque Cycle and writing lessons and watching downloaded episodes of The Wire and trying to figure out some kind of plan for life after China. Those months from March to June are a freakish ball of memories, a rolling katamari of moments and people and smells and meals. In the end, I left Jilin with little in the way of a clear plan, but taking my leave of China was welcome. And sometimes I miss it so much.

Of course, summer in Europe. This post would be far too long if I dwelt on that here. But seeing Europe with fresh, world-weary eyes made it all the more spectacular.

It's amazing how many times I've tried to take mental snapshots, moments where I've said to myself, stern and with force, "remember this!" Memories of importance, of trivialities, of times good and bad and scary, and each time I steel myself to take something in, capture it forever in my head, and yet here I sit, ready and willing to bring back a handful of awesome memories, most but a whisper in my mind, a suggestion of what was and what I wanted to keep. So it goes, I suppose. There's a certain sadness to it, that when all else fades--the photos, the souvenirs, the novelty t-shirts--all you're left with is memories. And when those are lost ...

And the final months of this year have been spent here, back in America, back home, working some strange hours at strange jobs, a soft-peddled struggle for some kind of next step. Christmas has been a kind of mental endzone for me for a while, a moment to look forward to, and now its come and gone, and I realize ... well, it's just a day. It's a special day, sure, but not that special, and whatever it meant to me to be here at home for that day, well, its time to find something else to live for, man. Time to find something more fulfilling and challenging and worthy to live for.

I asked a guy I work with what his New Years resolution was going to be, if any. He said he doesn't do resolutions, but each year, he dedicates himself to living for something. Last year, he said, he dedicated his life to living for laughter; it work? I asked, and he said with a smile, Yeah. I laughed a lot.

In 2009, I want to live for improvement. I want to improve my health, and hopefully, improve that waistline as well. I want to improve my Chinese. I want to improve my creativity. I want to improve my cooking. And I want to improve my future. Too many things to name, and I prefer the holistic, everything-is-connected approach anyway.

So here's to improvement. May 2009 be the most improved year ever!

5 comments:

Rhi said...

It's been a while since we've heard from you. Hope 2009 brings many joys and wonderful memories, and you have an amazing New Year.

Branwen said...

Matthew sounds like you had an incredible year in 2008. I wish I had done as much with my year. Sooo much travelling and remarkable experiences, im sure its hard to come back down to earth and settle back into normality.

I hope 2009 brings you as many new and wonderful times and many more happy memories to share. x

Branwen said...

Happy New Year Matthew.

Linda S. Socha said...

Hello Matthew
What a year! Sometimes there is a need just for transition time.
Well written post Thanks.
Hope your New Year Brings what you are looking for
Linda

Karri said...

I stumbled upon your blog while looking for the exact meaning of "Xi Nian Kuai Le." I also taught in China for a year and had a wonderful time galavanting SE Asia and Middle Europe.

I now teach English in an urban school in the States. The desire to jump on the next fight to China never leaves. I suspect I'll be returning some day.

Just wanted to say "Hi!" it's fun to read others experiences in China. It's a splendid country that I miss greatly!