End of an Era

Dear Friend,

Hello, I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving 😀 (I wrote this last month haha)

I realized this past week that this is my very first Thanksgiving by myself. I mean, I wasn’t alone. But it was the first time in 31 years where I wasn’t around friends or family. It’s kind of surprising actually that I’ve been with friends and family each year of my life during this time. It also made me miss home a bit. Being on the road for so long has made me appreciate so many things I used to take for granted every day. Things I never thought I would miss. Like familiarity. Like routine. I miss having old friends and companions to hang out with. I miss seeing family. I miss having a wardrobe to choose from. I miss my car. I miss driving! I miss my apartment. The biggest thing I miss is feeling like I have a place to settle and call home. Like, the thought of having to pack up and move in a few days sometimes exhausts me. The thought of meeting new people exhausts me. Sometimes I’m in a new place and all I want to do is sit in my room and watch TV. Sometimes I have to force myself to go out for a walk. Some days I give myself permission to just chill.

The Bund

I’m in Shanghai now. And TBH, I kinda feel in a funk. I didn’t feel this way a week ago though. I’d been having a great time in China for the past month or so. And when I first arrived in Shanghai, I was ecstatic. My second night, I went to the Bund and looked out into the city skyline and was in immediate awe. It was magnificent. It was inspiring. It was glorious. Majestic. The lights. The architecture. The skyscrapers. The water. All of it. I’m not sure what it was but I just felt really engulfed in its greatness. A few days later I had to leave Shanghai for a day and come back to deal with some visa issues. And when I came back, something changed. I can’t quite describe it. I felt… less content. Maybe I was a bit lost in this BIG city. Maybe I felt like I wasted 2 whole days and still hadn’t started what I wanted to do here. I’m not sure what this funk is about. Leaving and coming back may have messed with me a bit.

Chengdu

So before this, I was in Chengdu and Urumqi. There’s something really nice about Chengdu. Before I arrived everyone said I would love it there. They said it was a really chill and relaxed city. I didn’t really know what that meant. But it made sense when I got there. I guess it just felt like a very liveable place. People were extremely kind. Young and old people, families, hip and trendy, walkable and manageable, artsy, chill vibes, pretty lights, less crowded. I felt like I could and was living there. I felt like I had a solid enough grasp of the city even know I’d only been there for two weeks. I met some great people there too. Ate some amazing food. Sometimes too spicy for me. I’m really amazed at the amount of Chinese food that I had not yet tried. The Chinese food we get in the states is such a SMALL fraction of the different types of food that exist in this country. 

Urumqi is a very interesting place. It’s the capital of Xinjiang Province. The province is designated as an “Autonomous Region” in China, which supposedly means that it has more local autonomy and control. The Chinese government does this because of the high level of “minority” aka “non-Han” populations in the region. The main minority populations in Xinjiang are Ugyhurs, a Turkish ethnic group that is indigenous to the Xinjiang region. In Urumqi, you can see, feel, hear, taste, the blending of Chinese and Ugyhur culture everywhere. The buildings in the city have a distinct central Asian influences. There are mosques and temples. Signs and labels almost always written in both Arabic and Chinese. The food was also distinct and different. Like I’ve never had before. A mix of Central Asian and East Asian cuisine. Very tasty. Also, it was cold af there. Lmao. Like at the time it was colder than MN!! In general, I didn’t see the different groups interacting with each other much unless they were working together or doing business with each other. And then of course, there’s the big elephant in the room – the “reeducation” camps. I wasn’t able to talk to anyone about it. I’ve been told people wouldn’t trust me to talk to me about it anyway. People have been disappearing for years now. The region has always had dissonance but the Chinese government would make you think that the region has “always” been a part of China. Kinda like how they talk about Taiwan. The museum shows how there has always been close relationships since the earliest times between the region and the China and stresses how important the region is to China. Security is higher as well. You need to cross through security to enter into any building. There are also two songs that are constantly playing everywhere you go. You hear it outside throughout the city, along the streets, outside stores, literally everywhere. The songs are nice and catchy, they feature a little girl and a children’s chorus singing but I can’t quite make out what they are saying. It’s definitely some sort of “one China” propaganda. That’s what it sounded like. I could be wrong, but I’m probably right.

Beautiful Tianchi Lake in Tianshan Mountains, Xinjiang Province just outside of Urumqi

So… yeah feelin a little funky right now. Even writing this write now feels kinda discombobulating. I’m not really worried about it or anything. It just is what it is I guess. A year ago, I’d probably be freaking out about how I’m feeling: a little lost in direction, a little lonely, a little unsure. Now I just know it’ll be okay.

Part 2 (a few weeks later)

I just got back from another organic WWOOF farm in Guangdong province. The farm was up inside the mountains. Absolutely beautiful. Nearby is a big lake (which I found out later was human-made?). There are a total of four people associated with the farm: a married couple who live nearby and work on the farm during the day, an older gentleman who owns the farm but lives in the city, and Li Ping, a man my age who lives and works on the farm. So essentially, the whole time I was there I was hanging out with Li Ping. It was a great time. And a complete 180 experience from the last farm visited. The last farm was definitely more commercial, it had over 60 workers of different types. This place, was just really about living. The people here aren’t trying to make money, aren’t trying to develop new seeds, aren’t trying to sell their food. They’re just trying to live. They work so they can eat and enjoy their environment around them. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for what it means to live off the land. On the farm, if you can’t grow, can’t catch, can’t cook, can’t kill animals, well you can’t eat. We went fishing with the intent to eat fish for dinner but we didn’t catch anything so we didn’t have meat that night. The nearby cows ate all the vegetables from the farm recently, so we had to buy vegetables from neighbors. The mice ate all the chicken eggs overnight, so no eggs for breakfast the next day. You can’t kill a chicken? You can’t eat it. Can’t cut it up and cook it? You can’t eat it. Every day was filled with different types of projects to upkeep. Go to the forest to cut bamboo and fix the fence (to stop those damn cows!). Gather cow manure from around the village to make fertilizer. Build a shed. Clean a room. Mundane and hard work. Relaxing and difficult. But really, life was pretty free flowing. My mind was at peace. Each day we kinda just did what we wanted. It was very… Hakuna Matata. No worries. Yeah we had projects to do, but if we didn’t finish it that day? No worries. I actually found myself thinking at times, what are we going to do today with all this spare time? But there was always something. Ride up the mountain on a motorcycle. Go fishing. Catch snails from the river at night to cook the next day. Relax/nap on the hammock (lots of that). Teach each other our native languages. Go for a run. Film videos. There were moments where I felt bored and I had to ask myself, why do I feel like I need to fill my time with productivity? I learned to just sit, watch, and listen – the ducks, the birds, the chickens, the bees, feel the wind, hear the trees.

I definitely enjoyed my time there and learned a lot about what it means to live off the land. But I don’t know if I could live there for a long time. I think I would actually get a little bored and lonely. Plus, I still hate doing manual labor 😂

Canton Tower in Guangzhou

I’m in Guangzhou now. My sister is coming in a couple days and we’ll spend some time together. Hurray! Also, when I got here I immediately went to watch the final episode of Star Wars. It’s the end of an era. The first Star Wars movie I ever watched was The Empire Strikes Back with my father in our basement when I was a toddler. I barely remember it. But I do remember watching it! The second Star Wars movie I watched was the Return of the Jedi, when the Special Editions were re-released in theaters in 1997. I went with my family. The third Star Wars movie I watched, and the first time I watched the original Star Wars movie was a few months later when my cousin brought the VHS tapes over to my house. From then on, I was hooked. Those VHS movies to this day are still in my home 😂. There was something about the universe that I fell in love with. I loved the fantasy. The space battles. Good vs bad. Here’s an little secret, I was never a fan of the Rebellion. I was always an Empire fan. I loved Darth Vader. I loved stormtroopers, TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers. I loved symmetrical shapes of the ships. I fell in love with the musical score, particularly the Imperial March. The size and the scope of everything. I felt completely taken away to a different universe, literally. I would watch the movies almost every day after school. I would play every Star Wars video game, board game, pretend with my cousins (I was Vader, my sister was Leia 😂, my cousins would be Luke, Han, Chewie, Boba Fett).

I was in 4th grade when The Phantom Menace came out. I went to watch with my family and I remember I loved everything about it. I loved seeing the Jedi dueling in their prime. The battle droids. Even Jar Jar! I didn’t know about all the internet backlash at the time. All I knew was that there was more Star Wars and I was loving it. Between Episode 1 and 2, I moved to a new house and had a sort of lull in my fandom. I would still watch my VHS movies frequently but that was about it. I was also growing up. I don’t think I even knew when Episode 2 was coming out. I was in 7th grade. One day, my dad and I were sitting in the kitchen and we decided last minute to go watch Attack of the Clones in the theater. I fell in love again, twice (movie and boy). I still remember watching the Arena scene for the first time when all the Jedi arrive to save the heroes. The suspense, the epicness, the amazingness, I got the biggest goosebumps. I had never felt that before. And seeing Yoda fight. I was eating it all up. And then, there was Anakin, played by Hayden Christensen. I knew there was something else about that movie that made me want to keep watching it, but I didn’t know what it was about at the time. Turns out he would be my first real crush. The period between Episodes 2 and 3 was the height of my fandom. But it was also an extremely difficult time. Seventh to tenth grade were some of the hardest times in my life. I was struggling with my sexuality. Faced bullying. I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t know who to talk to. I was confused. Lonely. Depressed. Suicidal. Scared of the world. But every day after school, I would go online and read about Star Wars. I would go on the forums and talk to other Star Wars fans. I would read about all the characters in the Expanded Universe. I would watch new updates and videos from the filming of Episode 3. It was my escape from reality. A place where I found comfort and didn’t have to think about all the other shit in my head. The more I learned about Star Wars, the deeper appreciation I had for George Lucas, for the universe, and all its greatness. In 10th grade, I wrote a research paper about the music of Star Wars. This was also the year that Episode 3 was released. Everyone was excited about the movie and knew I was a big Star War fan. I pretty much knew everything about the movie before it came out. They would ask me questions about it. I started to make more friends and open up to people. At the same time, I also began coming to terms with my sexuality and just a few months before the release of the movie, I finally learned to embrace who I was. That May, I went to the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith with my cousins and new friends. It would become my favorite Star Wars movie. It’s interesting, I never put the two together until now that I learned to accept my queerness around the same time as the release of Revenge of the Sith. I wonder if they’re related or just coincidental. I guess The Force does work in mysterious ways.

Ten years later, all grown up but still a Star Wars fan, I saw Episode 7: The Force Awakens with my (then) boyfriend and sister in Taiwan. Two years later I saw The Last Jedi with my cousins. And yesterday, I watched The Rise of Skywalker in Guangzhou, China, by myself. Seeing the movies in the theaters has always been a friends and family affair but I think it was fitting for me, as I’m on this deeply personal journey, to watch the final installment of the saga alone. The sequel trilogy hasn’t been my favorite – I think Disney’s Star Wars trilogy lacks the imagination, the vision, and the magic that Lucas’ Star Wars has. But nonetheless, thinking about the final episode makes me think about the story of my life with Star Wars. To me, Star Wars is just as much about my story as it is about the universe. It brought me joy, comfort, and connection, in moments where I thought I had none. It’s an understatement to say that Star Wars helped save my life. And now, as the saga, and the decade come to a close, I’m thinking about who I used to be, who I am, and who I will become. Where will I go? What will I do? Who will be by my side?

More things to ponder. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep hunting for those damn porgs.

One thought on “End of an Era

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