I went back home over the winter break. It was the first time I'd been in the States in a year. I didn't know what I expected, nostalgia maybe, relief at English signs, relaxation from seeing people who weren't only Asian.
(Groups of Asians still intimidate me, during college, one of the most stressful events was walking through Stern courtyard to use the free printers.)
But I didn't feel nostalgic, instead I felt bizarrely out of place. Nothing was familiar anymore, the loud Newark security guards who shouted "Hey you", the girls in the fake-bake tan and velour jumpsuits,... it was all disconcerting.
I had expected a tearful reunion with my family, the prodigal child's return home from the Far East. It had been a year...there would be embracing, "let me look at you", slow motion running Homeward Bound style.
"You look like Woody Allen" -my brother backing away(looking disgustedly at my 'emo' glasses)
"Uh ok. Hi." -me
My mom pushed him away, "Tsk noo no she doesn't-"
Turning gratefully to her..
But being back was nice, eating Chipotle, being trapped in snow blizzards. And as always, reverting back to my parent's lifestyle - lots of church. Lots of books.
On my way back to Hong Kong I had to take a small 'commuter' plane from Virginia to Newark airport. The idea of a 'commuter' plane frightens me, but that's what they called it. There were only 9 rows on the plane, and only about 30 people. The ceilings were so short I had to crouch (which gives you a perspective... it was not a plane meant to be in the air). It was a minivan with propellers.
Unfortunately that day we were delayed because of wind. I wouldn't have thought this was a problem for most airplanes, isn't wind supposed to be helpful? But for a commuter one it most definitely isn't. We took off anyway, and because we never even got close to skimming the clouds, we were right in the wind channel.
I thought it could be my last flight, either from the plane's failure or my inability to deal with the constant feeling of falling.
Every time the plane shook, my whole body shook, and a few times I thought the plane would just give up and flip over. The pilot came on the intercom several times, his voice shaking "don't worry! this is just a bit of turb --" :cut off:
I wanted to tell him to stop talking to us and just work on flying, actually I probably could have shouted it, HK minibus style, the plane was so small there was no need for an intercom.
I was sitting next to a 90 year old woman from south carolina, she kept clutching my arm every time the plane lurched. And she'd say, "oh lord not yet. Not yet. I'm not ready to see you yet." Then turning to me accusingly, "This little chinese girl's not ready to see you yet. "Are you?"
As I tried not to flinch from pain, "I'm korean... but yea I mean No no I definitely am not."
And as I was sitting in the plane thinking of all the ways I wasn't ready, I also thought of these things:
1) a misquote.
There's a semi well-known quote about Kentucky girls from Ashley Judd.
"Sure, girls from New York, they are tough. And girls from Georgia, they are sweet. But those born and bred feisty Kentucky girls, they are the ones you have to look out for. We have sugar and fire in our blood. We can ride a horse, be a débutante, throw a left hook and tell you the entire UK line up all while making sweet tea. And if we have an opinion, you get to know it. We're both the pride and the downfall of the bluegrass..."
Growing up, I knew this quote by heart, I guess it made ky girls proud. Just as listing any celebrity from Kentucky would make us proud - Johnny depp, yeap and so is george clooney.. and two of the backstreet boys - yepyep, henry clay and daniel boone too. (i liked throwing in the last two, although they rarely impressed anyone)
When I moved later on to Virginia, a girl I knew at high school would always quote this quote- it was on all her internet profiles... except that she had it changed to "Virginia" girls. And somehow I guess people didn't know the difference. I hadn't had the heart to tell her it's actually "Kentucky girls". Which makes the quote mean a lot more sense that way. Particularly cause the part of Virginia we are from is more free-way than it is country. Who rides horses or makes sweet tea in northern va? And does Virginia even have a basketball lineup? (Not that I know, but I highly doubt it.)
I dont know where this girl is now, but I wished I had told her.
2) Whether Jin the rapper was succeeding in Hong Kong.
Jin the rapper came to hong kong about the same time I did - a year ago. I happened to see him give a rap performance at New Year's ball last year to a crowd of slightly dumbfounded older HK couples. His rap was a combination of English and Cantonese. He kept repeating helplessly, "put your hands up UP up. Come on! Do it with me." Commands like that don't really work across cultures or rather across generations. And after that, I wasn't sure how he would do.
But then a couple months ago I saw him on a huge billboard, advertising Vita boxed lemon teas - so I supposed he must be doing well.
3) new years resolutions.
I used to always have a lot of new years resolutions. I'd write them down on sheets of paper feeling glorious and 'alive'. Some would succeed, most would fail. "graduate. Go to class. Learn to do a pull-up".
Some were succinct. grow taller.
Some were ambiguous "learn to love without hurting others. Find a life purpose. Be. "
This year, maybe it was because I was traveling and still jetlagged.. I hadn't written any.
If by sitting in that plane next to a chanting old woman, I was hoping for an epiphany or a moment of clarity for a beautiful resolution, it didn't happen.
The only thing I could think of was, "wake up early."
Like most people who aren't morning people... for me waking up early in the morning feels automatically like an accomplishment. Walking around outside in morning air, still fresh because the rest of the world hasn't yet gotten up to breathe in it, feels dizzying and exhilarating. It sets off a lot of self-congratulation and "yay!" as though one should be high-fiving the other people on the street, "you're up too? yay us!"
I thought of the past year, I thought of all the law I hadn't yet learned, and how it was too late now cause I'd already been tested on it. I thought of how clever the name yo mama was for a yogurt place, and how I should really eat more hui lau shan mango drinks and try the egg tarts near the apartment. I thought about seeing the long escalators, and the view from our balcony.
And as we landed in shock and relief (relief for my arm mostly - the red marks on it didn't fade til several hours afterward) but I realized that I did have some moment of clarity..
I remembered hearing this expression of having your feet face the same direction as your heart. that when you're aligned you are where you've been longing for.
And for a time I'd always been thinking of the places I'd left - my backyard swing surrounded by maple and lilac branches, washington sq park, a library bench..
I guess I was always facing backwards.
And for once this time where I was heading was the place I was thinking about.