Upon returning home after a year away, every person I’ve encountered has had one common question –what was the best part? I feel silly and always stumble, because despite anticipating the question, I cannot come up with a suitable answer. How do you sum up a year of your life in one sentence? I need paragraphs, a novel really, and even that’s not sufficient. Someone told me to just show pictures, which has proven to attempt to say what I’m unable to. But how do I account for the sweet old man who sat on the corner every day in his makeshift shoe repair shop, giving me a nod of recognition every morning? Or our street noodle guy, who upon walking to his stall immediately began preparations for a veggie chao fan without me having to tell him my order? Or how after an exhausting day of sightseeing in Siem Reap, our hostel staff insisted we sit with them, have wine and raw mango with spicy sauce, so that they could celebrate my birthday with me? Or the time we literally walked into Thailand across the Thai-Cambodia border? How do I explain how I felt when I was stranded in Bangkok, passport –camera – phone and money-less, only to put my troubles aside because playing with baby tigers and riding elephants was far more important than gaining back my identity? Or that first day of school where 50 expectant 8 year olds’ eyes were focused on me, waiting for me to start the class, and me having absolutely no idea what I was doing…? It was collectively, the most stimulating and exhausting year I’ve had. Physically, mentally, emotionally, I was drained – and I’ve never been happier.
While I’m still uncertain if I’ve truly found myself, whatever that means, I have come away different. What was the best part? I’d have to say the struggle – which initially made me cry with frustration, but slowly became easier with every day, and by the end of it, wasn’t even something to think about. Rather it is something to celebrate. A Canadian-Indian, non-Mandarin speaking vegetarian lived in the most populated country in the world – hell ya.
I think the two major lessons I’ve learned are as follows: 1. Always, always, always listen to your gut. It’s never wrong. Ever. 2. Don’t give a shit about what other people think, because in the grand scheme of things, who the hell really cares. Oh and something I would have been a wreck without: 3. Meditate – you are the only one who knows your center, and to get there, look inside yourself to keep things in balance.
Some of the incidents (of a long list) that occurred and that make me smile when looking back:
- Feeling like a celebrity everywhere you go because of the wide eyed amazement and stares received from curious locals
- Feeling like a local when you spot another foreigner because of the wide eyed amazement and stares you give them
- The morning metro commute – when push comes to shove, they’ll do both
- Learning and adopting the art of being a pro metro seat snatcher
- Being punched in my “nether region” by a kid who thought that was an appropriate response to “hello”
- Signing a contract for an apartment solely using profuse gesturing and charades
- The realization that essentially every animal is available on a stick
- Never fully knowing whether your school lunch is meat, vegetables or plastic
- Getting the “friend” price at the bargain market
12 months, 5 countries, 23 cities, and an unaccountable number of experiences. Shanghai, I will be back.