It's worth touching on a couple of the world scale things that occurred this year, though I'm usually not directly affected by things going on the news. Politically, my heart was in a lot of turmoil this year, especially seeing as I fall liberal on some topics and conservative on others, all in the name of trying to do what's right and respects life and strives to improve it, even if it's not always the easy option. I opened my mouth on a couple topics I cared most about (that I am pro-life and anti-Trump) and got a little burned for them and likely shunned, which is highly unpleasant. However much I disdain politics and shudder anytime someone far-right or far-left starts spouting hate, I have constantly had to remind myself that if I care, I can't afford to stay silent for the sake of preserving non-conflict in my personal life. The heated divide in the US is very distressing, almost as much as the actual implications of the upcoming Trump presidency.
More generally, I went through a stressful move from one foreign country to another, and that made the plight of refugees very heavy on my heart. I've been paying a lot of attention to stories about them.
That makes a good transition over to what 2016 has been to me personally. Let's take a peek at the goals I set last year and then go from there!
1. Maintain good relationships with my friends and coworkers here, spend good times together.
This was written while I knew I was approaching the final seven months of my life as a CIR in Matsue. I can say this was absolutely a success. We had so many good times together and I felt so many deep connections with people, especially in the last couple months, but certainly not limited to then. In the last week in particular, there were so many remarkable cases of good timing that I felt like all of my visits to Izumo Taisha were paying off all at once.
2. Maintain good relationships with my friends and family far away.
I think this was pretty good, too. It dawned on me in the past few weeks that I probably hand-wrote and mailed more letters and postcards this year than I have in any other year of my life.
3. Progress smoothly in naginata and tea until summer.
This was a success. I finished learning all basic 8 engi forms in naginata and squeezed a little more full sparring practice toward the end (and actually saw some improvement, perhaps?), and I can now, based on experience, say that I can practically perform a tea ceremony in my sleep. I performed the very formal o-koicha (thick tea) ceremony at my final ceremony this summer (my first time doing it, as I had usually be responsible for less formal parts like the thin tea), but I was so sleepy that I was literally nodding off in the mizuya (small preparation room next to the tea room) right before entering. However, that made me thoroughly unable to be nervous, so I wound up doing a near perfect job of the ceremony and making the tea.
4. Get into a regular exercise pattern again, and maintain it the whole year.
Well, I went through spurts of trying all throughout the year, and I'm feeling decently fit at this point in my life. In the first part of the year I don't remember if I actually did much working out beside naginata (which isn't that physically demanding unless you're sparring), but I did put special effort into jogging when I first got to Shanghai (and would have kept it up if it weren't for the air quality graduating getting worse with cooler/colder weather), and I've started practicing Wing Chun. As usual, I walk briskly everywhere, and I've also had scattered other physical activities throughout the year, like a little swimming (a rarity for me because wearing bathing suits is a drag), sea kayaking, shugendo (which I did not realize was shugendo-style hiking until a couple weeks after that temple pilgrimage), and more recently, rock climbing (or bouldering, as it seems to be called if you're doing it without a rope).
5. Get (and start) a job in Shanghai
What do you know, success! And I started it much earlier than I expected to.
Plus, this video exists:
6. Achieve a new work/life balance, start making new friendships, and start a new hobby (hopefully kung fu!?)
Now we're getting into the post-Matsue goals I knew would be coming. Hmmmm... it was rough start, but I think I am feeling more of that balance in the past few weeks (maybe due to caring less and less about my job already. Uh oh). I'm still kind of hobbling my way along on the new friendships, as it takes reminding myself to be open and warm instead of just moping about missing Japan and wanting to hurry up and leave China already. Again, I feel like I've been having more success with this more recently. And yes, I started kung fu! And Chinese tea! And... very occasionally, rock climbing! That is a new and unexpected hobby.
7. Finish writing two novels, edit at least one
At the time I wrote this goal, I was using my New Years break to write a novel off the seat of my pants to see where it would go. It got to 16,229 words before I lost interest in it and decided it was okay to drop it. I'm certainly more of a planner, and I prefer working in far off settings instead of modern day teenager settings. But hey, speaking of stories in far off settings with a lot of planning, I wrote a 185,552 page draft of a novel could potentially be broken up into a trilogy, so.
As for editing, no, I never got to this point. I decided my 2014 NaNo project is not worth editing either, and I told the girl dragging it through the mud with her criticism to spare herself the effort and stop because I had gotten the helpful points of things to watch out for in the future, but that I would be enacting no suggestions on the novel in question which she hated.
As for the novel I wrote this year, as I've been digesting it this past month, I've been noticing the plot holes or places where it's weak and making notes on what to fix. I've sent it to a few people to look over and so far two people have started giving me commentary. I was so, so scared of what they'd say, having been so roasted the last time someone took a serious look at my writing for the sake of trying to help it. So far the limited commentary I've heard has been delivered to me delicately, so... phew.
8. Be grateful, humble, and loving
Umm.... hmm. Interesting goals you set here a year ago, self.
I certainly felt all these things toward the end of my stay in Japan, but then I started to turn bitter and moody in China. I guess this is still a work in progress.
As for a more recent change, I've noticed that I do, in fact, have the ability to be more tender towards men than I ever previously thought I was capable of--straight men, even! It occurred to me late last year that part of the reason I have very limited romantic experience is because I keep a distinct distance from, and to some extent, disinterest in or even disgust of men. What's more I get extremely cold the moment I even have an iota of a suspicion of a man having interest in me, even if I otherwise thought think he's a great guy or fun to talk to. However, a few scattered experiences of just learning to be more open and friendly and comfortable with guys have shown me that yes, I may be unfairly harsh toward men, but I don't have to be that way. (Despite the fact that I had my first experience with a train groper this year, which could have justifiably turned my opinion in the opposite direction instead. Thankfully it didn't.)
On that note, I'm especially grateful for that on account of the fact that one of my guy friends gave me one of the best hugs of my life this year. It was at a moment I really, really needed a hug because I was so overwhelmed with emotions on one of my last nights in Matsue, and I felt close enough with him as a friend that I could cry in front of him and squeeze and be squeezed really tight for a rather long moment. He's really, really good at giving hugs, and I'm grateful that I was in a tender enough state to receive it.
9. Go to Nagasaki... and RUSSIA!?!
Both were fantastic trips! Nagasaki was one of the most fascinating places I've visited in Japan (considering I like history and I'm Catholic), and not only did I experience a lot of what Vladivostok had to offer, but I had my first long boat voyage to get there. Arriving in Vladivostok by boat left a pretty deep impression what with all its artful buildings around the hills enveloping the harbor, and approaching the beautiful coastline of Mihonoseki felt pretty special, but the novelty of being on a ferry of that size with that many people very quickly wore off for me. XD Ahh, but that made the night of respite and solitude in Korea that much more wonderful. I basically had the entire annex of a fancy health spa hotel all to myself.
10. and... uh... PAY OFF MY LOANS, BWAHAHAHA
Also me to sing and dance to...
Yes, this was a success. Speaking of finances, this summer I had to move large amounts of money from one bank account to another in order to sent it abroad, and that required carrying larger fistfuls of cash than I've ever touched in my life. It was a novelty. XD
To celebrate finishing paying off my student loans, I used the money I would have used on an extra payment to take a chance on a very young (and very frazzled, I've found out) charity. I paid for a new house for this family in Malawi:
That's enough reflection on the past. Now let's look ahead! I'm posting this tonight because I'm leaving tomorrow to spend a couple days in Guilin, because mountains.
2017's theme: EMBRACE CHINA!
I left my beloved Japan for a reason; and I still have 20 months left to make good on those promises I made to myself to get more comfortable speaking Mandarin, rekindle my appreciation for Chinese culture, and gain a deeper understanding of modern China. 2017 will make up the bulk of that time. A major motivating factor for these goals is that I have a Master's degree in Chinese studies, but not enough confidence to back it up. However, in all the cultural stress I've been experiencing I have found myself growing bitter and uninterested, and seeing the HSK 6 as a looming necessity.
However, it has dawned on me that my happiest moments are when I attend kung fu and tea lessons, or any time I do something traditional-culture oriented. I'm stressed with a job that is not a good fit for me after all, pollution and food hazards (2016 was also the year of my first emergency room visit), unreliable internet, long commute times, and the general stresses of living in a big city that only has little pockets of nature among all the soul-crushing construction. But I do get along well with Chinese friends and I do has a distinct admiration for the language and I do really, really love a lot of traditional culture. I don't want my two years in China to be a total bust due to a sullen attitude; I need to rediscover my passion and dive into things with no regrets.
Here's a handful of goals:
1. Have some peace, have some passion. More Chinese tea and more Chinese martial arts!
2. Edit "The Placaerta from Kedaedra" at least twice. Write a short novel that sticks around 50,000 words. If it's "The Butterflies' Accomplice" it will require research about ancient China.
3. Do some more serious budgeting instead of suibian spending in the name of fangbian. We have travel in 2018 to plan for, after all.
4. Speaking of travel, go to Sichuan! Go to Mongolia! Go to Hong Kong!
5. Hey, you know what will help more with that budgeting? Cooking more. Go forth and fear Chinese grocers no more!
6. Go ahead and take that HSK 6. It'll be okay even if we don't pass, but make it a sincere effort.
7. And take the BJT just for kicks and giggles. Gotta keep that Japanese polished, after all.
8. It might not be blogging, but do something to actively make observations of Chinese society and share it, particularly in a positive light. Cultural exchange and grassroots understanding are important, yo.
9. Maintain a positive attitude; remember to be flexible. Not complacent, flexible.
10. Oh, yeah, you have a job. Don't lose faith in it, give it your best and get out there and be inspiring and creative.