Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wonder by Wonder

'A man grows most tired while standing still' -Chinese proverb

I've never had a bucket list. Don't get me wrong; I have a list of things I want to do while I am alive but it's much like my daily to do list that I write out each morning. It is a rare day that I accomplish it all because I like to reach high, what many have called over reaching. So on my life list it is long and ridiculous that most people don't think it's possible to get it done in a lifetime... I am not one of those people though it's not something I would wager much money on.

But I am sitting here, adjusting from switching night to day and then back in 8 days time and it's messing with my sleep. Kiana just got back from her first world wonder and my last and final one, the Great Wall of China. Maybe it's the time change and a restless night, maybe it's the surrealism but somewhere I am wondering if someone should just pinch me, maybe with chopsticks.

It actually came together ridiculously easily, using up the frequent flyer miles from the last few years to get there for under $100 a ticket. I had good company, Troy an executor of my will who I've been friends with over a decade, a guy who was there at the hospital shortly after my daughter was born, a guy who was there at the hospital shortly after the seizure before we even knew I had a tumor. There was my girlfriend, Elaine, appropriately enough a Chinese girl in the first time I've ever visited a country where I had no clue of the language nor had enough base to translate it (reading and writing 5 languages has helped in other countries) in our last trip together before she moves in. And there was Kiana, my 10 year old daughter getting to use a passport over a decade earlier than I had to cross to the other side of the world. My grandparents and parents were bold for  crossing a river to give us potential for a better future. Looks like so far, there's at least one measurable area where we keep echoing each other's boldness but perhaps the echo is one of those that gets louder not just fades into a whisper.

We didn't start at the Great Wall or Beijing in fact. We started at Shanghai running along the most modern city in the country. Jet lag/time change whatever you want to call it led to a 3 am run not too long after arrival while everyone else slept. Like most of my Facebook pictures which don't describe what's being shown with any great context or history, there was something about taking in the city just on its own, knowing that even though you were getting more details later, often beauty and structure can stand on its own merits, gorgeous even without quite adequate light. The Leon in me noticed there were often Lion statues.

When the official tours happened later I would get a little more context. I actually had noticed that they often came in similar pairs but there was an interesting difference, one was standing on a ball and the other had their paw over a cub. I would learn from our tour guide that this was a depiction of a lion family in the Chinese mind. The male lion was holding the ball as a way to show dominion and supremacy. The one holding the cub was the
female representing her raising the cub and thus the nurturing side of the culture. For over 6 years now, I've had a medical restriction keeping me from playing soccer. Like the marathon I would finish my last league before quitting (went out as co-ed champions). All this time I thought it was because my doctors were trying to be careful with head contact because of the seizures. Halfway around the world and over half a decade later, I realized that while it wasn't in a cookie, the universe had been kind enough to let me know my fortune was to let much of my supremacy go and that the strength of my legs and arms was to nurture that cub.


A few other pieces of the puzzle called my life came
together.  I was walking around with my bag that has 8 #8 bibs on it. Father's day was originally celebrated in China on 8/8 because it can be shortened to 'ba ba' which appropriately enough sounds like the informal word for father, an equivalent of daddy. It's things like this almost make me believe my life is scripted. But here I was on my way to my 8th world wonder and Kiana's first one in a country that highlighted the number 8 previously as father's day. It also sounds similar to fortune or luck and honestly the first day much less the rest of just trying to capture a bit of the way Kiana sees the world, or the other side of it, there may be people who are more fortunate or lucky than me, but I don't know or have heard of any of them.

We caught some of the magnificent culture and history but we also caught just some of the local things. We ate at places where we were the only foreigners. We took late night walks, played games in parks the the locals were playing. I was proud of the fact that I got exercise almost everyday, including a stair workout with Kiana overlooking a river. Yep I was proud of all that and then I saw a 70 year old doing things I couldn't even do when I was a teenager. Kiana jumped on the monkey bars after seeing that and made the other adults on the trip feel almost as inadequate.

Kiana had been given her own international camera to take pictures from her height, her perspective, the things she valued. If a picture is worth a thousand words, she was definitely the most chatty out of everyone in the group. There were different things that stuck out to each of us, some of the best memories ones you couldn't take pictures of or pictures don't do it justice. Some of the deserts and meals, a picture or video can't replicate the unique smell, the different taste, the atmosphere at large or small details. Some of the art at the museums you weren't allowed to have cameras in or at the kung fu show that Kiana was mesmerized when those guys moved with expert timing as fast as lightning.

Due to taking in 3 cities (Shanghai, Xian, Beijing) there was a lot of traveling by foot, plane, train, bike, boat and automobile (Kiana actually loved her first real train ride, an overnight one at that). But of course the moment of going up to the Great Wall, the excuse for the trip was a highlight. We tried foods neither of us had ever had but the moment that we were most nervous was the ski lift heading up there. I honestly wondered why the Great Wall had to be built at all there since it was such a steep mountain that I thought it would have been deterrent enough.

But once you got on that Wall, you realized that the deterrent was the steepness, one purposely built with uneven footing to keep horses from being able to be used on it and for ordinary men to struggle on it. When we got to the very top, our tour guide suggested we go to the left from the lift, that about 90% of customers did that because it was an easier walk. That's all it took for the people I love to choose to go to the right, the path less traveled by. As we headed down what was very steep stairs and ridges, we realized that whatever goes down must come up and if you're struggling with stairs on the way down... It was on our last full day there so we knew that the next day there was going to be plenty of sitting besides I remembered the Chinese proverb I started with here, a man grows most tired by sitting still. Now I've ran to, around or on every single world wonder I've ever been to. So has Kiana :).

We saw lots of different places where people throw coins in to make a prayer or a wish or a hope. Mostly our change in coins was given to people who needed it far more than we will. A couple of those moments just like a couple of the foods she 'got' to try intimidated Kiana but I wanted her to take in the full experience, reminded of what Stevenson said that there are no foreign lands, it is the traveler only who is foreign. There was however one blatant exception to the coin usage, among the wishing well there was one where it was supposed that if you threw it in the center you were gong to have a long life. I've divided my life into Part I, pre cancer and Part II, post cancer. It was on the second shot that the coin landed dead center.  I'm not superstitious but I am a little bit stitious so... here's hoping.

Actually one of the most impressive things we saw was in a Lama Temple a gigantic statute of Maitreya Buddha carved from a single pice of White Sandalwood. Now the Maitreya Buddha is considered the 'future Buddha' and in most artistic depictions he is depicted as sitting, I suppose it's a way of showing he's abiding his time. It warmed my heart to see that the biggest one I've ever seen was portrayed as standing and I dared dream that whoever carved it knew the future of dharma and karma are for those who are standing and ready to go.

For a few years now, to close friends, I've said that I could use a few days that were the opposite of 'Cheers.' I wanted to go to a place where no one knew my name and couldn't care less I came. In a country of over a billion people, I wasn't a cancer guy, just a tourist with a great friend, a great girlfriend, a great daughter. It was a 'wonder-ful' reprieve where I got to be 'cancer' free for a few days, with people who would know me and love me with or without the disease and who I hope we will be part of each other's lives no matter how many years any of us have left. The only reminders were pills I take twice a day, the Livestrong band I choose to constantly wear and the little things I saw where I made connections, great memories made in China. It was a good Sabbatical but the timing of a Sabbatical is after work. I believe it's to reflect on the work, to reconnect with Who and what got you here and to prepare for things that lie ahead. Of course our idea of rest was to be moving all day but I hope Kiana learned a lesson I lived by for a while, forgot for a bit and took me a few years to get back to. Yes, the official World Wonders are part of the past but the number of things I still dream of is ones I couldn't get to in all of a lifetime but I'm going to keep dreaming, not accepting that reality, going to bed with the same dream, the same that I had on the flight home from China after a phenomenal trip, perhaps one that was somewhere in my subconscious even during some dark days and nights of the last few years. Is is the thought that keeps me going, keeps me standing and moving, breathing, writing, living 'what a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven't happened yet."



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