Only one day in the year remaining, it’s time to close out the All-China Tour 2018 saga and look forward to 2019. Coming from the stunning success of my time in Xi’an, the slog back to Beijing was nearly insufferable, with 6 hours of noisy train companions and the stress of the Beijing metro. I stayed my last night in Beijing in a wonderful area much like Laomendong or Tianzifang, a walking-only shopping and restaurants district. It was a bittersweet time, as I didn’t have time to do anything significant, like go to the Summer Palace or the Lama Temple, which I had missed on my first try, but I had more time than I could spend dallying at my hostel on social media.
Finally, I made myself get out and explore. I finally purchased the customary souvenirs I take from each country: a flag and a small patch for my bag (a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” in Mandarin was left out because I’d gotten one in Hong Kong). The spindly little trees in the streets were just beginning to flower, after such a cold winter. For once, I’m glad I didn’t get lazy and eat one of my last meals at the hostel bar or McDonald’s, instead finding some awesome spicy beef noodles at a place called Zhuwei. There were also these fascinating sugar treats which I thought would be like Korean sugar candy, ppopgi, but turned out to be more like regular sugar hard candy. I bought a bull-shaped one only because I couldn’t find my Chinese zodiac animal, the rooster. I couldn’t help but think what fun Korean cafes would have with putting those beautiful sugar treats in lattes, sticking out of choux cream puffs, and delicately adorning cakes.
My last night was spent trying all the Panda Brew beers that my hostel offered and talking to this Aussie dad and his son, who oddly enough, I had talked to the day before in my hostel in Xi’an. Somehow, we’d ended up staying at the same place two nights in a row, in two different cities. They had been asking me some Beijing advice, as if I looked the more seasoned traveler, or perhaps more capable because I was going it alone.
I keep thinking about the breakfast I had the next morning. Although visually it looked a complete meal, it was utterly devoid of any kind of seasoning whatsoever (they make fun of white people for not seasoning their food, but the food was so bland, I had to ration my egg yolks to make everything on the plate palatable). I called my mom, packed, and headed out for the last time. At the airport, I got a soy latte, some kind of sandwich, and a single-origin Chinese coffee at the Starbucks before exchanging the rest of my money. This coffee is significant because my mom promptly dumped it into the coffee tin with all the other beans when I got home—despite my hand-carrying it all the way from China. There weren’t many good movies on the flight, and we were so late I ended up sprinting through the airport in Seattle to make my connecting flight. I was so tired from it all that I ended up just sleeping most of the way back.
We can now zoom out significantly. The rest of the year passed by in a mostly-happy blur, and only now does most of it seem to be coming together. Shortly after my birthday in May, after submitting tons of applications (for the record, I submitted more than 106 applications throughout the year), I got hired as a barista at my favorite coffee shop in the world. This is high praise, because I would like to take up residence at a lot of those really chic Korean cafes, and I’m still obsessed with the chairs next to the window in Holly’s Coffee in Seoul Hapjeong Station. The job-hunting slowed down significantly for most of the summer and fall, and I had a great few months running the social media for the shop.
I did lots of small travels: going to Myrtle Beach as we do every year, a few trips to Pittsburgh to visit and stay with friends and family, a visit to Amelia Island in Florida to see my uncle who I haven’t seen in years. I went to lots of concerts, made lots of new friends, and put lots of miles on my car. It was a shock, of course, getting back behind the drivers’ wheel after more than 2+ years of not driving at all. I got new tattoos, took a mini-MBA course at Rutgers Uni, and participated in my 4th straight Inktober challenge.
Suddenly, it seemed, I got an offer to interview with a social media marketing company in November, got offered the job in early December, and found the apartment nearby a week or so later. My last few weeks at the coffeeshop were really sad, especially considering I was leaving during the winter holidays. Christmas is always a lowkey affair for my family, usually a time for travel rather than spent at home around the tree, so this year wasn’t too much of a departure for anyone. Shortly thereafter, I started the move to my new city for work. It’s not far from my hometown, so all of the big stuff was moved in just one day and we assembled it yesterday.
Things have fallen into place surprisingly quickly. I start work in 2 days, and I’ll try to figure out what that will look like in the weeks to come. I usually like this time of year because it’s so hopeful. Everyone is creating new resolutions and everyone is very optimistic that this next year will be the one. It’s been the longest year ever for me, from starting out in Korea, to my long-awaited trip through China, working at my favorite café and making all these wonderful friends, to the quick development at the end of the year of getting the new job and new apartment. I wonder what next year will hold?
I was talking with my Korean friend, Gwan, yesterday. He was telling me that it’s going to be a lucky year, and it will also be a good year for challenging ourselves with new creative pursuits as well. I’ve also been having vaguely ominous prophetic dreams to that same tune, too. I hope that we can all create something new that we can be proud of in the new year.
Cheers, to looking back generously with rose-colored glasses, and looking forward with vision unclouded and focused.