We all have favorite local businesses. I believe the best are those where we almost forget that buying and selling have anything to do with it, where we exchange something meaningful and the money that changes hands merely supports that exchange. Sometimes I describe such places with words like atmosphere, service, or quality. But my new favorite, Maria Empanada, reminds me that the key is the inexplicable chemistry of love—not mushy sentiment, but the love we feel when we share with others the simple pleasures that give us joy.
Please welcome author Susan Blumberg-Kason as she joins me on the blog book tour for her new memoir, Good Chinese Wife (Sourcebooks, July 29, 2014), which is already receiving rave reviews. Susan grew up in Chicago dreaming of the neon signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. When she moved there, she thought she met the man of her dreams, until her cross-cultural romance turned into a nightmare. Good Chinese Wife recounts her years in a Chinese family as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. Today she shares with us the importance of place in a cross-cultural marriage:
When Cross-Cultural Marriage Can’t Find a Home By Susan Blumberg-Kason
When I first met Baba, my former father-in-law, he told me a Chinese proverb—ai wu ji wu. It took me a few minutes to understand the English translation relayed by my then-husband, Cai. After discussing it between ourselves for a bit, I figured this saying was basically the Chinese version of “love me, love my dog.”
I teach dance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and one of my Khmer friends from work asked me to present a contemporary dance duet at her wedding. Leak was having two weddings: one for her family in Battambang and one in Phnom Penh. I asked one of my dance students, Dara, to perform with me. We practiced our routine for weeks, then off we went to Battambang for the first edition:
The day begins at 5:45 a.m., but while my 18-year-old student Dara and I are bleary-eyed, the wedding tent has already taken over the street and music is blaring when we arrive. I’m ushered inside to find my friend Leak being turned into a goddess by a team of makeup-and-hair artists.
To me, life is one (hopefully) long journey, full of dirt roads, blind alleys, and exhilarating straightaways. Some people pick a target and spend their days marching inexorably towards it, while others zig and zag, trying to see as much as possible. It’s doubtful that there is a wrong choice, since we’re all headed for the same place, and my only advice for travellers is to wear comfortable shoes.
In my first novel, The Last Prospector, many journeys start with the birth of a special baby. All of the characters are travelling separate roads to the same place.
Travelling is a metaphor for living, and there are many kinds of travellers. Some people make their finest discoveries at home, because a journey of the mind is as valuable as a physical one. Some people can think their way down a road with the same ease as walking, and they reap the same rewards. Other people pack a bag and literally travel, seeing the world with their physical eyes and leaving a mark on all the places they visit.
When I was 36, I spent a month in Spain, and I never regretted that I missed running with the bulls in Pamplona. But today I heard the below interview with travel blogger Jeannie Mark, known as the Nomadic Chick, and began to wonder if I’ve spent my life being too careful. Jeannie plans to run during the next Fiesta de San Fermin. If I were not now fifty with a slight neuropathy (or nerve weakness) in my left foot, her enthusiasm might tempt me to join her.
My favorite moment in her interview, other than Jeannie’s infectious laugh, is when she talks about her philosophical take on the risks, such as getting caught in a pileup. She says: “In some crazy way, maybe I believe that is also how life works, that sometimes you just go along the path and things happen.” This may be at the core of every traveler’s philosophy about the risks we take when we step outside the comfort zone of home and seek new experiences in a wider world.
First, here’s a correction Jeannie also makes on her own blog: in the interview, she says the run is 860 meters, but it’s actually 825 meters. And now, I highly recommend giving her a listen. Her laugh alone may inspire you to actively seek to create more joy in your life:
I love old-fashioned social dancing to swing and blues music, but sometimes the music we move to with passion and joy has its roots in true tales of tragedy and sacrifice. What do you expect from the blues? On Tuesday night I was hanging at Denver’s Mercury Cafe when I watched the dance floor fill to a soulful blues song I’d never heard before. The singer repeated a name over and over: “Viola, Viola…”
A girlfriend sitting next to me asked, “Do you know who this woman was? I’ve done some studying of the Civil Rights Movement, but I don’t remember hearing about her.” I felt kind of stupid, because I had been so focused on the music, I didn’t even realize the song had anything to do with civil rights.
Here’s the chorus of the song, Color Blind Angel, by Robin Rogers:
Viola, Viola, you laid your young life down.
From Selma to heaven, 3 Ks took you out.
Color blind angel battled bigotry.
Viola, Viola lives on in history.
I went to Hanoi expecting to be filled with anger and rage only to leave it with a sense of hope and peace. That was in November, 2012 – my first time to visit the Vietnamese capital – during one of those business trips that I often mix with some leisurely sightseeing. Hanoi was on my must-see travel list. I was intrigued by the city’s French Indochina sine qua non. Unlike its southern counterpart – the brash, ambitious, and masculine Ho Chi Minh city – I found Hanoi refined, mystical, and feminine.
I found Hanoi refined, mystical, and feminine.
But my impression of Hanoi had to take a back seat while I sat in the cab with other journalists on a Friday afternoon. We were on our way to a center that is now home to victims of Agent Orange.